Philadelphia Film Festival 2017: Unconventional action flicks

Lights, camera, action

Last Thursday, the Philadelphia Film Festival began its 26th edition; with over 100 titles, it can be challenging to figure out where to begin. As you decide what to see, I suggest four action films that are a perfect fit for genre fans with more adventurous screen sensibilities. 

Takashi Miike's 'Blade of the Immortal.' (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Film Festival.)

Have a Nice Day

Set against the backdrop of developing China, director Liu Jian presents an inspired animated action comedy about a delivery boy named Xiao who absconds with a bag of cash belonging to his crime boss. Reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, everything that can go wrong does, with a butcher-turned-assassin on Xiao's trail and other small-time crooks after his money.

Yet when we find out his reason for stealing is simply to pay for his girlfriend’s botched plastic surgery, the full scope of this film comes into focus. The film offers witty insight into the realities of China’s tenuous relationship with capitalism, a pleasant surprise for a film of its genre.

While the animation style itself is somewhat flat, it does present a welcome change from the oversaturated, copycat-Japanese-anime style we’ve been seeing across Asia. An excellent case study in the versatility of animation and its ability to tell any story, Have a Nice Day is also the only action film screening in competition at this year’s festival.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Mouly Surya directs this Indonesian interpretation of the wronged-woman genre. Incorporating classic tropes such as the femme fatale, she neatly contextualizes them within the vernacular of her own national cinema.

After killing her rapist and his companions, recently widowed Marlina (Marsha Timothy) embarks on a quest to clear her conscience by reporting these actions to the authorities. Shot on location in the arid hills of Eastern Indonesia, which could be easily mistaken for the old American West, much of the film follows Marlina’s feminist struggle against a systemic patriarchy.

Liu Jian's 'Have a Nice Day.' (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Film Festival.)
Liu Jian's 'Have a Nice Day.' (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Film Festival.)

Notably darker than any of the other films in this section, and unfortunately timely amid Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood sexual-assault scandal, this film offers a refreshing feminist perspective on the historically male-dominated action genre.

Blade of the Immortal

Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Audition, Dead or Alive) returns with this super-stylized action-drama based on a manga of the same name. On the brink of death after an epic 100-to-one sword duel, masterless samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) is magically healed by mountain witch Yaobikuni (Yôko Yamamoto) and cursed with immortality. Years later, Manji joins orphan girl Rin (Hana Sugisaki) on a quest to avenge her murdered family. What follows is a stunning tour de force of expertly choreographed sword combat, beautifully shot in a rich, blood-spattered color palette.

Not for the faint of heart, Miike’s 100th film delivers a fresh take on the samurai genre that's chock full of his trademark gratuitous violence (he often invites comparison to the early films of Quentin Tarantino). If you haven’t seen it already, check out Miike’s other film Ichi the Killer (2001), which is also screening in the retrospective program later this week.

Let the Corpses Tan

Co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani brilliantly combine spaghetti-Western aesthetics, Grindhouse character archetypes, and a touch of Ozploitation-meets-Mad Max in this instant shoot-‘em-up classic. Three bank robbers, two cops, and an unsuspecting family converge amid the ruins of a Mediterranean villa. The film embarks on a nonstop gun-blazing showdown; it’s a highly entertaining throwback to 1970s and ‘80s crime films.

Known for their previous genre-mashup features Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body, the Belgian-French production team could be criticized for lack of substantial narrative in this film. What it lacks in substance they more than amply provide in style. As long as you go into the film knowing this, it’s sure to please fans of the genre. 

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