The Japanese ambassador is travelling to Washington with an entourage of samurai when his train is ambushed by two ruthless robbers, Link (Charles Bronson) and Gotch (Alain Delon). The thieves steal his money and his priceless samurai sword. But Link is double-crossed when Gotch runs off with both the sword and money. Soon Link finds himself reluctantly joining forces with the ambassador's samurai bodyguard, Kuroda (Toshiro Mifune). Despite their cultural differences and early resentment, Kuroda and Link pair up to find Gotch. The revengeful duo eventually track him down, only to discover that a vicious twist of events will change their lives forever...
Don't bring a sword to a gunfight!
- Red Sun review by Count Otto Black
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In 1971, spaghetti westerns were all the rage, Charles Bronson, Toshirô Mifune and Alain Delon were A-list stars in their respective countries, and Terence Young had recently directed 3 of the first 4 Bond films. Throw them all into the mix and you've got the ultimate international action movie - right?
Well, maybe not. It's always been a basic fact of Hollywood life that gimmicky westerns are less successful than well-made ordinary ones, and "cowboys vs. samurai" is about as gimmicky as you can get without involving aliens (which, when they finally got around to it, wasn't as successful as everyone had hoped). Spaghetti westerns always lost that indefinable something when they weren't made by Italians. And Japanese actors, however good they may be, tend to be better when they're not required to act in a foreign language.
Toshorô Mifune is rather wooden, but you can't really blame him, since the character he's playing is a one-dimensional stereotype who doesn't call for anything beyond his default "hard man of few words" performance. And Charles Bronson basically just played tough guys, so he's very awkward when delivering all the wisecracks he's landed with here (given the presence of a director and a couple of actors from "Dr. No", I wondered if the part of Link had originally been written for Sean Connery). In fact, it probably would have been better if Bronson had played a ruthless sheriff who somehow winds up in Japan, and Mifune the bragging half-smart bandit he reluctantly teams up with. As for Alain Delon, while he's very convincing as a psychopath, apart from the beginning and the end he's hardly in the film. Instead, we get endless scenes of Bronson and Mifune annoying each other while they gradually bond, complete with irritating "This bit's ZANY!!!" music.
The action, while it's certainly as bloody as you'd expect with swords involved, is a bit flat, sometimes confusing - I often had trouble keeping track of which minor characters were still alive - and there isn't quite enough of it, as if Terence Young assumed that, like Sergio Leone, he could get away with long action-free stretches despite lacking Leone's visual flair and memorable characters. Instead, he uses meaningless spaghetti western tropes, such as having the baddie constantly play with his gold watch because El Indio did that in "For a Few Dollars More", except that Delon's Gotch does it for no reason at all. Clumsy and illogical plot devices, poor characterisation (Ursula Andress is basically there to get tortured more and wear less than she did in "Dr. No"), and a sense that the budget wasn't very high all help to make this film a minor oddity rather than the offbeat classic it might have been with that cast.