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Red Sun - or, if you're the pretentious sort, "Soleil rouge" - is an ambitious mash-up of two cinematic fads that ran rampant in the 1970s: the stylish European western and the Asian martial arts spectacle, or, to be more specific to THIS movie, the chambara (or samurai) opera. "Chambara" - for those who dunno - and now who's being pretentious, eh? - is an onomatopoeia that describes the sound of swords clashing. Red Sun premiered in 1971 and boasted an all-star international cast, anchored by Charles Bronson (he starred in The Magnificent Seven) and Toshirô Mifune (he starred in The Seven Samurai, the movie that The Magnificent Seven remade).
Plot: It would've been just another day for the outlaw Link (Bronson) and his robbing crew if only they'd kept to victimizing the normal passengers on that train. But, no, they had to venture into the car housing the Japanese delegation what's enroute to see the President. And there's one of Link's more temperamental bandits, the Frenchman Gauche (Alain Delon), quite taken with the ceremonial sword meant as a gift to POTUS. Gauche is one of those sleek sleazebags you shouldn't really have in your crew because sure as sh-- he'll sooner or later turn on you. That there is called foreshadowing.
Link isn't enamored of Gauche's show of brutality and tries to rein him in. So Gauche turns on him, leaves him for dead. When Link regains consciousness, he's rarin' to go reappropriate the train loot and have some, uh, harsh words with his turncoat. But the Japanese ambassador charges him with guiding his extraordinary samurai bodyguard, Kuroda Jubie (Mifune), across a forbidding wasteland in pursuit of Gauche. Kuroda is given seven days to recover the sword, else he must perform hara-kiri, which is an extreme form of acupuncture. "We don't have horses, and Gauche has a two-hour head start. He's got twenty mean guns to back him up!" protests our outlaw. Yeah, Link requires serious convincing. But it bears repeating that Kuroda is an extraordinary samurai bodyguard. Link gets convinced.
Just to get it out of the way, I'll mention that this film could've done with the Ennio Morricone touch. As it were, the score, at least to me, is forgettable. Apart from that bit of grousing, I think Red Sun is just about a perfect movie. The international production promises - and lives up to - a series of intriguing one-on-one exchanges and diverse group dynamics. Bronson and Mifune are very good together. It's their caustic interplay that generates the film's wickedly sly humor. And maybe it's because of the change of pace, but Bronson is less wooden in this one. He seems more relaxed, and this translates to a more loose performance. French heartthrob Alain Delon is magnetic as the viperish big bad, a curious juxtaposition from how charming and raffish he was as Zorro. As for French ex-fashion model Capucine and Swiss sex goddess Ursula Andress, well, just look at them. Full disclosure, I was so mesmerized with each of them when they were on screen that maybe they acted, maybe they didn't. Either way, I was entertained.
So, brief eruptions of brutal swordfighting meet wild pistolero action, with Mifune and Bronson handling their badassss business. As much as Bronson dabbled in the gritty crime thriller, there's something very cool to his starring in westerns. Bronson boasted a sculpted frame and a face what's craggy and timeworn like an eroded cliffside. Factor that mug and his trademark laconic persona, and you've got the ideal makings of a rugged frontier man so beloved by the camera. Put Bronson's brand of laconic cool with Mifune's brand of laconic simmer, and observe their clashing perspectives on duty and honor, and what we get are several canny observations on culture clash and on Eastern philosophy versus western braggadocio. Hell, maybe I'll start calling it Soleil rouge or maybe Jane Austen's Red Sun. This sucker's more fancy pants than I thought.