Despite their popularity, particularly among the mainstream audience, action movies are probably most difficult in terms of production, particularly regarding the budget demanded for such efforts. Stuntmen, SFX, action coordinators and a big budget for editing are some of the few standards a good action movie should include, and evidently, these cost money. However, since, most of the time these movies manage to get their money back and even have a profit, we still saw a plethora of them, and Asian cinema could not remains “outside the dance”, with a number of entries of the genre coming out every year, particularly from China and Hong Kong. Of course, the golden era of Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest is long since gone, but this does not mean that one cannot find quality movies in the category.
This year, in our continuous effort to present lists that focus on both prowess and diversity, we included a number of very different films in the category, from animation and comedies, to martial arts and crime thrillers, all of which, however, have a distinct focus on action. although the top of the list was reserved for films that use the style to also implement social, political and philosophical comments.
Without further ado, and with a focus on diversity, here are the best action/crime films of 2019, in reverse order. Some films may have premiered in 2018, but since they mostly circulated in 2019, we decided to include them. (By clicking on the title, you can read the full review of the film)
Apart from the setting and the characters, the focus of the film is with the fight scenes. The use of dramatic music and swift editing emphasize the nature of the battle which is not just for survival, but also the preservation of innocence. At the same time, in the encounter of the serpent and the little girl lies a form of emancipation, of rebellion to go against odds which many people think are impossible to overcome. (Rouven Linnarz)
The film is seeped in Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, turning the attention to the spirits of the dead girls, asking what their fault was apart from being born. It also questions the societal pressure that the parents might have felt while doing the heinous deed. All this, while the film is presented in the guise of a wuxia action movie, as the warrior tries to save the girls’ souls from the clutches of the Keeper of the untimely deceased souls, who does her very best to make the warrior fail in his mission. (Rhythm Zaveri)
“The White Storm 2: Drug Lords” offers an authentic action spectacle that will undoubtedly please those who enjoyed the previous installment in 2013. You know the films of a franchise are laudable when you can’t decide which one is better, and this is due to the fact that each one offers something slightly different, while maintaining the essence and style. While the previous film delivered a more spectacular and frenetic action, this second installment has more defined characters and focuses more on the internal and external conflict of the characters themselves, offering a great conflict to the main plot. The action is well dosed throughout the film, and it’s great quality action, but the element that stands out in the movie is undoubtedly the drama and the characters. (Pedro Morata)
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Technically, the cinematography by Christopher Morgan Schmidt is standout, showcasing the sun-drenched countryside of Vietnam and the neon-drenched dark underbelly of Saigon with equal beauty, with Nguyen Hoang Anh’s thumping soundtrack accompanying it well. But the star of the show is of course the action direction of Yannick Ben and Anh Tuan Nguyen as well as the fight choreography by Kefi Samuel Abrikh, with the inventive bike repair shop fight, the train carriage fight, the final boss battle with its wicked “fatality” end move and the unbroken shot which sees Hai dispose of a horde of gun-wielding bad guys towards the end staying with you. (Rhythm Zaveri)
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And since the focus is on the action, I have to say that the film thrives on this aspect, with the combination of deadly and sexy deriving from Maria and a number of other female opponents she faces, carrying the film for its whole duration. (Panos Kotzathanasis
There was quite a lot to like with ‘Rampant.’ Among its finest qualities is the manner in which the zombie outbreak is being loosened upon the populace, infecting the outer regions of their control and slowly working towards the capital. With a special rename into Demons which is appropriate enough for the time period of the film, the action on display takes on nearly a wuxia form of interplay, courtesy of Action Choreographer Kim Tae-kang. As this includes some fascinating jumping and wirework stunts with the infected shown to be quite athletic in addition to more traditional shambling hordes style zombies, there’s plenty to like with the rampaging hordes loosened upon the city, creating all sorts of havoc. (Don Anelli)
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That the martial arts on display follow suit gives “Ip Man 4” plenty of enjoyable, hard-hitting action. Choreographer Yuen Woo-ping tends to utilize far more realistic action setpieces than previously, relying on combat practices in real-world situations that aren’t about the fanciful moveset but more practical defense and overcoming of the opponent. The fights here are blisteringly fast and exceptionally hard-hitting as a result, from Bruce’s demonstration with the oppressive fighters in the alleyway to the hand-to-hand techniques that Ip Man and the fellow master go through in the study that’s eventually interrupted by the Earthquake. The finale meets the usual standard for the series with a series of frenzied, thrilling encounters that are highly enjoyable, full of impressive moves and plenty of uplifting action that matches the emotional heft of the other storylines. Overall, there’s quite a lot to like with the film. (Don Anelli)
“The Captain” is a fascinating disaster movie which, instead of descending into slow-paced procedural dramas like “Flight” (2012) or “Sully” (2016), goes all action and throws callbacks to such memorable motion pictures like “Airport” (1970) and “Miracle Landing” (1990). Even though Zhang Hanyu dominates the screen with his charismatic presence, “The Captain” is not a one-man show because it strives to faithfully retell the tragedy of Sichuan Airlines flight. The movie goes to such an extent on this matter that it even pays a beautiful tribute to the real heroes in the end credits. (Olivier Ebisuno)
Katsuhide Motoki directs a movie that takes full advantage of the two arcs, with the first one being a genuine samurai tale and the second one adding a financial twist, in order to present a rather entertaining movie that manages to retain the interest for the whole of its 121 minutes. And while the first part includes excellent action scenes and a great build up of the story, it is the second one that truly makes a difference, since it retains the elaborate action but also adds much depth through a twist about corruption in a society that is much more capitalistic that one would imagine (at least considering the way the era is presented on cinema).
In the end, “Samurai Marathon” is an enjoyable period piece uniting various storylines into one tale about betrayal and loyalty. With a great cast and an eye for the wonderful landscape of Japan, this is a very interesting drama about a time of change in Japan, a much needed one on the one hand, but also aware of a certain loss on the other hand. (Rouven Linnarz)
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