By the early seventies, the Spaghetti Westerns (which had revitalised the Western genre) were starting to run out of steam. The look, the feel, and the violence weren’t enough to attract audiences anymore. Westerns needed another twist, or an angle to put bums on seats again. Then somebody took the old saying ‘East meets West’ and twisted West not to mean ‘civilisation’ but the ‘old west’. And for a brief moment in time we had Kung-Fu and Samurai Westerns. Entries in this short lived cinematic movement include Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe, the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine, and this film Red Sun (okay it was a very small movement).
The idea is simply a variant on the fish out of water story, but Red Sun added another nice twist on top of that – the casting of Charles Bronson and Toshirô Mifune. How is that special I hear you ask? Well Mifune was one of the Seven Samurai and Bronson was one of The Magnificent Seven. I like the correlation.
But the film features many fish out of water. It was filmed in Spain, and starred the American, Bronson; Japanese, Mifune; French, Alain Delon; and the Swiss actress Ursula Andress.
The film opens in 1870, and the Japanese Ambassador is travelling by train, accompanied by two Samurai guards, across the wild west to deliver the gift of a golden ceremonial sword to the President of the United States. Unfortunately for the Ambassador, this is the train that outlaws, Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) have chosen to rob with the help of their band of trusty outlaws. Well maybe ‘trusty’ is the wrong word. There is no trust. In fact Gauche double crosses Stuart and leaves him dead. Gauche also angers the Japanese Ambassador when he steals the ceremonial sword and kills one of the Samurai guards.
The Ambassador orders his other Samurai guard, Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) to track down Gauche, kill him and retrieve the sword. They figure the best man to lead Kuroda to Gauche is Stuart. So begins a journey for the two men. Wise-ass Stuart, has no intentions of staying with Kuroda, who is dressed in full Samurai gear. But Stuart does want to get to Gauche, and retrieve the money that is rightfully owing to him. But his attempts at breaking away from Kuroda aren’t too successful, as Kuroda is dogged in his determination to complete his mission – retrieving the sword – and if that means sticking with Stuart, then that’s exacly what he does.
Stuart and Kuroda aren’t too successful in tracking down Gauche, so Stuart adopts another strategy. He let’s Gauche come to him. Or more correctly, come to Christina (Ursula Andress). Christina is a prostitute, and also happens to be Gauche’s girlfriend. Stuart figures that sooner or later, Gauche is going to have the ‘urge’, and when he does, he’ll come for Christina; and Stuart will be waiting.
Red Sun, while being very enjoyable in it’s way, is quite an uneven film. After the train robbery and betrayal at the start, the film spends quite a bit of time with just Bronson and Mifune’s characters; and here the film works very well as almost a character piece. But plotwise, with only two men making a journey together, not much story progression is taking place. But that’s not to say it is boring – these are characters that are engaging.
For the second half of the film, once Ursula Andress’ character is introduced, the story does move forward, but it doesn’t really have any place to go.
The ending itself, is very reminiscent of Bandolero (and numerous other Westerns), where the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys have to team up to defeat a common enemy – here they have to battle a number of rather European looking Comanche Indians. I always think it is a clumsy plot device when fate steps in to turn the tables in favour of the hero. A real hero would ‘think’ or ‘fight’ his way out of trouble.
Ultimately Red Sun is not a great film, but it is an interesting one. It’s Samurai Western with a likeable International cast performing a variety of Swordplay, Gunplay, and if you count Christina’s seduction of Link, Foreplay.