Have you ever discovered a movie that you didn’t know existed, and you curse yourself for not knowing about it sooner? I had that experience with Red Sun. Two of my favorite actors, Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune sharing the spotlight in a spaghetti western? Sign me up! How has this movie eluded me for so long? Perhaps it’s because it’s not spoken about with the same reverence as other films that Bronson and Mifune have been in, like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, or Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. I’ll agree that Red Sun isn’t a western masterpiece, but I still think it’s a fun and entertaining western/samurai movie that’s worth seeing if not solely for it’s two main leads.
Red Sun takes place around 1870, where one of our protagonists, Link Stuart (Bronson), is initiating a train heist with his partner Gauche (Alain Delon) and a multitude of other hired bandits. The train is also occupied by a Japanese ambassador (Tetsu Nakamura), who holds on his person a gold-handled samurai sword, which he plans to deliver to the president as a gift. Gauche steals the sword, and double-crosses Link, leaving him at the whim of the ambassador. Instead of turning him in to the authorities or killing him, the ambassador tasks Link with tracking down Gauche and retrieve the sword, all the while being accompanied by the ambassador’s bodyguard Kuroda Jubei, who has been dishonored by the theft of the sword and the death of another samurai guard by Gauche’s hands. Also, they have a week to retrieve the sword. Otherwise, Kuroda is honor-bound to commit seppuku to regain his honor. Why must there be a time limit? I’m not sure. Maybe the ambassador likes to keep his employees on their toes.
Red Sun doesn’t exactly reinvent the spaghetti western wheel with its plot. It’s a standard quest-based story with two characters who start at odds with each other because of their differing backgrounds and personalities. But by the end of the film, they develop respect for one another after various trials and witty banter. It sounds cliché, which it is, but I remind you that it’s a story led by Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson, who always kick serious behind even in bad movies. Bronson plays the role of the amoral yet quick-witted gunfighter particularly well, and Mifune excels as the strict and extremely skilled samurai bodyguard (A not so subtle reference to Yojimbo). Though Mifune speaks flawed English (he learned his lines phonetically), he isn’t unintelligible, and he still manages to sell his steely-eyed lines despite his imperfect grasp of the language. I wouldn’t say Bronson and Mifune are bringing their A material here. But these actors are physically incapable of giving a bad performance, so even their B material feels like an A.
Red Sun isn’t an original or awe-inspiring western/samurai epic, but it didn’t need to be. All it needed to be was a good excuse for Bronson and Mifune to mow down some bandits via awesome gun and sword fights and intensely squint at each other. It’s an uncomplicated, enjoyable, and surprisingly funny flick that’ll itch your entertainment scratch, especially if you’re a fan of westerns and samurai movies.