Hydra, the new action crime thriller directed by Kensuke Sonomura, starts off strong with the brutal murder of a police detective in a men’s restroom stall by a silent, proficient assassin armed only with a Philips head screwdriver. We’re then introduced to a Cleaner type character who collects the body and cleans the crime scene.
Then it smoothly segues into a nice homage to Michael Mann as the Cleaner travels through the city at night. His journey is accompanied by a track by Hydra’s composer Moku that apes Tangerine Dream as much as Director of Photography Yasuyuki Suzuki’s digital photography apes Dion Beebe’s work on Mann’s Collateral and Miami Vice.
And then the problems start. We spend a fair amount of time with the Cleaner as he makes this gorgeously shot drive home, disposes of the body from the first scene and then feeds his pet piranhas. Just as we settle into the idea that Hydra is about this nattily dressed Cleaner, the actual lead, Takashi, played by Masanori Mimoto, is finally introduced about twelve minutes in. Takashi is another one of those socially awkward, almost savant-like assassins so common in a lot of these kinds of films. He’s the short order cook at a seedy little bar and grill that doesn’t speak much or seem to know how humans behave, but is also an amazing cook somehow. Mimoto is good in the role, but just once, I’d like to see one of these trained from childhood killers be a charming, effervescent extrovert instead of a robotic, slightly disturbed loner.
This is also where Hydra’s plot slows to a crawl. With a runtime of an hour and seventeen minutes, this is slightly longer than any episodic on, say, Netflix, but it feels significantly longer. The plot suffers from a severe case of inertia as Sonomura keeps the more interesting cadre of assassins and their respective handlers at the edge of the story and instead spends too much screen time on the far less interesting characters of Hydra bar owner Rina and waiter Kenta. They’re both young and cute, but this isn’t a romcom.
No, Hydra is an action movie that features exactly two significant action sequences. The lengthy scenes, both one on one fights between opposing assassins, are expertly shot and edited. But they come late in the film and are interchangeable, feeling like unused choreography from Donnie Yen’s work in Flash Point.
A nice shootout, car chase or even a fight featuring multiple combatants would’ve added some much needed variety to this film. Other critics and even this site’s founder and editor may disagree here, but I cannot in good faith recommend Hydra. Glass half full, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and the fights, though visually similar, are well executed.
That said, it’s hard to figure out who this film is for. There’s just not enough here for real action fans and the characters are so thinly sketched that it doesn’t really work as a drama either. Pass on this and give 2010s Man From Nowhere a rewatch instead.