Hail HYDRA: Martial Arts Cinema is Immortal (Blu-ray Review)

Something new to get your blood pumping

There’s absolutely nothing new about the trope of a retired badass living an unassuming hidden identity until the past comes calling and they must unveil their true killer nature and either protect those they love or suffer the consequences of their past. This is literally one of the most popular plotlines in all of action cinema, and pops up across the globe as a go-to storyline. It’s utilized once again here in Hydra, as the mild mannered Takashi (Masanori Mimoto) lays low as a cook in the titular Hydra bar, keeping watch over its owner, the young and sweet Rina (Miu), who inherited the bar when her father disappeared. Unbeknownst to Rina, her father was an assassin to whom Takashi owed a debt, and so the current situation had arisen. And soon… shit is going to pop off.

This trope is used often, but that’s largely because it’s so effective. That continues to be the case here. There’s nothing quite as badass as a humble, quiet type who is perceived to be a square and who ends up having almost super human abilities that they’re hesitant to reveal. It gives an action hero a mythic and human feel simultaneously. And when there’s a child or an innocent friend or family member which our hero must protect, it imbues the story with an easy emotional resonance. Which is key because action cinema can frequently be flashy, proficient, and brimming with technique, but utterly lacking in emotional investment. Hydra, in setting its story amidst this familiar trope, does indeed get audiences interested in the humans at its center, which really goes a long way.

Where Hydra absolutely stands out as something unique and incredible is in its fight choreography. Helmed by first time feature director and long time stunt and fight choreography professional Kensuke Sonomura, Hydra is a phenomenal calling card for the arrival of a new action filmmaking director on the scene. Sonomura acts as fight choreographer as well as director here, and brings to vibrant life this kind of fighting style I don’t know that I’ve ever seen quite in this way before. While the fights are sparing and spaced out across a gloriously brief and efficient runtime of 77 minutes, they’re absolute showstoppers that feel dangerous, lightning fast, and riveting. Our characters come from this shadowy assassin ring that were exacting some kind of vigilante justice against corrupt cops and criminals who seemed beyond the law. And there are hints of an almost supernatural element to this cabal of killers from which Takashi had briefly separated. Yet even with the hints of something more to be explored in hopeful sequels, the choreography employs this very technical style of fighting that includes a lot of defense and grappling at hyper speed. We’re conditioned as action fans to love flashy spinning kicks and aerial acrobatics. And it might seem like a bunch of blocking and grappling simply wouldn’t be as compelling on screen as a nice roundhouse kick to the face. But Hydra throws all that conventional thinking out the window and does something that’s increasingly elusive these days: it finds a fresh angle and shows you something you’ve never seen before.

In a final fight that takes up some 5 minutes of the total 77 minute runtime, Hydra establishes itself as one of the most exciting action films of 2021 and provides one of the best one on one fight scenes of this generation. Scored with a glorious electronic synth sound by Moku, set in a simple basement between two largely silent killers, Takashi must grapple to the death with a younger assassin much like he used to be. Their showdown is so thrilling I had to go back and watch it a second time just to appreciate the long takes, the editing, the intricate movements, and the speed with which it all plays out, featuring actors doing most of their own moves.

So while large swaths of Hydra present you with components you’ll feel right at home with, this banger will have your jaw on the floor when it goes places that feel fresh. And while Hydra is much more grounded in reality than something like John Wick, there’s plenty of room to go deeper into this world of apparently upstanding assassins who kill those who can’t be stopped by the law. It doesn’t feel like Takashi’s story is entirely complete and I’d love nothing more than to see quite a few further explorations into this world. Hydra reminds us that martial arts on screen have always been compelling, and with engenuity there will forever be new angles to explore within the genre.

The Package

Well Go USA are doing such incredible work in terms of bringing Asian martial arts and action cinema to the United States. Without them I don’t know that we’d be getting such constant access to so much incredible world action cinema. And while not everything they crank out is a winner, Hydra easily ranks among the very best action cinema has to offer this year. Yet as they pivot to emphasizing their Hi-YAH! Streaming service, it’s clear that less resources are being expended on their physical media. This Blu-ray looks fantastic, and almost certainly provides stronger image quality than the streaming alternative. But the disc is entirely bare bones beyond a few trailers for other Well Go titles. We’ve largely gone from just a few PR featurettes on most of their releases to literally nothing at all in terms of bonus features. As this title is so excellent, I would recommend a blind buy of Hydra on Blu-ray because martial arts fans will likely fall hard for this title. But if subscribing to Hi-YAH! seems like the easier route to go for you, you can’t go wrong if you’re watching Hydra in whatever format best works for you.

And I’m Out.

Hydra is now streaming on Hi-YAH! and hits Blu-ray/DVD/Digital 7/20/2021 from Well Go USA.

Previous post The Archivist #135: Not the Marrying Kind [THE TENDER TRAP & THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME]
Next post The RUROUNI KENSHIN Trilogy: Ace Anime Action