In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

Posted in Reviews by - March 21, 2020
In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

A crowdsourced, connoisseurs’ look at Hollywood action films from YouTuber Olivier Harper, featuring mostly the unsung heroes who have worked on some of the biggest, loudest films of all time; directors, writers, supporting cast, editors and composers. Anyone who grew up in cinemas and VHS stores in the 1980s and 90s will enjoy this two-hour-plus nostalgia fest, full of great clips and behind-the-scenes footage. The documentary focuses mainly on a time when major Hollywood studios were throwing millions of dollars on R-rated ultra-violence, encapsulated by the work people like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. This was the so-called golden age of bullet-ridden jingoism (the Rambo sequels, Commando) and bonkers subversive sci-fi (Terminator, RoboCop, Aliens, Total Recall); when bodybuilders and martial artists without any discernible acting talent could become mega-stars. Of course, these white male fantasies are only a snapshot of the cross-cultural evolution and appeal of action cinema, and although there are references to films made outside of America, those stories are for a different documentary. It is nice to see American martial arts cinema covered so enthusiastically; from Bruce Lee‘s legacy and the making of Van Damme‘s Bloodsport; to Sam Firstenberg’s ninja movies for Cannon Films and Cynthia Rothrock‘s dominance over the straight-to-video market. Scott Adkins features heavily, as well as his sparring buddy, Michael Jai White, who explains how actors like Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly influenced his career trajectory. Al Leong – famous for his role as Hollywood’s ‘token Asian bad guy’ – also shares a few stories, but deeper issues around representation in Hollywood are not meaningfully explored, even if the politics of the Reagan era are used as a key touchpoint. With so much ground to cover, the documentary does eventually start to lack focus, and you wonder whether Harper’s more detailed perspective works better in an extended format, like through his excellently observed online retrospectives. For aficionados, this will undoubtedly go down a treat, providing important insight into a number of well-loved action classics.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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