Last summer, I watched Ryûhei Kitamura’s Versus for the first time in nearly two decades. I loved it way back in 2002 — read my original review — thanks to its blend of stylish martial arts action, zombie horror, and dark comedy. (Think The Matrix meets Evil Dead 2.) Watching it again after so long, I had a somewhat cooler response, though it’s still a fun film. Much of that’s due to lead actor Tak Sakaguchi, who was reportedly hired by Kitamura after the director saw him in a street brawl.
Since debuting in Versus, Sakaguchi has made a name for himself in action circles, starring in several other Kitamura films (e.g., Alive, Aragami, Azumi) as well as Battlefield Baseball, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, and Yakuza Weapon (to name a few). He’s also worked as an action and fight choreographer on films like Godzilla: Final Wars and Death Trance. His latest film, Yûdai Yamaguchi’s One-Percent Warrior, brings all of those things together.
In a bit of a meta twist, Sakaguchi plays an action star (obviously not too much of a stretch) whose style of action cinema has ostracized him from other filmmakers. Thus, he decides to make a movie on his own terms. Unfortunately for him and his crew, their shooting location — a factory on a deserted island — is ground zero for a war between feuding yakuza gangs. Soon enough, Sakaguchi finds himself battling an army of gangsters as well as a deadly assassin.
Sakaguchi has certainly starred in plenty of stinkers over the years. (The less said about Azumi, for instance, the better.) But the man clearly has skill to spare as well as a certain undeniable on-screen charisma. As such, One-Percent Warrior has all of the trappings of a great popcorn film, the sort that might be screened during TIFF’s “Midnight Madness” program. We’ll find out for sure when Well Go USA releases One-Percent Warrior on March 12, 2024.