‘Hidden Strike’ aka ‘Project X-Traction’ is another one of those films that was made and then seemed to disappear into the aether. Put together in 2018 but not seeing the light of day until it appeared on Netflix in July 2023, ‘Hidden Strike’ sees East meet West once again as Jackie Chan is teamed with John Cena.
After a Chinese oil refinery is attacked in Iraq, ex-Special Forces agent Luo Feng (Chan) is tasked with evacuating and protecting civilians. A convoy of armoured vehicles heads out across the supposed ‘Highway of Death’ and towards the protected ‘Green Zone’, though getting there safely is another matter entirely. Leading the mercenaries who attacked the refinery is Owen who manages to inveigle former Marine Chris Van Horne and his brother Henry into assisting, the former thinking he is earning his money to re-build the village he now lives in. After Henry is killed and Chris discovers that the whole plan has been an elaborate oil heist, the surviving brother sets out for revenge. On his tail, however, is Luo Feng who has seen his own colleagues kidnapped and killed during the robbery.
For some reason these days, my mind drifts off to better films when I’m watching a new release. As ‘Hidden Strike’ developed, I got flashbacks to ‘Red Sun’ which I had watched a few weeks before, though the Bronson/Mifune/Delon film is a few notches above this action flick. ‘Hidden Strike’ borrows the cast of international heroes, has a Western lead who is more of an anti-hero who is out for revenge, and features an extended road trip, which then made my mind recall ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. That ‘Hidden Strike’ is not in the same league as any of the aforementioned classics is to be expected, though as a straight-action film it kind of delivers on its premise. The first hour is awkward but once things are established and the heroes are forced to work together, things take an upwards trajectory. There has been much said about Chan and Cena’s lack of on-screen chemistry, but though the two are hardly as accomplished a team as Chan and Chris Tucker or Owen Wilson were, they create an effective team. The wisecracks falter, yet the action allows both actors to show what they do best; Chan (with copious wirework) does some intricate fighting, and Cena bludgeons faceless villains without breaking into a sweat.
And yet, despite enjoying the film on some level, I couldn’t help but opine as to what cinema, especially in the action genre, had now increasingly become. That ‘Hidden Strike’ is full of computer effects is something of a given today, yet that so much landscape and scenery is green-screened is harder to accept. Even productions that have the budgets to do this to the highest quality are now looking like expensive video games rather than involving films. Every colour is super-bright and the palette is like a Willy Wonka fever dream; this looks outstanding in 4k HDR, but so far removed from grounded cinema that it is almost like a different medium. The worry about AI actors taking over from the real stars need not worry anyone – we’re pretty much already there now. There is no sense of danger or substance in what you see on the screen. Comparing this, in my mind, to ‘Fury Road, reminded me of the arduous months and years that George Miller spent planning and filming in Namibia. It brought back thoughts of the visual splendour and the natural colours and textures that only location filming can bring.
Despite my bewailing, ‘Hidden Strike’ is an entertaining film though the computer effects sometimes lack finesse and the wirework for an ageing Jackie Chan has become too obvious. Nevertheless, there are a few solid moments, namely an early shoot-out and Chan’s fight with Max Huang, though even this descends into a remake of a particular scene in ‘Return of the Pink Panther’. There are flashes of wit and invention in here somewhere, while it could also be said that it keeps the attention for the full duration. But to praise it for such shows how low the bar for acclaim has now fallen.