After a brief summer hiatus, MERRY JANE's regular Netflix column is back and we're reigniting things with a bang by recommending some of the best action-thrillers streaming right now. And not just any action-thrillers. We're taking it one step further and highlighting international action flicks set all around the world. But just know that no matter the locale, all these movies have plenty of jaw-dropping scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Asian cinema has no shortage of dope action movies. As it turns out there are quite a few exciting action films made in Asia currently on Netflix, including the explosive Indonesian movie Headshot (2016), featuring Iko Uwais, the star of The Raid 1 & 2. By all means watch it, but just be warned: the violence is extreme.
But our first two picks this week are films that take place in other parts of Southeast Asia. No Escape is about an American family (Owen Wilson plays the dad) that relocates to a new exotic home just as a heavily-armed uprising unexpectedly breaks out. Operation Mekong, meanwhile, is about Chinese intelligence units combating drug cartels in the no man's land section of the Golden Triangle, located where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar connect. Both movies are guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping.
Our next two picks both center around quick-thinking police who must use their wits as well as their bullet-dodging skills in order to save the day. To a large degree, Bon Cop Bad Cop is a top-notch Canadian version of Lethal Weapon as two detectives from Quebec and Toronto, respectively, must put their differences aside in order to work together on a strange serial killer case. Avenged is a surprisingly captivating heist film from South Africa involving an undercover cop who gets in too deep and lets the temptation of stolen money mess with his mind.
Our final destination is London for the runaway train thriller Last Passenger, which finds a father and his young son amongst the unlucky commuters on the fast track to certain doom. So hold on tight as we go full speed ahead with these must-see global action flicks.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
No Escape (2015)
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Genre: Action, Thriller
If we're being honest, a good deal of what drives No Escape is that it plays on the xenophobia many travelers experience when abroad. The feeling of being alone and vulnerable can be hard to shake. That uncertainty boils over for an American business exec (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and their two children when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a violent military coup in an unspecified tropical Asian country. (For the record, the movie was shot in Thailand, although one can easily imagine the tourist board objecting to the film's depiction of a city where all the locals are either a menacing horde of bloodthirsty killers or nameless and powerless bystanders.)
However, once you get past the sketchy details and lack of full-fledged Asian characters, it's hard to deny that No Escape is a balls-to-the-wall nail-biter. Owen Wilson is an unlikely choice for an action hero, but he is quite convincing as a father pushed to the limit, doing anything to survive even in the most implausible situations, whether it's jumping between tall buildings or outrunning projectile missiles. But then again, impossible feats are a big part of why we watch action flicks, and this one doesn't disappoint.
Operation Mekong (2016)
Starring: Eddie Peng, Zhang Hanyu, Pawalit Mongkolpisit, Vithaya Pansringarm
Director: Dante Lam
Genre: Action, Crime
It takes 20 or so minutes to get cooking, but once Operation Mekong gets up and going it's one beast of a movie. Based on the real life killings of 13 Chinese fishermen at the hands of vicious drug cartels in 2011, this high-octane heart-stopper follows elite special forces on an insane mission to capture the perpetrators of the crime. When it's all said and done, no one is safe, not even kids… or damn babies! Even dogs are in on the action as we watch Bingo, a heroic K-9, dash and amaze through battle zones.
While it's true that the flimsy undercover disguises the incognito agents wear are kind of cheesy—not to mention the abundance of flamboyant villains with weird haircuts and facial deformities—all is forgiven once the next-level martial arts fighting and car chases kick in (wait until you see a mall get utterly destroyed Blues Brothers style). This is quality action, no doubt.
Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006)
Starring: Patrick Huard, Colm Feore, Sarain Boylan, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
Director: Erik Canuel
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Sports
Yes, the plot of Bon Cop Bad Cop, in which two detectives with clashing personalities are forced to partner up to solve a perplexing murder case, has been done a million times. But what the film lacks in an original set-up makes up for it big time with the winning chemistry generated between hard-nosed, rule-breaking detective David Bouchard (Patrick Huard), who hails from Quebec, and Martin Ward (Colm Feore), a far more reserved, by-the-book counterpart from Toronto.
Of course, Bouchard and Ward don't get along. And, obviously, they'll eventually become good buddies, all while tracking down an obsessed killer with a grudge against the suits responsible for selling the beloved local hockey team. But what really matters is the effortless way the film segues from humor to action and back around again.
Bon Cop Bad Cop is also a film that's evenly split 50/50 in two languages, English and French. For those who hate subtitles, don't fret. The cleverly written script plays around with the language differences, facilitating the bilingual dialogue for viewers whenever possible. As for the action scenes, luckily, ass-kicking is the same in any language.
Starring: S'Dumo Mtshali, Presley Chweneyagae, Israel Makoe, Owen Sejake
Director: Donovan Marsh
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
It's clear that Avenged didn't have a huge budget. Yet the lack of funds only adds to the overall grittiness of this tale about two upstanding and unappreciated cops working at a corrupt precinct in Johannesburg. What makes things intriguing is the morally flawed undercover officer played by S'Dumo Mtshali, who has recently decided it's time to stop being Mr. Nice Guy and finally get paid. He's already infiltrated a gang of robbers planning an armored truck heist, except he's going to keep the money he steals. His best friend and partner (Presley Chweneyagae) strongly opposes this ill-advised idea.
Director Donovan Marsh wastes no time building tension between the cops and the unpredictable criminals. Much of what elevates the film is the strong work of the carefully chosen cast. Every actor brings something special to the table, most notably Israel Makoe, who also appears in Hard to Get (2014), another entertaining South African film currently on Netflix that's worth checking out.
Last Passenger (2013)
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon, Iddo Goldberg
Director: Omid Nooshin
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama
There has been quite a long line of action-thrillers set on board trains: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974 & 2009), Runaway Train (1985), and Denzel Washington's Unstoppable (2010) are just a few. Last Passenger has decidedly less star power and money behind it, but holds its own in the excitement department.
First though, you have to get past a hokey start. The story takes place around Christmas and if you didn't know any better you might think that you were watching a standard holiday film complete with a classy musical score reminiscent of vintage Bernard Hermann compositions.
Anyways, early on we meet a mild-mannered doctor (Dougray Scott) on his way home who strikes up a conversation with an upwardly mobile female commuter (Kara Tointon). The two share a few flirtatious moments. But the real sparks come once the commuters realize that the train is not stopping. It's then up to the good doc to overcome one daunting obstacle after another. Like most of these types of movies, some of the scenarios eventually get a little hard to believe at times, but then again we're talking about thrillers over here, not documentaries.