Finally released on Netflix, Hidden Strike is a film I never thought would see the light of day. Entering into production roughly 5 years ago, it has gone through a series of complications in its journey to the screen.
Initially planned as a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Project X-traction as it was called at the time would have partnered him with Jackie Chan, a team up that many action fans had been anticipating for decades. Sadly this wasn’t to be with Stallone leaving the production due to other filming commitments.
With Jackie Chan remaining on board, the search was on to find a co-star that would be a worthwhile match for Chan. Finally the production settled on John Cena. While he may not be as iconic as Stallone, Cena and Chan actually make for quite a fun double act with their differing acting styles complimenting each other.
Taking place in Baghdad, the action kicks off after Chinese oil firm Unicorp’s refinery is attacked by Mercenaries. Unicorp send in a private security firm led by “Dragon” Luo Feng (Jackie Chan) to evacuate the refinery’s employees, with them all traveling in a convoy of buses along the famed “Highway of Death” towards the safety of the Green Zone.
During this, ex Marine Chris Van Horne (John Cena) has been coerced by his mercenary brother Henry (Amadeus Serafini) to attack the convoy, with Chris being misinformed that it is actually terrorists. Chris along with a team of mercenaries create a sandstorm to cover their attack. Once the storm clears Dragon realizes that 5 of the employees have been kidnapped.
Chris is ultimately double crossed by his friend Owen Paddock (Pilou Asbæk) who it turns out organized the attack and kidnapping. The only way for Chris to stop Paddock is to team up with Dragon and rescue the hostages.
For a while I expected that Hidden Strike was going to become an abandoned film like the recent Batgirl. It had been so long since any actual news was heard about the film that it was something of a surprise when I heard that Netflix was planning to release it. Perhaps it was the upcoming release of Expendables 4 (2023) that pushed the decision, with both films being directed by Scott Waugh.
Waugh has already proven previously to have talent around shooting action. Whilst his previous movies like Act of Valor (2012) and Need for Speed (2014) didn’t exactly blow audiences away with their plots, the action at least had an air of quality about it. I would argue that Hidden Strike is definitely his best film to date, with a fun mixture of action and comedy. It is in no way perfect, with an overly simplistic script from Arash Amel that has a plot that is merely there to get the heroes from A to B with an underwhelming villain thrown in for good measure.
Still, one doesn’t watch a film like Hidden Strike for its well developed plots, or even characters for that matter. When it comes to the characters, the film does slightly better but this is more down to the chemistry of the two leads than what is on the written page. Both Chan and Cena inject a lot of personality into their characters, with some of their dialogue feeling almost ad libbed.
As fun as these dialogue driven scenes are, most viewers will be mostly looking at the action scenes, and in this respect Hidden Strike doesn’t disappoint. A lot of the action has more in common with the Fast and Furious series, with over the top car chases and explosions that are accompanied by some under par CGI. Saying that, the CGI is never embarrassing, with it actually being better than some of the effects work that was implemented in Fast X (2023).
Even with all the vehicular carnage, there is still enough of that old Chan magic throughout the film to keep his most ardent fans (i.e. me) happy. Fans should consider that Chan is older now, so expecting him to pull off the same level of action he did all those years ago in Police Story (1985) is ridiculous. There is more use of wires and the like, but Chan still shows an amazing agility for a man of his age (or any age for that matter) with him getting involved in several memorable showdowns.
One of the most memorable is his initial meeting with Cena, where the two face off. The difference in size and style between the two leads to a well choreographed bout that allows both actors to show off their skills. However, as memorable as this was, his fight against the legendary Tim Man was even better, with it having a good mix of comedy and action that hearkens back to the great Chan films of the 1980’s.
Chan even gets to stretch his acting muscles during the film, with the rocky relationship between him and his daughter adding a bit of emotion into proceedings. What stood out for me is how this element of the character could be almost autobiographical, with Chan’s own estranged relationship with his daughter being well documented. Co-incidentally, Chan’s recent Ride On (2023) also had Chan’s character trying to repair his relationship with his daughter.
Clearly John Cena’s role was rewritten once he was cast, tailoring it more to his persona. I feel that the character would have been quite different if played by Sylvester Stallone as initially intended. Cena has consistently shown to be quite adept at comedy, something that Hidden Strike allows him to show on several occasions. Like Chan, he too gets a good number of opportunities to kick ass and show off his fighting skills. His sheer size differentiates his fight scenes, with director Waugh having some fun showcasing Cena’s more wrestling orientated moves.
As mentioned, the main villain of the film is disappointing. Pilou Asbæk is a fine actor, but there isn’t much for him to do here other than bark out orders. Also he isn’t exactly a physical match for either of our heroes, so any expectation of a final fight scene with him is pretty much cancelled from the get go. A similar fate met Asbæk’s villain in last year’s Samaritan (2022), with him coming across as extremely unimposing when put against Sylvester Stallone’s super powered hero.
Although Asbæk isn’t able to physically square off with either Chan or Cena, he is luckily backed up by the more than capable Tim Man, whose henchman Knox puts both of them through their paces. Not exactly the most rounded of characters, Man still manages to stand out just by his sheer physicality. That and the fact that half his face is covered with a tattoo, making him look almost demonic.
It’s great to see Man in action, as more often these days he is working behind the camera as a fight choreographer, with him steadily becoming one of the best in the business. Now and again he will make on screen appearances in the likes of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013) or Accident Man (2018), both of which have him showcasing his martial arts skills. As great as these are, his roles are typically no more than cameos. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised with how much screen time he was given in the film. I was expecting him to merely appear during the opening as just another in a line of disposable henchmen but he manages to stretch out what could be considered a minor role into something more worthwhile, with Man appearing throughout most of the film’s duration.
The remainder of the cast don’t get to make as much of an impression. Chan’s character may be accompanied by a team but the main focus is primarily on Chan. Ma Xinrui’s Luo Mei doesn’t really get much to do other than give her father shit for not being there for her while Amadeus Serafini is merely there to guilt trip Cena’s character into helping him.
I did notice Mortal Kombat (2021) star Max Huang as one of Paddock’s men, but his role is considerably small. Of course, this was probably down to Hidden Strike being produced a good few years before Mortal Kombat, when Huang was less established.
I have noticed that there is an increasing amount of poor reviews for Hidden Strike online, but a lot of this seems to come from people either heightening their expectations or simply nitpicking. Others seem to think the film has a Pro CCP theme running through it, but to be honest in comparison to other more recent Chinese actioners I have watched, there is nothing really here to complain about.
In no way the best either Jackie Chan or John Cena has to offer, Hidden Strike is still an entertaining actioner that happily coasts along on the charms of its lead performers while treating the audience to a host of well done action scenes. I could certainly have seen this as the start of a franchise but the delayed release has probably put all stops to that.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.3/5