There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a genre film having a derivative plot. In some ways, we go to see genre movies because of their familiarity, and the ability to give us what we came for. Audiences don’t go to romantic comedies expecting to see the couple do anything other than fall in love by the end of the movie, and most watch martial arts movies with the understanding that there are storylines that get re-used time after time. This is because they work. Hydra leans heavily into a set-up which has been used countless times in action movies, especially ones with martial arts. But while there isn’t much new to the story, that simply makes the fighting elements of the film that much more important.
If nothing else, Hydra has simplicity in the storyline, following an assassin who has retired to work at a small sushi bar. Why Takashi (Masanori Mimoto) has chosen this life, and this specific bar, is a mystery that is not revealed immediately, though it is not difficult to guess given how often it has been used in the genre. With him at the bar is the bartender Rina (Miu), who seems to attract the attention of a few unsavory types of customers, with Takashi always taking notice. A waiter at the restaurant believes this is because Takashi is in love with Rina, but the truth is much more complicated than that, revealed to us in a series of flashbacks of Takashi’s life as an assassin.
Though these flashbacks do provide some context and the occasional scene of brief action, much of the film takes place in the sushi bar, Hydra. And it isn’t until the climax that the action really has the opportunity to pick up. Even then, action fans expecting a blow-out payoff after enduring the laid-back pace of much of the film may be disappointed. On the other hand, true connoisseurs of martial arts may be impressed by the practical accomplishments achieved in the fight choreography. Simple as it may be, this leaves nowhere for the performers to hide, as it is purely their skill on display. Had the entire film been as exciting as the final fight, however, it would be a lot easier to recommend Hydra to anyone other than die-hard martial arts fans.
The simplicity of the storytelling in Hydra clearly comes from necessities of the budget. Even the look of the cinematography lends itself to a lower budget. The larger issue is the amount of time the audience must wait until the action begins, and the lack of compelling character development leading up to these moments. What the film needs more of are these moments, especially given the fact that director Kensuke Sonomura has a background in stunt work. Unfortunately, the elements outside of the fight choreography are far more forgettable.
The Blu-ray release has no special features to speak of. The only reason for the upgrade would be the high definition presentation, though it often makes the shortcomings in cinematography even more noticeable.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10