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“Blind Fury” is one of those movies from the ’80s — the glory days of vacuous action movies and high school sex comedies — that I like even though I know it’s not a great film by any stretch. Like John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” and Walter Hill’s stylish but idiotic “Streets of Fire”, you either love movies like “Blind Fury” or you try to avoid them. I personally love them, and after 15 years, the movie has aged quite well. In fact, speaking from hindsight, the movie seems almost ahead of its time.
The film stars Rutger Hauer (“Blade Runner”) as Nick Parker, a Vietnam War soldier who is blinded during a mission. Left for dead, Nick stumbles into a village of indigenous people who, instead of lopping off his head, takes pity on him and teaches him the art of sword fighting. Nick eventually returns home to the U.S. in search of Frank (Terry O’Quinn, “Hometown Legend”), his buddy from Vietnam who fled the battle that Nick was injured in. Not that Nick wants to torture his ex-buddy for abandoning him; in fact, Nick wants to seek Frank out in order to forgive the other man.
Alas, before Nick even reaches Frank, the ex-soldier turned gambler turned chemist has gotten himself into trouble with desperate casino tycoon MacCready (Noble Willingham), who plots to save his casino by forcing Frank to make him a new brand of drugs to sell for some quick cash. In order to ensure Frank’s cooperation, MacCready sends his people, led by the Neanderthal Slag (Randall “Tex” Cobb), to snatch up Frank’s son Billy (Brandon Call), presently living with his mother in Florida. Luckily for the squirt, Nick Parker is present when Slag arrives. Nick saves Billy, but is unable to save the boy’s mother. Together, the two sets off to Reno to reunite Billy with his father.
Although it sounds convoluted, “Blind Fury” has such good pacing that Nick’s blindness, his tutelage in the ways of the sword, and his return to Florida, USA are all revealed within the film’s first 10 minutes. The film’s second act follows Nick and Billy as they criss-cross the country to Reno, dodging Slag and hired guns all the while. The second act also showcases a fight in a cornfield that makes up the film’s best action sequence. In it, Nick must outwit a band of redneck assassins that have him surrounded. It’s so well executed that you wish most ’80s action movies had been this inspired.
“Blind Fury” works because its action scenes are elaborately choreographed and believable. As the blind swordsman, Nick Parker could give Zatoichi a run for his money. Armed with a walking cane that hides his sword, Nick fights the way you’d expect a blind man to fight, which also means Nick doesn’t always succeed, and most of the times it takes him more than one slash to get his intended target. In that way, Nick Parker is much more realistic than the Japanese Zatoichi, whose uncanny ability to find his target with one flashy swing borders on the ridiculous.
The action also excels in the way Nick attacks his opponents. He doesn’t just use his hearing, but also his touch. Nick lunges into his opponent, using their extended body parts as a map from which to work with. When Nick lops a gunman’s hand off at the wrist, he does so by running into the man, feeling the arm, and then using those two actions as a guide to slice away. You don’t expect that kind of detail in an action movie about a blind swordsman, and that’s just one of the reasons why I believe “Blind Fury” beats the stylized violence of “Zatoichi” by a mile.
“Blind Fury” was directed by Aussie Phillip Noyce, who was coming off the Nicole Kidman thriller “Dead Calm” and would go on to direct a host of big-budget Hollywood action pictures including “Patriot Games” and “The Saint”. Maybe this is why “Blind Fury” doesn’t look like your typical ’80s action film. Noyce’s smooth camerawork shows itself during the fantastic cornfield scene, but does seem to lose much of its visceral feel in the film’s second half. For whatever reason, the film loses a lot of style once the preceding moves to the city of Reno. The presence of two redneck assassins doesn’t help matters.
Although it’s heavy on action, “Blind Fury” is also quite funny. The script hits its comedic strides in the brief period when it follows Nick and Billy on the road. You could call “Blind Fury” an action-comedy, and it certainly manages both genres very well. But don’t mistake “Blind Fury” for a PG-rated movie. There are curse words aplenty, and Nick’s cane-sword causes a lot of damage. The bloodbath culminates in a fight on MacCready’s mountain retreat, where Nick meets his greatest challenge yet — a Japanese assassin played by the ninja master himself, Sho Kosugi. Unfortunately the two men’s battle is much too short, and Kosugi’s death is a tad lame.
For fans of ’80s action movies, you can’t get any better than “Blind Fury”. Noyce’s direction in the first half is a pleasure to watch, and Rutger Hauer proves why he was such an effective leading man for such a long period of time. Although you would probably call “Blind Fury” a B-movie, it has the makings of a blockbuster if released properly. Of course there are problems, such as the random thugs that attempt to kill Nick on various occasions. Slag is the only thug that has any personality, with the rest coming straight out of Central Casting. Noble Willingham, too, makes for a weak villain, and more should have been made of Sho Kosugi’s presence.
You could do a lot worst than “Blind Fury”. Its realistic action and a strong leading turn by Rutger Hauer is more than enough to justify the expense of searching for this hidden gem from the ’80s. And here’s a bit of trivia: the way Nick eventually disposes of the hard-to-kill Slag seems to have been the inspiration for Darth Maul’s death plunge in George Lucas’ “The Phantom Menace”. Hmm, I smell a copycat.
Phillip Noyce (director) / Ryozo Kasahara, Charles Robert Carner (screenplay)
CAST: Rutger Hauer …. Nick Parker
Terry O’Quinn …. Frank Devereaux
Brandon Call …. Billy Devereaux
Noble Willingham …. MacCready
Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb …. Slag
Sho Kosugi …. The Assassin