Friday, May 21, 2010

Film Review: BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Tag-line: "He may be blind, but he don't need no dog."
Notable Cast or Crew: Rutger Hauer, Terry O'Quinn (Locke on LOST, THE STEPFATHER, SILVER BULLET), Nick Cassavetes (son of John, FACE/OFF, QUIET COOL), Meg Foster (THEY LIVE, LEVIATHAN, STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY), Noble Willingham (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY), Randall 'Tex' Cobb (former heavyweight, RAISING ARIZONA, DIGGSTOWN, the WALKER TEXAS RANGER finale episode), Rick Overton (Franjean the Brownie in WILLOW, GROUNDHOG DAY), Sho Kosugi (REVENGE OF THE NINJA, ENTER THE NINJA, NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA).
Best one-liner: "I also do circumcision."

Despite the fact that Japan's ZATOICHI series had persisted for 26 films and 112 television episodes, it took seven years of shopping the script to American studios in order to make this re-imagining actually happen. And the straw that broke Tri-Star's back? "He may be blind, but he don't need no dog." Yes, it was the profound utterance of that sheer Miltonian poetry which secured the funding: not a script, not Rutger Hauer, not Terry O'Quinn (or should I say 'Terrance O'Quinn,' as the credits do?). At least that's how the story goes. Maybe that's a good starting-off point: "He may be blind, but he don't need no dog." I guess I'm okay with that. Written by Charles Robert Carner (GYMKATA) and directed by Philip Noyce (PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER), this movie is pretty much exactly what you'd expect. Closest in structure to the 17th Japanese film, ZATOICHI CHALLENGED, BLIND FURY is nonstop rip-roaring-Rutger Hauer-blind swordsman action.
He lost his vision on the battlefied in 'Nam. Bloodied and abandoned, he stumbled into a village where they healed and trained him for the next several years in the Vietnamese (?!) art of blind swordsmanship.
(All of this plot is finely condensed into the opening five minutes, though we do receive some additional 'Nam flashbacks as the story proceeds.) Cutting to the present-day, Rutger is wandering around with his walking stick, looking like a real goofball. Headphones, trench coat, backpack, sunglasses, and a silly red ball cap. It's quite an ensemble.
His stick strikes an alligator on the side of the road. "Nice doggy," says Hauer as he steps across the reptile and he continues on, apparently oblivious to his brush with death.
As events later in the film will later confirm, Hauer's character, Nick Parker, is so finely attuned to his surroundings that, even without sight, he can gauge how many men are in a room, envision what sorts of weapons they might have, predict a projectile's trajectory, and then kick/kill their asses with the blade hidden in his cane. This leads me to believe that of course Hauer knew that he was stepping over an alligator, and only said "Nice doggy" for his own personal amusement (and for the gator's as well?). We get a sense of Hauer in action as soon as he steps into a ramshackle Floridian bar and grill.
A local punk pulls the old "switch the blind man's mild sauce with the hot sauce" routine, and he and his buddies soon find themselves curled up in the corner, grasping their balls in pain, and wishing they'd never fiddled with cinema's most dangerous Dutchman.

A plot soon emerges: Vegas mobster-types dangle Terry O'Quinn from a great precipice (an image which may be of interest to LOST fans.)
Terry O'Quinn (as Frank Devereaux) incurred a vast gambling debt at a crooked casino, and the local criminal empire would like Devereaux, who happens to be a chemist, to basically cook up an obscenely large batch of crystal meth for them, presumably to sell on playgrounds or convents or wherever the most evil place to peddle illegal drugs happens to be. Well, right at this moment, Hauer- his old war buddy– happens to be visiting his Florida home. O'Quinn is in Vegas being tortured by mobsters at the moment, but since Hauer is a big fan of the drop-by, he decides to have some tea with his old lady and his kid. O'Quinn's wife here is played by Meg Foster (a.k.a. The Evil Chick from THEY LIVE), and oddly this isn't the first time they've played spouses (also see: STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY).
She's also in possession of some of the most eerily striking eyes in film history. Maybe she shoulda played the blind person. Tragedy strikes in the form of Randall 'Tex' Cobb (as the redunkulous villain, 'Slag'), and despite Hauer's best limb-slashing efforts, he's unable to completely avert calamity.
Now Hauer is on the road with O'Quinn's kid, and the side-splitting antics– set to what sounds a lot like the score from DRIVING MISS DAISY– begin to ensue. As always, Hauer really delves deeply into the role. There's a hell of a lot of lip-pursing and brow-raising and eye-squinting, but instead of coming across as over-the-top, it's simply a means for Hauer to externalize our key suspension of disbelief– that a blind man can achieve near-supernatural feats of swordplay.
You feel the weight of it, too. While this film is certainly no stranger to slapstick (a statue gets Venus de Milo'd, etc., etc.), occasionally the script decides its time for a stock 'emotional scene.' Frequently Hauer and O'Quinn elevate these scenes to levels of truthful artistry which I can't imagine the makers actually intended (more on that in a bit).

Anyway, Hauer is en route to Vegas with the kid. They're pursued by mobsters who want to kidnap the child in order to more easily coerce O'Quinn into freebasing those mountains of crystal meth I was talking about earlier. Their dynamic is fun to watch, and will make you yearn for a less politically correct era of filmmaking. The kid is a dick. Always ribbing Hauer, trying to steal his seat on the bus, poking fun at him for being blind. But, as many a great Golan-Globus film has shown us, there's a great catharsis to be had in the depiction of a bratty kid getting his comeuppance. Just take this scene, for instance:
It's fantastic! Hauer and the kid facing off through a series of dangerous pranks tempered by vaguely offensive schadenfreude. Note the gleeful enthusiasm with which Rutger relishes the idea of the kid perhaps breaking his kneecap, the petulant gusto with which the kid tries to asphyxiate Hauer, the reversals of derisive laughter, and the natural joy we feel as an audience when Rutger regurgitates the rock and thwacks the kid on the temple.
Is it wrong to feel this way? No! It's in the service of a growing paternal bond between Hauer and the kid. How can that be wrong? It's beautiful! In fact, how dare you question their heartwarming relationship!

I will now pontificate on some brutal low blows of note.
Yeah, there are certainly quite a few of them in this flick. And most notably: an excruciating, skewering, sword-delivered stab to the nuts. I call it- the "Shish Ke-Lowblow."
YAHHHHHHH


More villains join the fray. Nick Cassavetes and Rick Overton, in a nod to Peckinpah, play Lyle and Tector Pike, two nefarious, bickering brothers who are essentially couple of Keystone Kowboys. "I'm gonna put that blind man in a wheelchair!" They kind of feel like they should be villains in a WAYNE'S WORLD movie, but since they're already here, let's just go with it.
Rutger Hauer- not a fan of THE NOTEBOOK.

Along the way, there's the best cornfield chase since NORTH BY NORTHWEST (or at least since PRIME CUT), a nettlesome wasp is sliced in two, a vexing eyebrow gets the cane sword treatment, and Rutger gets to blind-drive a van the wrong way down a one-way street ("Billy, navigate!").
Note the juxtaposition of Rutger's glee and the screaming passenger's terror.

Angered by the lack of progress by his dunderheaded minions who "can't even catch a blind man and a kid," the head of the criminal empire (played by Noble Willingham) demands Bruce Lee. "Bruce Lee is dead!," his flunky retorts. "Then get me his brother!" Suddenly, the one and only SHO KOSUGI shows up in his employ!
His origin is never adequately explained, so, as an audience, you're kind of wondering if he's actually supposed to be Bruce Lee's brother. Hauer recognizing him as Japanese after touching his eyes (yikes) would seem to debunk this idea, but this is BLIND FURY, so it's still hard to say.

Oh, didn't I promise to talk more about some real emotional stakes here in BLIND FURY? Well, here goes. The film begins to flesh out some back story for Hauer and O'Quinn.
They were best buds back in Da Nang, but a case of apparent heat-of-the-moment cowardice on O'Quinn's part may or may not have something to do with Rutger's sightlessness.
There. Now with that baggage, rethink Rutger's drop-by. Not having seen each other since the incident in question, one could imagine that their reunion would be a minefield of pain, regret, and introspection. But can you imagine that reunion in the context of a movie which has more in common with ENTER THE NINJA than THE DEER HUNTER? Well, I would say- never underestimate the indescribable pathos of Terry O'Quinn or the emotional intimacy of Rutger Hauer.
These freeze frames don't exactly do it justice, but you probably have an inkling of the virtuosity on display.

Anyway, it ends with a sword fight over a hot tub.
I feel like I say this a lot, but – shades of REVENGE OF THE NINJA? I mean, that movie packs in more jacuzzis per minute than any comparable martial arts film. Did Sho ask for the hot tub's inclusion, or was Noyce merely tipping his hat to Golan-Globus?

Anyway, that really sums it all up. Utter absurdity and poignant, impassioned characterizations collide. See it all in BLIND FURY.

-Sean Gill

4 comments:

Dan said...

I just watched this two days ago for the first time in around 20 years and really enjoyed it.
I'd forgotten the classic curse word scene in the elevator:
Guy 1:''Shit!''
Guy 2:''Fuck!''
Both:''Shitfuck!!''

J.D. said...

Yeah, I forgot what freaky deaky eyes Foster has! Every time I watch THEY LIVE I'm mesmerized by 'em. I always thought man, she MUST be an alien.

Now if they only coulda got Hauer to play Daredevil instead of Affleck!!

Sean Gill said...

Dan,

It's poetry, really. In fact, that's why I enjoy BLIND FURY so much- because of it's poetic brilliance.

...That and its willingness to depict a dude getting stabbed in the nuts with a cane sword.

J.D.,

Foster's eyes have creeped me out on many an occasion. So much so, that I was definitely rooting for Terry O'Quinn in STEPFATHER 2.

I never had any interest in seeing the Affleck DAREDEVIL film, but, needless to say, all of that would change in an instant if Hauer were involved. Perhaps we could get Meg Foster in the Jennifer Garner role?- ha!

J.D. said...

Heh! Yeah, that would be cool to see Foster as Elektra. Yeah, that would have been VERY interesting indeed. Throw a role to Terry O'Quinn for good measure.