Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Film Appreciation - Grievous Errors of Unreasonable Men

Cody Hamman looks back at the 1989 adventures of a blind swordsman for Film Appreciation.

As far as anyone knows, Nick Parker was killed by a mortar attack in the Vietnam War. His body was never recovered, but fellow soldier Frank Devereaux wasn't far away when the area Nick was in was blown apart. Nick's name is on the memorial wall. But he wasn't killed in Vietnam. He was wounded by a mortar, blinded by it, and as he stumbled away through the jungle, he was found by some villagers. They nursed him to health, taught him how to overcome the loss of his sight and get more in tune with his other senses... And one man among them taught Nick how to expertly wield a sword.
Twenty years later, Nick has made his way back to the United States and, still officially a dead man, spends his days drifting around the country. A lot of people try to pull tricks on him and antagonize him, mocking his blindness, but he keeps a good attitude and, when necessary, he can definitely handle himself in a fight.

Nick's latest stop is Miami, Florida, where he's come to finally visit his old friend Frank Devereaux. The visit doesn't go as planned. Nick finds that Frank has divorced his wife Lynn and got a job as an organic chemist in Reno, Nevada. Lynn got custody of their preteen son Billy. Nick hasn't been talking to Frank's ex for long when a group of goons, led by a man called Slag and played by Randall "Tex" Cobb (Raising Arizona), show up looking for Billy. In the ensuing chaos, Lynn is killed and Nick protects Billy, revealing that there's a sword blade within his walking cane. Once the goons have been dispatched, and Slag has made his escape, Nick sets out to fulfill Lynn's dying breath request that he take the boy to his father in Reno.
Nick and Billy get off to a rough start, Billy's not an easy kid to get along with, but they gradually bond as they make their way across the country. Slag tracks them along the way, he and his team of men - which consists primarily of dopey rednecks - making attempts to kill Nick and kidnap Billy whenever the opportunity arises. This just allows Nick to repeatedly beat and outsmart them and whittle down their numbers. The logic behind attacking them on their way to Reno is questionable, because Reno is actually exactly where the villains want Billy to be.

Frank apparently has a gambling problem, and he's lost a lot of money at a Reno casino owned by a man named MacCready, who Slag works for. Now, MacCready is forcing Frank to pay off his debt by using his knowledge of chemistry to start making designer drugs for him and improve his criminal enterprises. Having Billy in his clutches will give Frank extra incentive to get the work done.

Fun sequences (like a car car chase in which the blind Nick has to take the wheel), great fight scenes, and entertaining characters (including Nick Cassavetes of The Wraith and Rick Overton as hilarious standout henchmen, brothers Lyle and Tector Pike) build to an action-packed climax at MacCready's Piz Gloria-esque mountaintop ski resort, where a samurai assassin ("Special Appearance by Sho Kosugi") is called in in a last ditch effort to put Nick out of the bad guys' misery.
With a lighthearted tone, a big role for a child actor, and humor that leans toward slapstick, this movie would probably have been made PG-13 if it came out now, but this was released back in the good old days, when studios weren't afraid to go for the R and mix those components with strong language and moments of shocking violence, giving the film an extra boost.

Like many movies I've written about on the blog, Blind Fury is one that I watched many, many times with various family members when it first reached video and cable. I really enjoyed the movie back then, when I was six/seven years old, but as often happens it eventually drifted out of my viewing rotation. Still, it remained in the back of my mind, with fond, distinct memories of certain scenes, and I thought of it whenever I would see star Rutger Hauer in something else, particularly Hobo with a Shotgun.

Recently, I've seen "Blind Fury" trending a few times on Twitter, and would always hope that somehow something had spurred members to flood the site with tweets about this 1989 action movie, but it turns out that there's a rapper who calls himself Blind Fury these days. But seeing that name brought the movie back to the forefront of my mind, and I recalled liking the main theme composed for it by J. Peter Robinson, so I went over to YouTube and listened to it. As soon as that music kicked it, I was overcome with nostalgia. I really had to get in a new viewing of Blind Fury.

Revisiting it, I found it as enjoyable as ever. Hauer is great as Nick Parker, one of the most comedically pleasant heroes this side of a Jackie Chan character, and has said that this was one of his most challenging roles, since he had to be a badass swordsman while still playing blind. There are several notable actors in the cast, in addition to those already mentioned there's Meg Foster, Lisa Blount, Terry O'Quinn of Lost and Young Guns as Frank, and Noble Willingham (The Last Boy Scout, The Corndog Man), always a reliable villain. Among the "ski lodge killers" is stuntman turned Final Destination 2/4/Snakes on a Plane director David R. Ellis, who unfortunately passed away within the last few days.

Blind Fury was the first film to be produced by prolific actor Tim Matheson, who worked for nearly ten years to get it made. The project came out of Matheson's appreciation of the Japanese series Zatoichi. This Americanization and modernization of the concept is loosely based on the film Zatoichi Challenged, the seventeenth movie in that series.

Although the Japanese version of the blind swordsman character has appeared in nearly 30 movies, a TV show that ran for 100 episodes, and a stage play, this was the only outing for Nick Parker, even though it was left open for a sequel... But, y'know, it's still not too late for one. Nick Parker is still out there somewhere, walking the Earth, and so is Rutger Hauer. The eternal optimists among us could hold on to hope that someday soon he'll put down the shotgun and pick the cane sword up again.


  1. I saw this in the theater and was thoroughly entertained by it - the stop motion high fall was so charming! At the time I'd never heard of the Zatoichi movies - I only caught up with those when IFC started showing them ten or so years ago - I watched a bunch of them - no idea how many because even IFC seemed to have two or three titles for each one. In any case, I must have seen a dozen or fifteen. Shintaro Katsu is wonderful in them. Now having experienced them - I want to see this movie again! Thanks for reminding me!