5.31.2010

Why Do They Always Pick On My Hat?

There was a time in the early 2000s when everyone knew who Chuck Norris was, but did not necessarily care. His films came and went and Walker, Texas Ranger was ignored by anyone younger than 50. Then some douche bag on the internet went and fucked it all up, as internet douche bags are prone to do. I admit, I thought the Chuck Norris jokes were humorous enough, at first, before it got totally out of control. Now I would give anything to go back in time and smash in the face of the guy that started this garbage. It breaks my heart to know that one of the best tough guy actors of the 80s will probably be better known for the various internet memes that have spawned in his name than for the great movies he gave us.

Which brings us to today’s selection; 1982’s Forced Vengeance. Chuck plays Josh Randall, a Vietnam Veteran living in Hong Kong, working at a casino as a Floor Boss. When Josh’s mentor/father figure is murdered and Josh is implicated, he becomes a one man army on a mission of revenge. Yes, the movie is every bit as clich├ęd and by-the-numbers as that description makes it sound.

I have seen some complaints, here and there, that this is a poor martial arts film. Upon recent viewing, I won’t say that I agree, but I will say that the complaint has merit. There is actually very little in the way of punchy kicky goodness in Forced Vengeance. In fact, I would say the movie is more akin to a noirish thriller with moments of martial arts flair than a typical martial arts action flick. From the voice-overs to the snappy tough guy dialogue to the back-stabbing mobsters, it just has that vibe that I associate with the films Sin City so lovingly paid homage to. Perhaps, that is part of the reason one of the thugs orders a J&B at the bar? Mind you, the few fight sequences we get are pretty well done; including a great slobber knocker between Chuck and Seiji Sakaguchi and the dare I say iconic fight in front of the red neon sign. Overall, the emphasis here seems to be on the mystery and intrigue of just what is going on.

A movie like this sinks and swims with its bad guys and this one has two doozies. Michael Cavanaugh is magnetic as Stan Raimondi and the aforementioned Seiji Sakaguchi gave me nightmares as a child with his portrayal of brutal, rape-happy Cam. Casting Sakaguchi and surrounding by far more normal statured asian gentlemen resulted in an already ginormous man looking like an absolute freak of nature. By that same token, Cavanaugh’s intensity was amplified by how mostly laid back the rest of the cast was. While not a technically impressive showing, the ferocity of the showdown between Randall and Raimondi is still one of my favorite moments in martial arts cinema.

The star of this movie for me is Hong Kong and how the characters interact with it. One of my biggest complaints about films set in foreign cities with American casts is that, more often than not, the non-natives stick out like a sore thumb. From the moment Randall gets off the plane in Hong Kong, you feel like he belongs there. He speaks a bit of the language, he works the merchants and he doesn’t look like he is lost in the woods. The city is a living, breathing thing, complete with its own parasites that will eat you alive. I’ve always had a soft spot for corrupted cities and the Hong Kong in Forced Vengeance is one of my favorites.

Forced Vengeance is not a great film. It’s not going to be heralded through the ages as a landmark picture that set the stage for those that followed. It’s fun, sometimes cheeky, occasionally dark action thriller with a few fantastic set pieces. On a personal level, it’s also the movie that introduced me to Mr. Norris. It’s the movie that lead me to Lone Wolf McQuade, Silent Rage and the Missing In Action flicks when I was a small one. For that reason alone, it will always have a special place in my pantheon of action flicks. Besides, if I didn’t say it was awesome, Chuck would apparently come to my home and punch me to the moon or kill me with his death stare.