Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What the Chuck?! Forced Vengeance

On the back end of Turner Classic Movies' Underground programming of Miami Connection was another 80's martial arts opus, Forced Vengeance from 1982.  The flick opens with a stylized fight scene between the silhouette of Chuck Norris and an unknown attacker in front of a giant neon sign with Chinese characters complete with blaring music but no sound.  We have no context whatsoever and it immediately reminded me of future action flicks that would do the same thing, mainly Best of the Best 2 where it adds a little mystique to the credits and Dolph Lundgren's Direct Action where it pads out the runtime.  From there we meet Josh Randall (Norris) as he collects a debt from a Los Angeles scum bag and beats up a would be enforcer in the process.  There's humor right away as Randall's favorite cowboy hat is stomped on and there's a close up of him curling his fist before dishing up some pain.  Cut to Hong Kong, "a slap in the face that feels good" where you "make money as fast as you can" with an opening shot out of Enter the Dragon or reused by Bloodsport.  We meet Randall's benevolent, tai chi practicing businessman of Jewish heritage boss Sam (David Opatoshu) and his son David (Frank Michael Liu).  The duo run honest casino Lucky Dragon in HK where Randall is head of security.

Unfortunately David has made some bad business decisions and evil casino overlord Stan Raimondi (Michael Cavanugh) is about to swallow up their small potatoes establishment.  When Sam refuses to sell, father and son are gunned down leaving Randall the prime suspect and on the run.  With Sam and David dead, daughter Joy (Camila Griggs) becomes the sole heir to the Lucky Dragon and target of a citywide manhunt.  Randall grabs the young woman and along with his spunky ladyfriend, Claire (Mary Louise Weller) go into hiding with Vietnam buddy LeRoy Nicely (Bob Minor).  With the cops and the mob after them, Randall sets off to squash Raimondi's hold on the city.

Cleanly directed by James Fargo, Forced Vengeance is a pretty solid karate thriller with some surprisingly exploitative traits.  There's lots of fist and feeticuffs in the Chuck Norris karate tradition: big punches, low knee, high foot roundhouse kicks, a flying sidekick off the side of a building, slow motion jumping off furniture tackle, pulling the slide of a handgun back next to the side of a guy's head to intimidate him and a death by falling glass in the throat.  A unique touch was Randall using pressure points to subdue attackers, pressing on forearms and necks.  There's also a surprising amount of laughs in Franklin Thompson and Fargo's script.  From Randall always drinking a beer, having his cowboy hat damaged and telling his chick to throw a blanket on him so he can nap, Vengeance definitely has a sense of humor and Norris gets to throw out lots of one liners and funny/awesome quips like "Your son made me an offer...before he died" cause Chuck killed him in the last scene, get it?!  Or when an Organized Task Force agent tells Randall he's a real litterer, cause of all the dead bodies, ska-doosh!

It's also a product of it's time and has a scuzzy feel with many a lady being slapped, flaming homosexual depictions and a surprisingly brutal end to Claire's life at the hands of a giant Chinese brute.  Composer William Goldstein provides a distinctive yet overly melodramatic score with soothing pianos and grating laser sounds alike.  The Hong Kong setting is a nice touch and you feel like you're back watching Lee, Roper and Williams leave for Han's Island in Enter the Dragon or planting the seeds for Jean-Claude Van Damme's jokey foot chase through the shadowy narrow corridors in Bloodsport, it's truly a distinct cityscape.  Running and fighting his way through the streets, Randall comes across a Bruce Lee imitator with nunchucks and whooping strange noises.  You know how movies today seem like rehashes of other movies?  Well Forced Vengeance was like watching movies that didn't even exist yet.  When a guy slaps a woman and Chuck slaps him, asking, "hurts, don't it?", I went to Tombstone.  When the Chinese brute told Chuck his girl was "very good", I thought of Kickboxer.  At one point someone mutters, "Randall, Randall, Randall" and Arnold Vosloo from Hard Target popped into my mind.  I'm sure many of these were coincidences but it just kept happening!

Even though Norris got a career boost from student, friend and global superstar Steve McQueen, Forced Vengeance owes much of it's crew to another action hero, Clint Eastwood.  Director Fargo had previously worked on Clint flicks like Joe Kidd, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Every Which Way But Loose as an Assistant Director before graduating to the helmer's chair himself.  Villain Michael Cavanuagh had also appeared in three Eastwood vehicles before starring in Vengeance.  Stuntman extraordinaire Bob Minor plays the funny, cool and swole buddy, much like Steve James would later to Michael Dudikoff and Norris in American Ninja and The Hero and the Terror.   Released on July 30th, 1982, Forced Vengeance would gross $6.6 million at the box office from 576 theaters ranking it ahead of movies like The Soldier, Megaforce and Eastwood's Honky Tonk Man but way behind action fare Rocky III, First Blood, Firefox, Conan the Barbarian and The Road Warrior.  Norris' next film would be a step up, the iconic Lone Wolf McQuade before embarking on his lucrative partnership with Cannon Films.

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