Tagline: He may be blind, but he don’t need no dog.
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Ryôzô Kasahara, Charles Robert Carner
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Terry O’Quinn, Brandon Call, Noble Willingham, Lisa Blount, Nick Cassavetes, Rick Overton, Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb, Charles Cooper, Meg Foster, Shô Kosugi
18 | 1h 26min | Action, Comedy
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
The late Rutger Hauer was a rather unique talent. Not only did he dazzle with his famous ad-libbed monologue as the queerly sympathetic Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, he scared the living crap out of us as psychotic cat-and-mouse killer John Ryder in Robert Harmon’s somewhat controversial horror road movie The Hitcher — a film for which he performed his own stunt driving. A few years later he starred in Blind Fury, the kind of tongue-in-cheek action extravaganza most associated with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he did a mighty fine job of it too, slipping into the role with the kind of infectious zest one would expect, even if the role itself was somewhat left field for an actor cast most predominantly as a cold-hearted villain. For Hauer, it had been this way since his debut turn as pitiless terrorist Wulfgar in Bruce Malmuth’s Stallone-led crime thriller Nighthawks in 1981. So befitting of the dark side was Hauer’s icy charisma that director Richard Donner originally had him pegged for the role of antagonist Marquet for 1985 fantasy classic Ladyhawke, before the actor turned down the role in favour of hero Etienne Navarre.
Such a stance on Hauer’s part was indicative of his unwillingness to become typecast — a testament to his versatile ambitions. By 1985, Hauer was a veteran actor of almost twenty years who had been classically trained at the Academy for Theater and Dance in Amsterdam, before being picked up by a young Paul Verohoeven, who would later consider his protege for the lead in his Hollywood debut Robocop, a role that eventually went to Peter Weller. Most actors of Hauer’s pedigree would probably have given a movie such as Blind Fury a rather wide birth, particularly at that stage in his career. While later years would see the likes of Liam Neeson taking up the action mantle and reinventing himself to some fanfare, the ’80s gave us action movies which were relatively low-tech, with trite stereotypes and ludicrous scenarios that would crumble under the weight of any serious, post-Bourne-analysis. But Hauer doesn’t see the genre as beneath him; he embraces it, and his casting as the marquee attraction gives the movie a unique pedigree.
A variation on the Japanese chambara film Zatoichi Challenged, Blind Fury is essentially a road movie that throws in a whole bunch of action ingredients to get the testosterone pumping. The film’s sense of irony is just as palpable. Not content with a simple buddy formula, we have Cannonball Run car chases, Vietnam flashbacks, and even a special appearance from martial arts expert and Cannon go-to ninja Shô Kosugi, whose legendary B-Movie status provides the self-mocking cherry to a multi-tiered cake of fanciful action, just in case the film’s audacious premise wasn’t enough in itself.
Nick Parker (Hauer) is a soldier who is blinded during the Vietnam war and taken under the wing of a local peasant community. Thanks to a series of increasingly ludicrous wigs and false beards, we realise that he has been a guest of theirs for quite some time, a period that sees him transformed from a sightless dunderhead into an extra-sensory warrior who can slice melons mid-flight. Hauer does an incredible job of convincing us that he is sightless, and seems to have lots of fun with a character who may have headed a Tarantino production in another time and place, and I’m sure the multifaceted actor would have had no trouble adapting to such a tongue-in-cheek, blood-and-guts formula.
Twenty years later and Parker returns to Miami looking younger than ever. In fact, with his warrior defying get-up of high-top sneakers and foam-eared Walkman he looks positively juvenile, an outfit that only adds to his effectiveness as a stealth warrior trawling the badlands of coastal Florida, and I say that without a hint of sarcasm. The kind of brightly-coloured ninjas that can be found in movies such as American Ninja are a dead giveaway, but who on Earth would suspect the likes of Parker? At first we are led to believe that our covert warrior is there to visit an old war buddy, and though this is technically true, we find out that his reasons for doing so are quite irregular for a genre of such trite predictability, setting the tone for a movie which delights in taking archetypal templates and giving them a fresh and rewarding twist.
Upon meeting the now-estranged family of the seemingly selfish Frank Devereaux (Terry O’Quinn), Parker plays witness to the murder of his buddy’s ex-wife (Meg Foster) and promises to protect her son from the pursuing pack. Quite the stretch for a blind man, but our hero has a mystical air bordering on the superhuman, the kind that would give Commando‘s John Matrix a run for his money. Carrying a cane which doubles as a nifty samurai sword, Parker is a cross between Marvel superhero Daredevil and Kung-Fu’s prescient warrior, Caine — if that character were to walk around wearing a goofy red baseball cap and Wayfarers.
Contrary to other movies of this ilk, Parker and his peewee passenger refuse to share a sympathetic relationship from the offset. Like most kids hitting puberty, Billy is a petulant know-it-all who takes advantage of his protector’s ailment by playing tricks on him, and in response our spiritual protagonist descends to his level, partaking in a bout of puerile one-upmanship that threatens to turn nasty. This proves yet another refreshing angle, one that sees our protagonist laugh-out loud when his peevish sidekick takes a header in the dirt. There have been many cretinous or maudlin tykes deserving of a little humility over the years, and for once our lead does the honours.
Thanks to Hauer’s irresistible turn as the visually-impaired assassin, this is B-Movie schlock with mainstream pedigree, blessed by a screenplay that rarely descends into mawkish territory,and which maintains the kind of comic book charm that makes the violence palatable. It also benefits from wonderful casting in the form of Noble Willinghams’ dastardly crook, McReady, while Randall Cobb’s hulking henchman Slag provides the perfect foil for our wily warrior following his appearance as perennial menace Leonard Smalls in 1987‘s Coen brothers crime comedy Raising Arizona.
As you may imagine, the portrayal of a blind samurai didn’t come easy. Hauer would discuss the difficulties of combining swordplay and sightlessness in a role that would prove one of his biggest challenges, calling on the real-life experience of Lynn Manning, an actor left blind after being shot in the face in a Hollywood bar. On his time with Manning, Hauer would explain, “Lynn taught me how to unfocus my eyes, to react to smells and sounds. He could pick up the patterns of your breathing if you were upset. Once outside our hotel, Lynn called out my name and I answered. He hit me with a snowball from 50 feet away, just from the sound of my voice.”
Presumably the character’s wardrobe was based on someone else entirely.
Moments after disposing of Sho Kosugi’s Japanese import in an electrified hot tub, Parker finally comes face-to-face with unrelenting henchman Slag, slicing him clean in half and sending his two parts plummeting hundreds of feet through the window of a mountainous ski resort.
Most Absurd Moment
After stepping on the glasses of driver Annie (Lisa Blount), the even blinder Parker gets behind the wheel of a truck and heads their highway-bound getaway as his peewee accomplice navigates — all the while sporting a rather pleasant and unperturbed smile.
Most Ludicrous Feat of Hearing
When a corrupt roulette croupier switches roulette balls, a listening Parker slices the electronic cheating device concealed in his waistcoat, ripping out the wheel with the tip of his sword and exposing the scam to a casino of disgruntled punters. Sho Kosugi eat your heart out.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Slicing the eyebrows clean off the face of a belligerent lickspittle, Parker offers to go one further.
Parker: I also do circumcisions.
A seemingly by-the-numbers genre film that proves anything but, Blind Fury maintains those elements that action aficionados thrive on, but what sets it apart is Hauer’s willingness to embrace a role that proves something of a departure. A unique slice of action hokum that fans of the genre will not want to miss.