Eighties action was more fun. The special effects were often primitive. The martial arts was less fluid, the camera work was often more utilitarian. The stories were simpler. But action is supposed to be fun. These movies were fun.
Blind Fury (1989) is constant, absolute fun. There are some heavy themes: child endangerment, parental murder. A boy is taught to be a man by observing the actions of his protector. Long time wounds are healed through forgiveness. But more importantly a blind Rutger Hauer kicks a lot of ass with a cane sword, plowing through waves of colorful villains.
Hauer plays Nick Parker, a soldier who, while trying to protect his fleeing friend was blinded and left for dead in Vietnam. Taken in by a village (how the hell they hid him, since he’s easily three times the size of any other adult in the village, is a mystery), he is not only cared for, but rather inexplicably trained in the art of blind swordsmanship. I can only imagine that it was the secret hobby of one of the villagers, and he was super-excited at the chance to actually train a real blind man in it.
Twenty years later, Nick travels through Florida, trying to catch up with that fleeing friend, Frank Deveraux (Terry O’Quinn.) Frank doesn’t live there anymore, though. He’s up to his eyeballs in debt in Reno, with a casino boss, MacReady, who wants to use his chemical skills to create designer drugs. It’s a blue drug, a proto-Walter White. In order to force Frank’s hand, the boss sends men to get his ex-wife and child. They just happen to do so on the day Nick comes to visit.
The boy is hurt. The ex-wife is killed. Nick decides he needs to take the boy to his father, and their cross-country bus trip becomes a cat and mouse game with the casino boss’s soldiers. This is one of the ways that Blind Fury pours on the fun. Most casts of action movie underlings include one or two colorful bad guys and a bunch of generic thugs. MacReady has a regular rogues gallery. His cigar-chomping, main bad guy Slag (Randall “Tex” Cobb.) The rednecky Pike brothers. The fat and fearsome Ed Cobb. The casino boys in tuxes and with almost 600 pounds between them. And his mini-boss, the Assassin, played by Sho Kosugi. Nick has to get through them all.
He has his masterful swordsman skills, but another fun aspect of the film are his limitations. He’s talented, but he’s not Daredevil. Nick can stumble; he can make mistakes. His blindness is a real disability. He compensates, but he’s not a superhero.
The character is based on the Japanese film swordsman Zatoichi, who was the main character in more than two dozen films in the ’60s and ’70s. The specific story is loosely based on Zatoichi Challenged, the 17th film in the series. How close Blind Fury is to that story, I don’t know (I suspect not very.) But it has the feelings of a traveling swordsman story. The inventive locations for the fights and Nick Parker’s hyper-competent but non-aggressive attitude are all in the Zatoichi wheelhouse. Though rated R, the film’s violence is muted and despite the swordplay, there’s not a lot of blood.
What it does have is a fun, satisfying story about reconciliation. Frank’s life has been largely wasted since Vietnam, and you can sense a large part of it is because he blames himself for Nick’s apparent death. He gets some healing from the reconciliation, and that is what this sort of story is about. The wandering swordsman does not change, he changes the world around him.
Blind Fury was made in the sunset of the ’80s, 1989. It has some of the negative aspect of ’80s films: the clothes are pretty stupid. The soundtrack is too synthetic. The lighting is sometimes too flat and uninteresting. But it has the fun aspects of ’80s action films in spades. Colorful villains. Non-boring heroes. A redemptive arc. At 86 minutes, it’s not too damn long. Blind Fury is a simple entertainment machine, with a warm heart to boot.
Blind Fury has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Extras on the disc include a commentary track by screenwriter Charles Robert Cramer and a selection of trailers.