Physical disability tends to boil into two camps in B-grade or exploitation film: it’s there to engender sympathy in the audience, or it’s there to provide some kind of handicap for a protagonist to overcome in some way. For example, a movie like Savage Streets features a deaf character, whose purpose is to be brutally attacked and raped, thus giving the heroine part of her reason to take out the bad guys. But in a film like the Kung Fu action title Crippled Masters, the disability is a thing to be overcome in such a way as to surprise all the “normal” bad guys when they get their butts kicked by a pair of heroic and bad ass amputees. Blind Fury, in which a blind swordsman kicks ass, falls into the second camp.
Nick Parker is a Vietnam veteran, played by Rutger Hauer, who lost his sight as the result of military action. He was saved by local villagers and trained in swordsmanship to help overcome his blindness, and years later he returns to try and find an old army buddy from the ‘Nam, Frank Deveraux. Unfortunately, Deveraux has left his wife and moved across the US to Reno, Nevada. Nick spends a few minutes drinking tea with Frank’s ex-wife, Lynn, and their son, Billy, only for the redneck mafia to show up, murder Lynn, and try to kidnap the boy. Nick takes out the crooked cops and agrees to honor Lynn’s dying wish to take Billy to his father. However, the redneck mafia want Billy so they can force Frank to make meth, so Nick has to kick ass with the sword hidden in his cane while on a quest to reunite father and son.
Hmm, a blind swordsman, you say? Why, where have I heard that before? I mean, it’s not like we have one of the longest film series in the world about such a thin- oh, hey everybody, it’s Zatoichi! That’s right, Blind Fury is a sort of Americanized remake of one of the Zatoichi movies, in which a blind sword master wanders feudal Japan, fighting against corruption and organized crime while helping out the little people. In particular, the film Zatoichi Challenged focuses on Zatoichi being tasked with taking a boy to his father, and while it suffers from the same problem that nearly every movie featuring kids that isn’t titled Monster Squad experiences (movie kids are annoying, folks), it still ends with a bad ass sword fight. As for Blind Fury, he’s fighting a bunch of rednecks with revolvers that want to sell meth, so there is no way this film could end with a sword fight. Right? Right?!
Hey everybody, it’s Sho Kosugi, star of such 1980s classics as Enter the Ninja, Rage of Honor, Pray for Death, and Aloha Summer! Yes, the movie about a blind Vietnam vet based off a Zatoichi film ends with a sword fight against a guy known for playing ninjas. Who could possibly have expected that, especially after the redneck mob boss demanded his henchmen hire Bruce Lee to kill the hero. Instead, they get the next best thing. This is followed by Rutger Hauer taking Sho’s katana and then killing a guy by cutting him while also knocking him out a window…over a cliff…to split in half partway down from being cut so bad. There’s no kill like overkill, folks.
That henchman was played by heavyweight boxer Randall Cobb, one of a strange whose who of folks that pop up in this movie. Besides Rutger Hauer, Sho Kosugi, and Randall Cobb, we get the likes of Nick Cassavetes as another redneck henchman, comedian Rick Overton as another redneck henchman and brother to Cassavetes, Meg Foster as the mother who gets killed, and Noble Willingham as the big bad Mr. MacCready. As for our annoying mullet child, he was played by Brandon Call, a child actor who did a variety of roles in his youth such as a voice for The Black Cauldron and even a role in the made-for-TV movie I Dream of Jeannie… Fifteen Years Later. Working actors always have the weirdest careers. And then we also get former football players and wrestlers for additional henchmen, but the big unexpected moment is discovering the Frank Deveraux was played by Terry O’Quinn, star of the television show Lost as well as The Stepfather horror movies and pretty much everything in between. Hey, the dude played Howard Hughes in The Rocketeer, he can do whatever he wants.
Speaking of Rutger Hauer, we need to take a moment to praise a master actor who ended up making not only excellent pieces of cinema but also a lot of B- and C-list titles that are more my style. From his fantastic performance and delivery in Blade Runner to post-apocalyptic films like The Blood of Heroes, Hauer could do it all and excel. He was always highly watchable and put out a massive body of work over the course of his life. Thrill to him in The Hitcher, cheer for him in Hobo with a Shotgun, or grimace at his slime in Sin City or Batman Begins, he never failed to entertain while working with some of both the best and the worst directors. What a fantastic treasure he was to cinema.
Completely unlike that, Blind Fury decided it also needed to give us another fantastic treasure: more mullets than a NASCAR race. Yes, mullets are on full display throughout the film, from the boy Billy’s 1980s kid mullet to the greasy rat tails or coiffed proud offerings to the hair gods that adorn some of the various goons. There are few films that really make me eager to go get a haircut, but Blind Fury is one of them, and for that, my barber thanks it. Hell, the list is pretty much this movie and Stone Cold with Brian Bosworth, and that film somehow manages to have even more rednecks than this one. Seriously, I didn’t know there were so many mullets at once in the United States, it’s like a Billy Ray Cyrus concert might break out at any moment.
Also, why are Vietnamese villagers teaching Japanese sword techniques to blind American soldiers? That’s a seriously weird situation.