Nick Parker has made a few enemies: They’re mad. They’re mean. And they’re ugly.
He’s lucky he can’t see what he’s up against.
By Jason Hink
Open your eyes, 80s action film lovers, because Mill Creek Entertainment has released on Blu-ray the 1989 action comedy, Blind Fury, complete with a throwback, VHS-era slipcover, which is how I remember seeing it on the rental store shelves back in ninth grade. Starring “Best Dutch Actor of the (20th) Century” Rutger Hauer, a “special appearance” by the great Sho Kosugi, and introducing a just-before-Baywatch Brandon Call, Blind Fury is a lighthearted—and surprisingly violent—little outing the whole family can enjoy…or at least, my family enjoyed it, despite the R rating.
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So how do you become a katana-wielding ninja out to save an old friend while protecting your old friend’s son in the Biggest Little City in the World of Reno, Nevada (oh, and you’re blind, too)? That’s easy; Nick Parker (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner, The Hitcher), a Vietnam vet who’s been missing in action for 20 years, has been hangin’ out with the Vietnamese folk that rescued him from the jungle after an explosion rendered him blind during a mission. And what do you do when you can’t see and have time on your hands? You learn crazy martial arts skills from your rescuers—and that’s just what Parker did.
Following that expository flashback, Parker makes his way back to the United States in the present day (of 1989) where he searches for his war buddy, Frank Deveraux (a pre-Lost, post-The Stepfather Terry O’Quinn, credited here as Terrance O’Quinn), a successful chemist who’s fallen into a sticky situation; having gotten mixed up in Reno’s organized crime world, he’s now being coerced by his boss, dirty crime lord Claude MacCready (Noble Willingham, Walker, Texas Ranger) to manufacture a new designer drug that’s worth big bucks on the streets. If Frank doesn’t do it, MacCready threatens harm to his family.
Meanwhile, Parker bumbles his way to the Midwest where he hopes to reunite with Frank but instead finds Frank’s wife Lynn (Meg Foster) and son Billy (Brandon Call) home alone. Moments later, trouble strikes when MacCready’s henchmen, led by the mean, menacing Slag (Randall “Tex” Cobb), bust into the home and mortally wound Lynn before Parker trips and whips his way through his ninja routine, staving off the thugs and saving young Billy’s life. In her final words, Lynn tells Parker to watch over Billy and to take him to Reno to find his father, and the adventure kicks into gear.
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Blind Fury didn’t set the box office on fire (it wasn’t released in US theaters until March of 1990), but it’s one of those movies I could always put on in the background while doing homework (uh huh) thanks to the countless cable TV plays the film received in the early and mid-1990s. Directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Sliver, Clear and Present Danger), the film marked the first producing credit for actor Tim Matheson, who along with his producing partner, Dan Grodnik, had bought National Lampoon in 1989. The upstarts spent several years looking for a distributor for Blind Fury, eventually making a deal with Tri-Star Pictures (now owned by Sony), with now-defunct Interscope Communications producing.
A fan of Japan’s long-running Zatoichi film series, which features a 19th century blademaster who happens to be blind, Matheson no doubt wanted to bring the idea to America. With the Zatoichi films coming to a close (the first film, The Tale of Zatoichi came out in 1964, and the final film, Zatoichi: Darkness Is His Ally, in 1989), the time must have felt perfect for Matheson to finally bring out an Americanized version of the idea with Blind Fury.
And like many of those Japanese action outings, Blind Fury keeps it lighthearted, adding the occasional comedy bit throughout. In the late 80s, it wasn’t uncommon to sit down with my dad or uncle to watch an action flick and think nothing of the explosive violence on screen. Seeing it now in modern times, I get a chuckle watching the comedy of Rutger Hauer haphazardly swinging his sword (which is disguised and doubles as his walking cane) and tripping over various furniture and other items he can’t see (he’s blind, man!) before laying waste to his enemies by various violent means, such as visually chopping off one dude’s hand! (Hey, it was the 80s—even Rambo was spun off into a cartoon series for us kids.)
Blind Fury‘s production, what with its chintzy score and stock characterizations, often has the feel of a pilot episode for a TV series (and that’s not a bad thing; I could totally see this as a TV series alongside Walker, Texas Ranger). Once Parker hooks up with Billy and they set off for Reno, the plot plays out in a series of episodic adventures as MacCready’s thugs (which also include Nick Cassavetes and Rick Overton as the hilarious Pike brothers, and former NFL player Jay Pennison and pro wrestler Tiger Chung Lee as casino bodyguards—all working for MacCready) seem to pop up out of nowhere in their attempts to kidnap Billy, with Parker there to thwart attempt-after-attempt, sometimes with the help of Frank’s gal pal, Annie (Lisa Blount).
In a funny bit near the end, MacCready, frustrated with the blind Parker’s outsized ninja skills, asks his subordinate to hire Bruce Lee to stop him. When he’s told Bruce Lee is dead, MacCready quips, “Then get his brother.” In the final showdown, we don’t get Bruce Lee’s brother, but fans of B-action will be delighted to see Sho Kosugi as the man hired to bring down Parker in the movie’s final-act showdown.
Blind Fury was never going to be a box office smash in 1989, a year I hold dear as one of the most memorable in terms of movies that this eighth grader will never forget (smash-hit favorites like Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters II and Back to the Future Part II —all top 10 box office finishers), but 1989 wouldn’t be the year we’d see Blind Fury in theaters in the United States; the movie made its debut in (West) Germany in August of 1989 before hitting the US in March of 1990, where it faced just-as-stiff competition in that year. Playing in just 354 theaters, Blind Fury scored just under $2.7 million, finishing 156th at the b.o. in 1990.
But Blind Fury‘s legacy, for me, will always be that of a solid go-to for video store rentals and cable TV showings, and I’d have to guess that it made plenty of dough through those venues. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release sports a great-looking 1080p HD picture in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and DTS-HD master audio 2.0, with English subtitles. There are no special features, but in times like these, it’s a bit of a miracle these mid-level catalog titles see release on the Blu-ray format at all. I’m happy Blind Fury made the cut.