Blind Fury (1989) Retrospective

SUMMARY
While serving in Vietnam, American soldier Nick Parker was blinded by a mortar explosion. Rescued by local villagers, he recovered his health and, though he remains blind, was trained to master his other senses and be an expert swordsman.

20 years later, having returned to the United States, he visits old army buddy Frank Deveraux, only to find that Deveraux is missing. Parker meets Frank’s son Billy and his mother Lynn, Frank’s ex-wife. Minutes later, Frank’s evil boss Claude MacCready’s henchman Slag arrives with two corrupt police officers to kidnap Billy to use as leverage over Frank. Nick stops them; the officers are killed, Billy is knocked unconscious, but Slag mortally wounds Billy’s mom before he escapes. With her last words, Lynn tells Nick to take Billy to his father in Reno, Nevada.

At a rest stop on the way to Reno, Parker tells Billy about his mother’s death. Billy runs away from Nick and is grabbed by Slag and some henchmen. Slag escapes as Nick rescues Billy a second time, and Billy and Nick (now called Uncle Nick) become fond of one another.

They reach Reno and find Frank’s girlfriend Annie, who agrees to take them to Frank. After escaping yet another attempted kidnapping by MacCready’s men, Annie suggests they hide out at the home of her friend Colleen. Annie takes Nick to MacCready’s casino, where Frank is making MacCready’s drugs. Annie returns to Colleen’s to watch over Billy while Nick saves Frank. Nick and Frank are reunited; Frank takes the key ingredient in MacCready’s drugs and destroys the lab. Avoiding casino security, Nick and Frank escape and head to Colleen’s to reunite Billy with his dad; they find Colleen dead, Billy and Annie kidnapped, and a note instructing them to bring the drugs to MacCready’s mountain penthouse in exchange for Billy and Annie.

Knowing it is an ambush, Nick and Frank arm themselves with homemade napalm bombs. After killing all of MacCready’s men, they find MacCready holding Billy and Annie at gunpoint. MacCready hired a Japanese assassin to kill Nick, but after an epic swordfight between the two, Nick wins by electrocuting the assassin in a hot tub. Slag shoots Nick in the shoulder and Nick throws his sword at Slag, impaling him. MacCready then tries to interfere only to be stopped by Frank. Billy escapes his rope and throws Nick’s sword to him, but it lands in the hot tub. As Slag reaches for his gun, Nick grabs hold of the assassin’s sword and slashes him, cutting him in half and causing him to fall out of a window.

Frank is reunited with Billy and Annie, and they leave for San Francisco. Nick drops his ticket, choosing not to go. Billy follows Nick, telling him that he needs him. Nick says that while he is fond of Billy, he should go back to his father. Nick crosses the street and vanishes as a bus passes him. Saddened by Nick’s departure, Billy throws a toy dinosaur off the bridge where Nick catches it. Billy calls out to Nick one last time and tells him that he’ll miss him. As Frank catches up to Billy, they embrace. Nick smiles or sheds a tear, puts on his sunglasses while holding Billy’s toy dinosaur with left arm in a sling, and walks off into the distance.

DEVELOPMENT
Loosely based on the original “Zatoichi Challenged” screenplay by Ryozo Kasahara. Blind Fury marked the producing debut of actor Tim Matheson. Matheson produced the film having been a fan of the Zatoichi film series. Matheson and producer Daniel Grodnik, spent seven years trying to find a distributor for the film. In 1986, the producers landed a deal with film distributor Tri-Star Pictures. According to Grodnik, various writers and directors were attached to the project before Phillip Noyce was hired as the film’s director.

PRODUCTION
Filming took place around the Midwestern United States, where the cast and crew underwent humid weather conditions. Of the intense weather conditions, Matheson stated, “We shot in the Midwest and West, and it was incredibly hot. Everything was burning up. We ended up buying a three-foot pool for the cast and crew to wade through to cope with the heat.” After principal photography was completed, a sequel to the film was planned, but never materialized.

Phillip Noyce

Interview with Phillip Noyce
How did you get involved with Blind Fury?
Phillip Noyce: I actually shot that in the year long period in between finishing Dead Calm and then going back to re-shoot the finale. It was an anomaly. It was really an attempt to flee Australia! The script arrived in the mail. I knew the party was over in Australia, it was going to become increasingly hard to make movies of any sort there. It had been hard enough anyway, with great hiatus periods due not to market forces but simply to government policies. Blind Fury was a lot of fun, bit it didn’t come out of any thematic concerns or even filmic concerns I had.

What was it about “Australian Phillip Noyce” that made the producers of Blind Fury think that you were the perfect choice to direct a fish out of water samurai film?
Phillip Noyce: I don’t know, I can’t answer that! I understood the values of American cinema, but saw things through South Pacific sunglasses. That’s one of the great virtues of Hollywood – it’s a town that imports talent from all over the world. If you can make money for people, and do something new on a creative level, you’re taking steps in the proper direction. So the producers of Blind Fury hadn’t yet seen Dead Calm, but producer Tim Matheson had seen my TV work.

Is there anything special about the shoot that comes to mind?
Phillip Noyce: The most indelible moment on Blind Fury was likely when we were out in the middle of nowhere in Texas, and one day, four cars showed up on set, and these beautiful women poured out of the vehicles. They were there looking for Rutger Hauer, who, of course, is just an insanely good-looking man, a beautiful man, and still is to this day. Let’s just say that he had his “fans” and they weren’t afraid of showing Rutger how much he meant to them. An Australian directing a Samurai movie in Texas with a Dutch lead actor – it doesn’t get much more “Hollywood” than that! But when the movie was done, the film got caught up in regime changes at the studio, and they didn’t want to do anything substantial with it. So I told the producers, give the film to me, and I’ll take it to Queensland and screen it there, and based on the response, if it was positive, it would show them that the film could be a hit. So we organized elaborate publicity stunts and the film became a big hit in Australia. Columbia/Tri Star later opened it in Germany, but the film never repeated that initial success.

BEHIND THE SCENES
I began thinking that maybe I should go to America, do a movie there, because maybe I won’t be able to raise any more money to make movies in Australia. So I came to Hollywood and made the $6 million Blind Fury. I cast Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as the blind samurai. We shot that in Texas and Reno, Nevada, in 1990, while we were still editing Dead Calm.

Rutger Hauer, Brandon Call, Terry O’Quinn, Lisa Blount, Noble Willingham, Meg Foster

Making a film about someone that’s blind but is also a master swordsman had its difficulties. What I usually do is go through a long process of not so much rehearsal but preparation. In doing that, you’re exposing yourself and the actors to information and experience. You hope that it’s going to rub off on each of you, so you’ve got a shared experience that you can draw on. But also you hope that at the end of that preparation period, the actors will become the character they’re playing without trying You hope it just seeps into their skin. So I took Rutger Hauer to the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, and we spent a lot of time talking to and being with blind people. But then, for the real test, and for several days, all of the cast and myself and the key crew prepared for the film blindfolded. It produced a great camaraderie, and you learn to depend on someone when you’re impaired in that way. Then, for the agile sword work Rutger trained with a swordsman for eight weeks, Starting fully sighted during all of those moves and then doing them actually blindfolded.

Trying to research his role as a blind martial-arts superhero in the action flick Blind Fury, actor Rutger Hauer kept running up against a major stumbling block—the part’s implausibility. Then one day, while interviewing members of Los Angeles’s Braille Institute, he met Lynn Manning.

“It just so happened I came in that day,” says Manning. “We talked, and recognized that there was a bit of a parallel between me and the character.” That was a bit of an understatement. Manning, 34, who lost his sight in a barroom fight nearly 12 years ago, has since earned not only a brown belt in judo, but a slot on the 1988 U.S. team to the Paralympics, an Olympics for the physically disabled. He has also won the respect of those who know him for keeping his personal tragedy from becoming a handicap. “I wasn’t going to sit around and cry over spilled milk or visions lost,” he says. “I’d had a rough life up to that point and had lost a lot of stuff. I learned that you just get up and keep moving. I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me.”

He has hardly given them the chance to, One of nine children, Lynn was raised “a stone’s throw from skid row” in a Los Angeles household that included “several different fathers in the mix.” Manning’s family disbanded when he was 9, and he entered the first of five eventual foster homes. Except for a marijuana arrest at 14, he lost himself not in the penal system, but in the stacks of local libraries. Between classes at community college, he ran the projector at a local porno theater and corralled shopping carts at a department store. Later, Manning took a job as a counselor at a halfway house for juvenile offenders.

Then in 1978, during a pinball tournament in an L.A. juke joint, one troubled patron took a sudden dislike to him. “He was either ‘dusted’ on PCP or an over-the-edge paranoid schizophrenic,” says Manning. “He thought he’d been ‘told’ by Jesus Christ or Bruce Lee to teach me a lesson. I body-slammed him, dragged him out of the place and told him to beat it. He did, but he came back later. I turned around, and there was a gun in my face.”

The black circle of the leveled gun barrel was the last thing Lynn ever saw. The stranger, never apprehended, fired a single, point-blank shot. Incredibly, though it did not kill him, the bullet pierced one eye and lodged behind the other, permanently blinding him. During his hospital recuperation, “I was just trying to figure out what to do next. I’d cry here and there, but then you go on about your business.”

To counter a weight gain from inactivity, Manning, a karate buff, returned to his love for martial arts by enrolling in a judo program. “I was gone. I was hooked. That was it,” he says. “It pulled me through because it gave me an immediate way to compete with sighted people on an equal level. That was very important for me psychologically. It also let me get a lot of anxiety out of my system about losing my sight.”

Quickly mastering the sport, he competed in California tournaments, often besting sighted opponents. “Judo is done by feel,” says Michael Rotsten. a volunteer instructor at the Braille Institute. “The point is to overcome being tricked by what you see, and so to a certain extent, Lynn has an advantage. He has that extra feel that a sighted person might not have.” Manning’s national blind heavyweight judo championship led to a 1988 berth on the U.S. disabled sports team, which competed in Seoul. “I got my butt kicked,” he admits, “but I intend to go back in ’92 and redeem myself.”

His chance meeting with Hauer in 1988 led to a role as technical adviser on Blind Fury. “Lynn taught me how to unfocus my eyes, to react to smells and sounds,” says Hauer. “He could pick up the patterns of your breathing if you were upset.” During filming in Squaw Valley, Hauer returned the favor by teaching Manning to ski. “Once outside our hotel, Lynn called out my name and I answered,” says Hauer. “He hit me with a snowball from 50 feet away, just from the sound of my voice.”

“Blind Fury’ was one of the most difficult jobs for me because of the combination with the swordplay” says Hauer. I’m glad it does not show. I mean that is was so difficult. Trained a month with a blind man who taught me his handicap. He was such a nice man. First thing he said was,”I don’t get confused about what I see…”. Then I trained every morning at 4:30 before shooting for those seven weeks. Then SHO KUSUGI was brought in for the swordplay. That was an additional shoot for a week or so.

SCORE/SOUNDTRACK

CAST/CREW
Directed
Phillip Noyce

Produced
Tim Matheson
Daniel Grodnik

Screenplay
Charles Robert Carner

Story
Charles Robert Carner

Based on
Zatoichi Challenged
by Ryôzô Kasahara

Starring
Rutger Hauer – Nick Parker
Terry O’Quinn – Frank Devereaux
Brandon Call – Billy Devereaux
Meg Foster – Lynn Devereaux
Noble Willingham – MacReady
Lisa Blount – Annie Winchester
Nick Cassavetes – Lyle Pike
Rick Overton – Tector Pike
Randall “Tex” Cobb – Slag
Sho Kosugi – Samurai Fighter
Music by J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography Don Burgess
Edited by David A. Simmons

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
filmcomment.com
wearecult.rocks
diaboliquemagazine
people.com

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