The busy pre-WALKER Chuck Norris played his seventh lead role in five years in MGM’s FORCED VENGEANCE, which was shot in Hong Kong by the director of two Clint Eastwood movies. It was his second film of 1982, just behind SILENT RAGE.
He’s Josh Randall (any relation to Steve McQueen’s bounty hunter on WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE?), a Vietnam vet and butt-kicking troubleshooter for the Lucky Dragon casino. He isn’t just an employee, but also an unofficial member of the owners: elderly Sam Paschal (David Opatoshu) and Sam’s half-Jewish/half-Chinese son David (Frank Michael Liu). If your boss was gunned down at home by a local mobster named Stan Rahmandi (Michael Cavanaugh, previously in director James Fargo’s THE ENFORCER), it might not bother you, but when Rahmandi mows down the Paschals for not selling him their casino, Randall gets steamed.
He’s also being framed for the killings by a corrupt cop (Jimmy Shaw), so Randall grabs gorgeous girlfriend Claire (ANIMAL HOUSE’s Mary Louise Weller) and surviving Paschal daughter Joy (Camila Griggs) and hides them at the dumpy apartment of his old ‘Nam buddy Leroy (stunt legend Bob Minor). Screenwriter Franklin Thompson wisely notes in Norris’ narration the futility of hiding two beautiful women in Hong Kong without somebody noticing. They aren’t even safe at the local cathouse!
Once Joy and Claire are safely ensconced at Leroy’s (so he thinks), Randall bounces around Hong Kong with a big price on his head ($100,000), dodging bullets, nunchakus, knives, and flying feet from every two-bit street hood and hitman in the city. Eventually, he makes his way to Rahmandi’s yacht to settle a score and learn the identity of the Mr. Big bankrolling Rahmandi’s power play.
FORCED VENGEANCE zips right by at a nice clip, despite Norris’ obvious liabilities as a performer. Rexford Metz’s camera captures the crowded Hong Kong very well, and William Goldstein’s imaginative score provides local color without lapsing into “Asian” music. For a Norris film, especially considering the family-friendly rep he established in the 1990s, the subject matter is surprisingly rough, presenting a pair of rapes, some grisly deaths, and a horrible broken back resulting in paralysis.
To compensate, Thompson sprinkles amusing one-liners into the script, which Norris doesn’t exactly recite with comic timing that will remind you of Rodney Dangerfield, but they do lighten the load. Unintentional laughs may come from the spotty narration, which lets us “read” Chuck’s thoughts (“Asshole.” “Damn. My best hat.”). Norris had done this previously in THE OCTAGON (“My brother…brother…brother…”), so maybe he thought this was his “thing.”
Norris was just about to hit his peak as a major movie star. He moved to Orion to make his two best films—LONE WOLF MCQUADE and CODE OF SILENCE—but he then signed an exclusive deal with Cannon to star in what may be his mostly fondly remembered pictures, including the MISSING IN ACTION trilogy and THE DELTA FORCE. I have a soft spot for the early Norris works though: three for American Cinema found him battling sinister CIA operatives (GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK), a super-karate serial killer (A FORCE OF ONE, which also boasts Clu Gulager), and a ninja army running a terrorist training camp (THE OCTAGON). Chuck fought druglord Christopher Lee’s army in AN EYE FOR AN EYE’s Bondian climax and an indestructible Frankenstein monster/zombie in SILENT RAGE, an interesting hybrid of martial arts and mad-scientist horror that hit theaters just three months before FORCED VENGEANCE.