Australian director Phillip Noyce (who broke through with Dead Calm then rose to the top with Patriot Games) helms this Rutger Hauer lead action movie that is, at its core, a remake of an early Zatoichi film, the long running samurai series made famous by Shintaro Katsu and recently revitalized (some may say bastardized… but I digress!) in the land of the rising sun by Takashi Kitano.
Hauer plays Nick Parker, a man who served his country in Vietnam and was blinded during a fire fight. Some local villagers take him in and help him recover from his wounds, but his sight is gone for good. Luckily, those very same villagers also teach Parker how to use a sword and soon he's mastered the techniques which they've instructed him in.
Parker eventually finds his way back to America and we catch up with him when he's decided to go out and visit an old war buddy named Frank (Terry O'Quinn of Harsh Realm and The X-Files). Nick shows up but finds that Frank has moved off to Reno. While in town though, Parker meets up with Frank's wife Lynn (Meg Foster who earlier starred alongside Hauer in Sam Peckinpah's The Osterman Weekend), and son, Billy (Brandon Call). They've found themselves in some hot water as a casino owner named Slag (Tex Cobb of Ernest Goes To Jail) has come calling for Frank, who owes him a big chunk of coin for his gambling debts. When Frank turns up AWOL, he decides to kidnap Billy and hold him hostage so that he can force Frank into making him some fancy narcotics that he can in turn use to pay off his gambling debt.
Nick vows to protect Billy no matter what, but Slag is going to do everything in his power to grab the kid and exact his evil plan. Parker fights off an army of mullet clad thugs and eventually shows down with Sho Kosugi (Revenge Of The Ninja), dodging bullets and kicking ass in no small quantity along the way.
While the story is a little far fetched (though no more so than many other action films, really) Hauer does a commendable job in the lead and is reasonably convincing as a blind man. Like its Japanese predecessors, there is some humor interjected into the storyline that is handled well without becoming overbearing or taking over the action sequences. The scene where Parker has to drive a van and ends up doing so down the wrong way of a one way street is just one example, and while Rutger Hauer isn't really known for his comedic timing or slapstick sensibilities, he does a good job with the physical comedy in this film.
Hauer is likeable in the lead – his character never asks for our sympathy despite his disability, and he proves that his training and his prowess with his caned sword make him more than a match for even the best trained mullet thug. It's a blast watching him tear through the bad guys and make it look so easy – this is also a testament to the solid direction during the action scenes. The pacing is quick, and while a lot of the time child actors can really mess up an action movie with the 'sap' factor they inevitably bring with them, Brandon Call doesn't do too bad a job in his role and I actually found myself wanting Parker to make sure he got the job done and make sure that the little guy got out of the evil Slag's clutches safely.
Blind Fury's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty decent overall. There is a fine coat of grain over the image and some mild print damage does appear in the form of the odd speck here and there but the general quality of the image is nice. Colors look natural and are well defined, black levels are pretty strong and don't pixelate or break up at all, and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression that were noticeable during playback. While there is some edge enhancement (look for it along buildings and car grills specifically) it isn't overbearing and overall the movie looks quite good.
The film comes with its original English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix as well as alternate dubs in Dolby Digital 2.0 in Spanish and Portuguese. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Dialogue is problem free and the sound effects and background music are well balanced and sound pretty good. There's a decent amount of bass response from the subwoofer on the low end and some nice channel separation during some of the more action oriented scenes. It would have been nice to get a full 5.1 Surround Sound mix to really punch up the fight scenes but the original mix maintained on this DVD sounds pretty good in its own right.
The supplements on this DVD are limited to a brief two page Rutger Hauer talent file as well as trailers for Blind Fury, Omega Doom and Arctic Blue. It would have been great if they'd have gotten Hauer to do a commentary or included the alternate goodbye scene from the TV version or maybe included some information on how the Zatoichi films influenced this one, but sadly none of that is here.
Blind Fury holds up well. Rutger Hauer gives a great performance as does his interesting supporting cast and the film does an interesting job of putting a different, updated spin on the Zatoichi mythos so popular in Japanese culture. Columbia/Tri-Star's DVD looks and sounds quite good and despite the lackluster supplements still comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.