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Blind Fury is as close as Hollywood got to make their own version of the Zatoichi legend. The smooth and calm charisma of the blind samurai who is a meager and humble warrior, who helps those in need by making his adversaries drop their defenses upon the sight of a seemingly harmless and weak blind man is translated with an eye for style and efficiency.
For a late 1980s production of such a project, Rutger Hauer ends up being the perfect choice to bring this archetype to the western audience, explored in the form of Nick Parker, a Vietnam vet who was blinded after an attack during the war and was conveniently trained by the local swordsmen to fight using his non-sight senses.
Hauer could certainly be a stoic presence who could communicate a vast array of emotions with a simple look. But he could also easily bring out a mischievous and dark side. That's why he fits both the contemplative replicant from Blade Runner and the giddy psychopath from The Hitcher.
For Blind Fury, he finds a nice balance between these two energies. When he's tasked with fighting for justice and the stakes are high, he transforms into a focused and intense warrior, bringing out the necessary badassery that any samurai hero swashbuckler requires.
Yet the character is also a playful blind kook who's almost self-aware when it comes to how ridiculous the concept of an expert blind swordsman can be. The plot, which follows Nick trying to reunite his war buddy Frank (Terry O'Quinn) with his estranged son after the mob comes for him and kills his ex-wife, is used as a narrative shoestring to tie as many swordplay set pieces as possible.
This is where, as much as these set pieces can be exciting, Blind Fury disappoints a little. I was surprised to find out that this wasn't rated PG-13 but got an R. Apart from a sliced-off hand and the shot of a villain falling off a cliff that must have inspired George Lucas when it came to Darth Maul's "death" in The Phantom Menace, most of the kills are bloodless and obscured.
This might have something to do with director Phillip Noyce being more or less a prestige name who cut his teeth during the Australian new wave of the 1970s. A more openly schlockier choice, like George P. Cosmatos, might have been a better fit.
Kino brings about a fairly presentable 1080p transfer that certainly showcases the best home video presentation of this cult classic. The transfer has some scratches and blemishes here and there, but the distributor probably didn't have the budget for a more intensive clean-up of the source material. Otherwise, the pastel 80s colors are represented with clarity and the gritty and grayscale Vietnam flashbacks retain their grainy look.
We get a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 track with shows great dynamic range and clarity. Since the protagonist is blind, the spatial use of sound around him is a major stylistic addition to the tension that builds into the fight scenes, so a more surround-heavy mix would have been nice. But as it is, the original stereo mix gets the job done.
Commentary: The commentary by the screenwriter Charles Robert Carner and Kino producer Douglas Hosdale is chock full of information about the production and the various choices that went into getting the film made on a tight budget. Carner also goes into the choices he made in his career that led to Blind Fury and his inspirations for the script.
We also get a Trailer.
Those expecting a Lone Wolf and Cub-style geyser of blood and a schlocky tonal approach might be disappointed in Blind Fury's more reserved approach in relation to its wild premise. However, Hauer's natural charisma and the various fun set-pieces, including a spectacular car chase through Reno, make Blind Fury cult 80s action fare that deserves at least one look.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com