I seem to be going thru this phase where I am fondly recalling the VHS years and more specifically the films produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus that were subsequently released thru Cannon Films. During their heyday, Chuck Norris was one of their top stars so after revisiting the 1984 series opener, I threw caution to the wind and devoured all three films in a 48 hour period full of drop kicks and cheesy one liners.

“I don’t step on toes ……. I step on necks.”

Missing In Action (1984)

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Norris stars as James Braddock. An enemy to the forces of Vietnam. He spent years as a P.O.W. who returns to the lands of his nightmares to face down James Hong and search for those left behind that Hong refuses to acknowledge exist. Instead, Hong goes on the offensive making out Norris to be a war criminal who must pay for his crimes during the media circus and peace talks.

Time for Norris to turn the tables and have a private talk with Hong. This doesn’t bode well for Hong but Norris gets some information as to the whereabouts of his missing compatriots. Now it’s time to call in the Stanton-Walsh rule. Meaning if M. Emmet Walsh is in a film, it’s worth checking out. Walsh turns up as an old war buddy who Chuck recruits to get him in deep to jungle territory where the forgotten soldiers have been imprisoned.

Norris is going to do plenty of damage to those in his path and when all seems lost, he’ll rise from watery depths in a scene that might be the highlight of his career.

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This first in the series directed by Joseph Zito was actually supposed to be the second in the series. The first two entries were filmed back to back but this being the far superior film made for a better introduction in the Norris-Cannon union. The intended first film easily became a prequel. When all is said and done this Norris butt kicker may not be the greatest release of the year but it makes for one heck of a popcorn movie for the action film enthusiasts and a fond memory for those of us coming of age at the time of it’s release.

Missing In Action 2 : The Beginning (1985)

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Vietnam, 1972. Chuck minus the beard implant has his chopper take a hit while on a rescue mission leading to his incarceration in a P.O.W. camp overseen by the sadistic Soon-Tec Oh. Torture, both mental and physical follow for Chuck and his fellow soldiers. Building up the Norris mystique, the script has one the other prisoners say to our drop kicking hero, “I’m just not tough like you.”

Soon-Tec wants Norris to confess for war crimes that he has supposedly committed against the Vietnam people. He will of course refuse leading to sadism and torturous trials such as hanging upside down with a bag over your head. In the bag is a large rat. It’s a bloody and nauseating scene but if you know anything of just how tough fandom has made out Norris to be, than you should know just who is going to bite who.

It’s really a nasty role for Soon-Tec with no redeeming character traits. He’ll remain a vile character to the end and one we’ll feel no remorse for when he goes one on one with Chuck. “No politics. No weapons.” For us lets add, no surprises in the outcome other than the fact that unlike a wrestling match on TV, Chuck doesn’t come from behind to defeat his enemy after being beaten to a pulp. This is strictly a one sided affair and rather poorly orchestrated.

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The Cannon Group made the right decision in releasing this Lance Hool film second as opposed to the original idea of having it kick the series off. It’s just not that good and when compared to the first film, it makes the earlier release look all that better if watched back to back. The camera work is shoddy, the climactic fight scene is rather dull and if you look down the credit list, you’ll see the stunt coordinator was Aaron Norris. Care to guess who gets promoted to direct the third entry?

Maybe what the film needed was to have M. Emmet Walsh’s character in this one as well. On the plus side, I’d like to point out that there were plenty of fiery explosions of the real kind as opposed to the CGI kind of which I admit to being critical of in most instances outside of the sci-fi genre.

Braddock : Missing In Action III (1988)

When it comes to sequels, it’s not uncommon to rewrite the history of the earlier film(s). That’s exactly what happens when Chuck Norris takes a writing credit on the third and final film of the M.I.A. trilogy. It turns out that Chuck’s wife is not back in the good old U.S. of A. pining for her long thought dead hubby as Soon-Tec Oh had us all believing in Part 2.

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The third effort begins in ’75 during the fall of Saigon and the retreat of the U.S. Forces. During the bombing and the confusion, Chuck believes his Asian wife has been killed and goes home a broken man. Years go by and when a man of the cloth from Vietnam visits Norris in America, he tells him he has a wife and son living in poverty back in Vietnam.

Norris isn’t a believer but when the C.I.A. turn up, Norris is on the first plane overseas to bring his wrath upon those who stand in his way from reuniting with his loved ones. Fast forward a few minutes and it’s all true. Chuck now has a family of his own. A wife who is about to be murdered by a sadistic officer in the Vietnamese army and a son who blames his father for abandoning them.

Like the second film, this one gets a bit sadistic when Norris and his son are taken captive and Chuck gets the electrical treatment. Not to worry, he can handle the pain and he has a new mission in life. He’s needed to rescue the Minister’s orphanage and get the children safely to friendly soil.

Let’s face it, Chuck Norris is a hero to orphans everywhere. Close your eyes kiddies while Chuck slaughters the opposing forces.

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O.K. so it’s all rather silly but I do have to commend the production for some solid scenes at the film’s opening when Norris is trying to locate his wife in Saigon. For a Cannon film, it looks as if they spent a good portion of the film’s budget on those first few minutes. The remainder of the film is on a much smaller scale with Chuck front and center.

In the end, the first film is easily the most enjoyable so grab some popcorn and give it a go. Part 2 is at your own discretion while number 3 can do in a pinch when one’s in need of some 80’s ass kicking set in an implausible story line.