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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Missing in Action Trilogy (KL Studio Classics)

Missing in Action Trilogy

It wouldn’t be a new year without a bit of Chuck.  In this case, Kino Lorber has given us a triple kick of Chuck with the Missing in Action Trilogy on Blu-Ray loaded with new Transfers and Special Features

The Films

Missing in Action   

For a Rambo: First Blood Part II rip off it’s a helluva actioner that Joseph Zito has put together.  Zito’s grounded and hard-hitting direction is the reason that from head to toe the original Missing in Action is one of the best of the Low Budget Vietnam thrillers.  In fact, the first thirty minutes is primarily setting the stage for the action.  There are brief moments of Braddock (Norris) doing his thing but it isn’t until he and his guy (played by the great-great M. Emmet Walsh) head into Cambodia does the film soar.  

And soar it does.  

Like the American Eagle clutching onto the American Flag while Ronnie Raygun salutes it kind of SOAR.  The film’s plot – find proof of POWs still being held by the Vietnamese government – is essentially the standard in films like this.  Zito knows this and does his best to rush past it.  Equally, he understands that Chuck stone-face stoicism isn’t a hinderance but an advantage in this case.  Chuck’s Colonel Braddock – under Zito’s direction – is a man driven and powered by the patriotism in his blood and heart and nothing will stop his unstoppable and unflappable commitment to the soldiers left behind.  

The film’s build up to the rescue mission in Cambodia definitely delivers on the action, (melo)drama, and explosions.  Especially, the Explosions.  If one wants to know where Bruno Mettai’s explosion complex came from.  Zito and Company give Rambo 2 a run for its money with the number of explosions that occur by land, sea, and air.  The Action/Stunt team appear to have been wildly inspired or wildly crazy as many stunts and set pieces have an air of danger to them that isn’t as commonplace nowadays.  

In the end, Missing in Action, barring some of the more troubling political leanings – including a cameo by the president of the era, is a terrific 80s action thriller.  

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning 

Confession time.

Ten minutes into the first Missing in Action film I realized I had not seen it.  The entirety of my adulthood had this film – Missing in Action 2: The Beginning – in my memory for all three of the trilogy.  I guess that’s not really a confession but my brain thinking that I had seen the first and third when, in reality, I had only seen this film.  Though, this isn’t really a wrongheaded way of thinking.  Director Lance Hool’s Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (which was to be the first released but production difficulties had the Go-Go Boys aka Golan and Globus swap the order of release to great success) is a POW escape movie in the tradition of The Great Escape.  The film is more… Cannon-fied with the sort of 80s jingoistic zeal America Pop Culture was known for.  

The film is essentially a brutal battle of wills between Colonel Braddock (Norris, looking like he’s battle a bout of malaria) and Colonel Yin (Soon-Teck Oh).  Yin wants Braddock to admit to being a war criminal.  If he does, the Viet Cong Colonel will let the POWs go free.  Braddock isn’t just standing for ‘MURICA and its ideals but he knows the confession is a guarantee to the murder of he and his men.  

Make no mistake the film is set piece after set piece of brutal trickery at the hands of Colonel Yin, so much so it almost becomes comical.  From putting a bag of rats over Braddock’s head as he’s tied upside down, to stripping a man naked and having sex worker tease said naked man there are scenes that defy description made further insane by the almost distance emotionless direction Hool approaches them.  Even when Braddock escapes and begins his reign of terror on his captors/tormentors there is the same sort of distanced approach.  

Again, the star here are the stunts and stunt/action team.  The opening Helicopter crash scene is truly great with men jumping out of the helicopter in slow motion.  The scene is made shockingly dangerous especially with the knowledge that Twilight Zone: The Movie tragedy occurring around this time.  Though there are other stunts/action set pieces that are just as wild – just watch the burn and fall from a suspension bridge towards the end.  

Many prefer the first to the second film, but this review still finds Missing in Action II: The Beginning the superior film with its unintentional style of distance over emotion.  Again, a filmmaker finding a way around the patented Chuck Norris stone-face stoicism and making it an asset rather than a liability.  Hool’s film like Zito’s film has an unhinged love affair with explosions making each work as complementary work to the other.  No matter the order in which you view them. 

Braddock: Missing in Action 3 

Oh, Chuck… as soon as that sad bastard country song comes on we all should know we were in for something.  Chuck and director Aaron Norris decided they needed to make a “statement” film.  Much like Rambo III – which Golan and Globus release five months before that Stallone epic (misfire) – Braddock: Missing in Action 3 wants its veggies (shedding a light on the plight of all the Amerusian children fathered out of assault, rape, and sex work) and its “desert” (killing all the non-white evil doers in the name of ‘MURCIA … coughCapitalismcough). 

Not just satisfied with copying Stallone with a big “statement” action film the Norris’s and Company wholesale steal action set pieces from the Stallone movie though… on a budget.  The results are something that’s alternately inappropriate (child torture!) and tone deaf to unintentional comedic effect (see the country song that literally sounds like the Team America “Freedom Costs a Buck oh Five”).  That isn’t to say that director Aaron Norris isn’t a step up.  Everything in the film has stylish professionalism that the best of Chuck’s films had (see: Invasion USASidekicksLone Wolf McQuadeDelta ForceThe Octagon, and Fire Walker).  Norris’s ascent from Action/2nd unit director to full on Director benefits the entire series.  The action feels more like Chuck Norris action. 

The Norris brothers’ touch is felt in the slam-bang action finale complete with a helicopter chase and Chuck – and Amerusian 12-year-old son – taking said helicopter on with an AK-47.  If one wants to know where the “Chuck Norris Legend…” comes from.  It more than likely began with the last thirty minutes of Braddock: Missing in Action 3.  One can either take that as a stamp of quality or a seal of doom.  This reviewer sees it as more the former than the latter. 

In the end, any movie that has Keith David – no matter how small the part is – show up yelling and frustrated may not be a great movie… but it’s an entertaining one!  Braddock: Missing in Action 3 is a terrible message movie but a truly wonderfully entertaining action film.  For a truly fun night pair it with Rambo III.

The Transfers

Missing in Action 

The all-new HD master from a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative is a near-perfect transfer.  The image is close to flawless with just a few minor defects but that can be attributed to what appears to be in the image itself, not the transfer.  Having done some research and sampled the various transfers (I had a DVD and Blu-Ray set in my library) and this transfer bests them all.  There’s a clarity in this new 4K scan that even the other Blu-Ray release didn’t come close to.  The issues present on the other transfers like slight ghosting and haloing are a thing of the past.  This image mimics the style of a 35mm print more than the other two which looked more akin to home video and less cinematic.  

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning 

The all-new HD master from a 2K Scan of the 35mm Interpositive is the most troublesome of the three.  There are a few defects in the print and a few minor scratches.  Overall, it’s a solid transfer and a huge leap forward in terms of quality from the DVD release and other Blu-Ray releases.  Similar to the Missing in Action release this transfer mimics a theatrical presentation much better than the other releases.   

Braddock: Missing in Action 3 

The all-new HD master from a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative is possibly the best of the trio.  The razor-sharp image is an impressive transfer from beginning to end.  There isn’t a blemish, scratch, or defeat through the run time.  The color reproduction and contrast levels are only matched by the grain structure giving the overall image quality that of a fresh struct archival print.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Audio Commentary for MISSING IN ACTION by Director Joseph Zito, Moderated by Filmmaker Michael Felsher 
  • Interview with MISSING IN ACTION Screenwriter James Bruner
  • NEW Audio Commentary for MISSING ACTION 2 by Director Lance Hool, Moderated by Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer 
  • NEW Audio Commentary for BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III by Action Film Historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema 
  • Theatrical Trailers for all Three MISSING IN ACTION Films

Disc One [Missing in Action] 

The Audio Commentary by Director Joseph Zito [who’s recording in Egypt], Moderated by Filmmaker Michael Felsher begins the origins of the film – in the most Cannon Film way possible – beginning with a Box Office Opening weekend with a prior Zito film.  Some of the details include Golan and Globus wanting them to film in Florida (which they did not), this being Norris’s first movie to really use guns more than martial arts, working with the same crew that worked on Apocalypse Now, Jean Claude Van Damme working on the production – as a driver and an extra in various scenes, working with Chuck Norris on this production, how was it to work in the Philippines, the Spider-man animated series that shows up and how it did – and how he ended up attached by Cannon to direct their version of that comic book, the lack of knowledge about Vietnam War and the Country and how the locals helped with this, Zito’s interest in an opportunity to do action film at the time and how he transitioned to action after starting in Horror films, the stunt work done by Norris – some of it, very dangerous, a story about the scab on Norris’s face in the opening – which is actually quite funny and fitting for a guy like Norris, shooting Norris for this and other movies – and a larger conversation about Movie Stars and making them look larger than life and the star persona, casting and working with M Emmett Walsh on this and a few details about his work Red Scorpion, a great story about a local actor and Norris’s last name, the lack of studio interference during the production – and a crazy anecdote about a strike that informed everything during post-production, and much more.  Zito and Felsher contribute a lively, fun, funny, and informative commentary track that rivals the film in entertainment value, especially if one loves the film. 

Interview with Screenwriter James Bruner (25:53) – the all-new interview with Missing in Action screenwriter Bruner begins with Chuck Norris going into a meeting with Golan and Globus and getting not one but TWO Missing in Action films.  Some of the details include his inspiration for his writing career, a personal account of how he got to California and began screenwriting and got an agent, how his script got to Chuck Norris – which became the film An Eye for An Eye, how Missing in Action evolved and developed directly from Norris wanting to honor his brother who died in Vietnam, the lunacy of bringing in Cannon – Lance Hool and Golan and a lot of Tomfoolery that Hollywood is known for, how out of the mess and evolved the film sequel – which eventually to be the first film, the post-production craziness that ensued and the release that turned out alright, so much so the core group eventually made Invasion USA, Chuck’s – and Chuck’s peoples – reaction to his first viewing of Missing in Action, and much more. 

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Missing in Action (1:41) [remastered in 2K], Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1:38), Braddock: Missing in Action III (1:30), Good Guys Wear Black (1:37), A Force of One (2:46), The Octagon (2:29), An Eye for An Eye (1:52), Code of Silence (2:39), Hero and The Terror (1:26), Delta Force 2 (1:41)

Disc Two [Missing in Action 2: The Beginning] 

The all-new Audio Commentary by Director Lance Hool, Moderated by Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer begins with Hool’s general overview of the production – his directorial debut and his work with Rod Stieger – Wolf Lake – prior that informing on Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.  Some of the other details include the production shot in Mexico and then St. Kits, the script he wrote called Battle Cry that eventually became this Missing in Action film, his account of how this became the sequel and how Joe Zito was hired – and Golan’s hilarious reaction to seeing the film, a falling out with Cannon – a very obvious reasons why he didn’t, his almost directing Platoon with Al Pacino, the various stunt set pieces and how they accomplished, Siskel and Ebert review – and a funny anecdote about the review, its similarities to the Rambo series – and his curious link to that series, a larger discussion of the various Vietnam based action dramas at the time of release, working with J Lee Cobb on Cabo Blanco, working with Charles Bronson and his friendship with the star – and a larger discussion of Cannon and their work, the original casting idea that Golan and Globus wanted, the work of cinematographer Jorge Stahl Jr, a personal account of how he ended up in Mexico for an extended period of time to eventually direct films – which includes a truly great Howard Hawks story, his work with Fred Williamson which related to him almost acting in Apocalypse Now, the troubles he had working with Golan and Globus – an entire side conversation about the duo, and much more.  Hool and Kremer deliver an informative track that like the Zito track has some great anecdotes about the production and Cannon Films.  Though this track is a bit more serious in tone.   

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Missing in Action (1:41) [remastered in 2K], Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1:38), Braddock: Missing in Action III (1:30), Good Guys Wear Black (1:37), A Force of One (2:46), The Octagon (2:29), An Eye for An Eye (1:52), Code of Silence (2:39), Hero and The Terror (1:26), Delta Force 2 (1:41)

Disc Three [Braddock: Missing in Action 3] 

The all-new Audio Commentary by Action Film Historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema aka the most reliable duo in Action Film Commentary begins with discussing the opening of the film and the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War and the genius of the film.  Some of the details include an account of Cannon’s “business practices” at the time and the contentious relationship they had with Norris at the time, a discussion of this as Aaron Norris’s directorial debut – a larger conversation about 2nd Unit/Action Director’s work as feature film directors, a discussion of where the film’s plot with the children of American Soldiers being left in Vietnam, a dissection – a wildly hilarious one – of the ‘Missing in Action Universe”, the Keith David cameo, why the Philippines was used as Vietnam in the 1970s through the early 1990s – and specifically Cannon Films, a discussion of the Cannon Film Look, how Joseph Zito was originally attached as director only to have Aaron Norris became the director, a larger side conversation about Norris as a person, as a star, and how he differed from than his contemporaries of the 1980s, a side conversation about Air America, Go Go Bars, and Thailand, the helicopter accident that occurred here and in Delta Force 2, a larger conversation about the various filmmakers and stars at the time that were making film films in Thailand and Philippines, current Vietnam and filming productions currently – Leeder has a great anecdote about a recent film he did there, an interesting conversation about the end of Cannon’s time and Norris’ career at the time – how Walker Texas Ranger was a part of that, a side conversation about Over The Top and some of their favorite Cannon Films (OTT is not one of them), the work of actor Aki Aleong – including some great anecdotes about the actor, the work of editor Michael J Duthie – and the wide and varied career in action and genre, the work of composer Jay Chattaway, some of the more ridiculous moments of the film towards its ending, a great story about Chuck Norris and Dodge Ball: An Underdog Story, the various unproduced projects and sequels that Cannon never made with Chuck Norris, a side conversation about the stars of Cannon and some great anecdotes about JCVD, Dudikoff, et. al., an interesting conversation about current production status in Southeast Asia, a crazy production anecdote about Platoon and a Ninja movie that were filming at the same time, a discussion of who is the “new” Cannon, and much more.  It cannot be said often enough that Leeder and Venema are the best at what they do and here is no exception.  The wealth of information, education, humor, and anecdotes is as enlightening as any of the tracks and entertaining as any of these movies.  Required listening.  

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Missing in Action (1:41) [remastered in 2K], Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1:38), Braddock: Missing in Action III (1:30), Good Guys Wear Black (1:37), A Force of One (2:46), The Octagon (2:29), An Eye for An Eye (1:52), Code of Silence (2:39), Hero and The Terror (1:26), Delta Force 2 (1:41)

The Final Thought 

Kino Lorber has brought their A-Game for The Missing in Action Trilogy set. Transfer, Sound, and Extras are all superior. Highest Recommendations!!!

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of The Missing in Action Trilogy is out January 17th

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