Philippine War Week II: Mission War Flame (1987)

Godfrey Ho. He’s Joe Livingstone. He’s Willie Palmer. He’s Charles Lee. And here, he is Bruce Lambert behind the camera and Eric Coleman behind the typewriter. You’ll also notice the name of Sally Nicholls credited for “dialog” on many of Godfrey’s films. Well, someone had to thread together Ho’s piecemeal efforts into coherency. And she’s a real person, not an alias — an actress whose work dates back to the ’60s with Lon Chaney, Jr. And you’ll notice notable Hong Kong action star Tao Chiang — 187 credits strong since 1968, with his most recent film, Yang Jingyu, out in 2019 — starring here.

Now, we have to note — taking into account that acting in Philippine cinema is like checking into the Eagles Hotel California: once you sign on the dotted line, you never leave the industry. Especially on the line with Silver Star Films, for they will keep recycling that footage into movie after movie after movie.

So, when you begin dissecting Ho and Chiang’s joint resume, going back to The Deadly Silver Ninja (1978), Ninja Thunderbolt (1984), and Fatal Command (1986) — for nineteen films total, prior to the making of Mission War Flame — you begin to wonder how many of these films did Tao Chiang actually “act” in and how many was he “spliced into” for proxy-stardom? And how much of those films — as well as Mission War Flame — did Godfrey Ho actually shoot. Just look at that opening artillery-filled prologue. A Godfrey Ho production employing all of those extras — and artillery cannons? Nope. Not buying it: it’s from another film. But what film: that is the question. Nothing here looks like it was originally shot, sans some linking materials, but even that is questionable. And all of the footage looks like it’s from 1977 — or earlier — than the 1987 release date of the film.

So, that stock Vietnam war film footage has run the villagers from their jungle mountain enclave. Now we are into the Ho-shot footage — we think — with a bunch of Americans in non-military camouflage lined up to spout some dubbed dialog as they prepare for a mission, aka “the war flamers” of the film. One of our soldiers lets us know, “I am not afraid of anything. Not even war itself.”

Forward! March!

Now we have some Asian actors — probably from another film, as well — as they mount up for the U.S. soldiers’ attack, that is, “the footage” from the other film.

Now, with a third batch of mismatched footage, we’re meeting the family of Paul, a young Vietnamese doctor recruited — against his family’s objections — into a U.S. Marine-backed military force that will go up against the Viet Cong — from that previous batch of spliced-in film — that took over a hill and ran off those villagers. In fact, it’s not just Paul. Apparently, you can just be walking down a dirt road with your girlfriend and you’re “recruited” into the fighting force. Here’s your papers. Report for duty. You’re helping us take back that hill.

Oh, and there’s the tanks that finally appear at the end. Trust us. Godfrey Ho didn’t rent any tanks and it’s from another film.

The “human drama” comes from the fact that Paul and the other recruits love the glory of fighting for their country. Paul’s wife calls him a “monster,” you know, just like with the “Return from ‘Nam” movies made in America. And this is where the B&S About Movies editorial board allows us to drop “ensues” into the review. Only, nothing ensues . . . as this has none of the all-out action assault of most of the other “Philippines War Week” entries we’ve covered this week and back in August during our first tribute to Philippines war flicks.

Ah, but Godfrey comes through in the end. Paul and the two other saps that got recruited into the fight, struggle to raise the American flag on the recaptured hill — only to die in a hail of sniper fire. Now, that would be a heartbreaking ending in another film. Here, the “message,” if any, about the cost of war, and honor, and glory, is lost. For this is just plain bad — and criminal — that this patch job of obscure South Asian films from the ’70s was marketed in the backwash of First Blood and Commando. There’s not even martial arts to wow us. Just a whole lot of “uggghs” and “aihyaaaahs” as bodies fall under hails of squibs.

There’s no trailer to share because, for there to be a trailer, there needs to be a “story” to cut into a trailer with a narrative arc to tell you what the film is about in the first place. But we did find a copy of Mission War Flames on You Tube — but more for you to fast forward through than actually watch. But we know you’re a celluloid masochist . . . Aihyaaaaah!

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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