KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Missing In Action: Trilogy (1985, 1985, 1988)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve featured these amazing Cannon movies before, but Kino Lorber has put out an incredible box set of blu ray discs featuring newly remastered in 4K and 2K versions of each film., as well as audio commentary for Missing in Action with director Joseph Zito, moderated by filmmaker Michael Felsher; an interview with Missing In Action screenwriter James Bruner; new commentary of Missing In Action 2 by director Lance Hool, moderated by historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer; new commentary for Braddock: Missing In Action by action film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema; and trailers for all three movies. You can buy the box set from Kino Lorber or each film individually: Missing In ActionMissing In Action 2 and Braddock: Missing In Action.

Missing In Action (1984): Once upon a time, the story goes that James Cameron wrote a treatment for Rambo: First Blood Part II and everyone in Hollywood wanted to make it. The people that wanted to make it the most were our beloved friends at Cannon, who somehow rushed this out two months before Stallone’s character returned to rescue the POWs still left behind.

Cannon may have not been at the level of working with a star of Stallone’s calibre — and pricetag — as of yet, but they would be.

As for star Chuck Norris, he was approached to make the film by Lance Hool and the idea of making a movie that redeemed American soldiers in Vietnam spoke to him, as his brother Wieland died during the conflict. “Vietnam was a tragic mistake. If you don’t want to win the battle, don’t get involved,” said Norris.

Hool and Norris took the project to Cannon Films, who liked the project, and seeing as how they already had a similar script in development, they signed Norris to be in not one, but two movies. Except that the movie intended to be the first movie, the Hool-directed version, ended up being the prequel, released under the confusing title of Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

But man, talk about stacking the deck. The film that was the sequel that became the first movie — welcome to the world of Cannon — was directed by Joseph Zito, who mastered the slasher genre between The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter before making this as well as the perhaps even better — or wilder — Invasion U.S.A. and Red Scorpion.

This movie is everything Cannon in one film, outside of hiring someone like John Cassavetes to direct it or Norman Mailer to write it.

Colonel James Braddock (Norris) is a US military officer who spent seven long years in a North Vietnamese POW camp — if you want to see that, watch Missing in Action 2: The Beginning — a place that he somehow escaped a decade ago. Against the objections of Senator Maxwell Porter, he joins a government team that has come to meet Vietnamese officials in Ho Chi Minh City about the existence of still-living American POWs.

I love that Braddock has no time for the normal action hero cliches of romance. When he’s invited by Ann Fitzgerald (Lenore Kasdorf, Amityville Dollhouse) up to her room for a nightcap, she feigns mock indignation as he strips down, thinking that she’s about to get some of that sweet Chuck Norris karate directly below her belt. She turns and sees him dressed in full black commando gear, ready to climb out her window and start doing some work.

In order to get the dirt he needs on General Vinh (Ernie Ortega) and General Tran (James Hong, always a welcome actor in any movie), he must go into Thailand and recruit his old buddy Jack “Tuck” Tucker (M. Emmet Walsh), who has become the king of the black market. Then, Chuck does what Chuck does, including blowing up more of the Phillippines than ten other movies shot there and the famous moment when Chuck rises from the water holding a M60 machine gun and blowing gigantic holes in nearly everyone.

“One of the biggest thrills of my life came when I went to a theatre to see Missing in Action, and all the people stood up and applauded at the end. That’s when my character brings some POWs he’s just rescued to a conference in Saigon, where the politicians are saying there aren’t any more prisoners of war,” said Chuck. And you know, more than thirty years later, as I watch this movie on my couch, I shouted in pure joy out loud and I’m pretty much so left wing that I’ve become right and then left again.

Such is the magic that is Chuck Norris.

You can learn more about all of the Missing In Action movies in Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon podcast about this movie here.

Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985): Only with Cannon can you have the sequel be the prequel when it was supposed to be the first movie. The Joseph Zito-made Missing In Action was considered to be the better of the two movies, so this one was turned into the second movie, but everything worked out pretty OK.

This was directed by Lance Hool, who sold the script to Chuck Norris, who was looking for a movie to pay tribute to his brother Wieland, who had died in Vietnam. They took the script to Cannon, who had a Vietnam POW movie in development, so that’s how we got two movies so quickly. Also, I’m amazed that Vietnam movies were impossible to make in Hollywood before Stallone and Norris changed everything.

Years before he freed US POWs in the first film, Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris was tortured in a North Vietnamese POW by Colonel Yin (Soon-Teck Oh, who was also in Good Guys Wear Black). He and his fellow soldiers have been forced to grow opium and if they want to be released, Braddock has to confess to war crimes. I mean, it’s Chuck Norris. Do you think he’s going to do that?

Yet that’s exactly what Captain David Nester (Steven Williams, X from The X-Files) believes should happen and he’s joined the side of the enemy as they subject the Americans to torture like guns being shoved in their faces and fired with no bullets. Then, after a fight that Braddock beats Nestor in, he gets a live rat dropped in a bag covering his face while they tell him that his wife thinks he’s dead and has remarried.

That’s also not a fake rat.

Then, to add even more pain, Braddock exchanges an admission of guilt to Yin’s charges of war crimes in order to get medicine for Franklin, a soldier with malaria. Yin overdoses the soldier with opium and burns him in front of Braddock, who escapes from the camp and — as you can imagine — murders every single other soldier, which includes pro wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka.

This came out three months after the first movie but still made $11 million at the box office.

For more info on all three Missing In Action movies, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about Missing In Action 2: The Beginning here.

Braddock: Missing In Action 3 (1988): Directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron and this time, Norris is Colonel James Braddock all over again, but we’ve discovered that his wife Lin Tan Cang (Miki Kim) isn’t dead, a fact that Reverend Polanski (Yehuda Efroni, Cannon utility fielder) imparts his way. And there’s another surprise. He has a 12-year-old son, Van Tan Cang (Roland Harrah III).

Don’t get used to having a wife Braddock.

Before you can say “Cannon pictures,” Vietnamese General Quoc (Aki Aleong) kills Lin and has his soldiers take Braddock and Van to be tortured.

The real co-star of this movie is Chuck’s Heckler & Koch G3 with grenade launcher and shooting bayonet. While Chuck used to base his movies on Reader’s Digest, this time he was looking to 20/20 for material.

This was supposed to be directed by Joe Zito, then Jack Smight, but after all the creative differences, it all worked out with Aaron. Chuck told reporters that “It’s probably the best movie I’ve ever done.”

Sadly, a Philipines Air Force helicopter used in this film crashed into Manila Bay, an accident that killed four soldiers and wounded five other people on the same day that the verdict from Twilight Zone: The Movie case was delivered in Los Angeles Superior Court.

This may not live up to the first two films, but it’s still pretty entertaining. Sadly, Cannon was in so much financial trouble that they couldn’t even afford to publicize it, which nearly caused Norris to sue the company.

For more info on all three Missing In Action movies, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about this film, click here.

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