Thanks to the folks at Umbrella Entertainment, we have here a release that caters to the more experienced Chuck fan seeking out some of his lesser known films and at the same time provides a nifty introduction to the earlier part of his career and how it progressed towards Hollywood stardom. Now, like many of his action movie star brethren Norris never troubled any Best Actor awards lists, but what he did at his peak he certainly did well. The films included here, 1974’s Slaughter in San Francisco (aka Yellow Faced Tiger), 1981’s An Eye for an Eye and 1986’s Firewalker are not his best, but they do handily illustrate how his screen persona developed.
Slaughter comes from Norris’ pre-manscaping days, when the more hirsute Chuck was starting out acting by playing villains. Here he follows up Way of the Dragon with a turn as Chuck Slaughter, a big city crime boss and irredeemable scumbag. The real star of the film is Wong Tao as ex-policeman Wong (imagination in character names not being the point here) who is compelled to root out corruption in his former department after his ex-partner is murdered. It eventually leads him into a confrontation with Slaughter. To get to this you have to wade through a routine Golden Harvest kung-fu thriller that is nothing special. It’s almost worth it though for that final fight involving Norris, and his entertaining (though badly dubbed) performance as a moustache-twirling baddie that showcases his marital arts prowess well. The picture quality on Slaughter is dreadful, though this actually increases its charm.
Next up is An Eye for an Eye, made during the time when Norris was knocking out one police/revenge thriller after another. This one is notable for having the marvellous Christopher Lee in the cast and for coming from the period before Firewalker where Norris’ films tended to be grittier in their violence. It’s enjoyable if a little slow, with Norris in fine vengeful form. Post Firewalker we’d get this type of movie again but the films, like Chuck’s hairy back, had become smoother and less scrappy by then.
Firewalker itself is an entertainingly poor, though borderline reprehensible Cannon rip-off at its most thinly disguised, superficially of the Indiana Jones films but also of any number of bigger, better mid-80s action comedies. But it’s not totally unaware of just how brazen it is, and features the estimable Lou Gossett as co-star. Norris gets to play light for a change and it’s about as warm a performance from him as you’re likely to find. A basic no-frills set for Norris fans, it’s decent enough fun.
THE CHUCK NORRIS COLLECTION / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: LO WEI, STEVE CARVER, J. LEE THOMPSON / SCREENPLAY: LO WEI, CHANG YUNG-HSIANG, JAMES BRUNER, WILLIAM GRAY, ROBERT GOSNELL / STARRING: CHUCK NORRIS, WONG TAO, CHRISTOPHER LEE, LOU GOSSETT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW