This week’s pick is yet another classic from the world of Golan Globus a.k.a. Cannon Films, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985) which was directed by Lance Hool and stars Chuck “White Lightning” Norris as Colonel James Braddock in this prequel to the Missing in Action franchise.
The film also stars Soon-Tek Oh (Col. Yin), Steven Williams (Nestor), Cosie Costa (Lt. Mazilli), David Chung (Dou Chou), John Wesley (Sgt. Franklin), Christopher Cary (Emerson), Bennett Ohta (Capt. Ho), Joe Michael Terry (Cpl. Opelka), and Professor Toru “Sub Zero” Tanaka (Lao).
The film opens in 1972 Vietnam where Col. Braddock (Norris) leads a rescue mission along the Cambodian border. A squad of American troops are pinned downed by enemy fire when Braddock and a rescue team land in a chopper to ferry them out. As they take off under heavy fire, a rocket round takes out the hydraulics and the chopper goes down. All the men on board are soon listed M.I.A. ‘Missing in Action’ and become a painful reminder of America’s failure to win the Vietnam War.
The film then flashes forward ten or so years later where Braddock and his men are prisoners in a camp run by the sadistic Col. Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) who forces Braddock’s men and others to grow opium for a French drug smuggler named Francois (Pierre Issot). Yin has spent years trying to break Braddock and make him confess to ridiculous war crimes. Yin also uses psychological torture against the prisoners by telling them that American ambassadors are being killed throughout the world, and that world opinion has turned against the United States because if its long war against the peace loving people of Vietnam.
If Braddock confesses, Yin promises to have them released. Braddock refuses to break and Yin incorporates a series of horrible tortures which include fake firing squads, the old “rat in a bag, then tied around your head while you’re suspended upside down routine”, and occasion beatings from his right and left hand minions Lao (Tanaka) and Dou Chou (Chung). Yin also goes as far as to tell Braddock that a letter from his wife states that she believes he is dead and that she plans to remarry. Col. Braddock tells Yin that he is happy that his wife is planning to remarry and that he will never confess to crimes he and his men are not guilty of.
One of Braddock’s former men Captain David Nestor (Williams) has long since confessed to said war crimes and is given better treatment and certain amenities which make him despised by his fellow Americans. Nestor is given free range within the camp and acts as Yin’s house servant. Nestor believes that Braddock’s pride and dedication to a country that has forgotten about them is what’s still keeping them there. Capt. Ho (Ohta), a former South Vietnamese officer tells Nestor that if Yin breaks Braddock, Yin will kill them all. As Yin’s sadistic nature increases and Braddock’s men pay the price, Braddock plots an escape and plans to exact vengeance against Yin and his opium operation.
The film is and has always been a late night, Cable T.V. guilty pleasure, and Norris’s fight sequences are pretty well choreographed, especially the showdown at the end of the film. The film has a lot of violent scenes and it is a film which is rather tasteless at times. Several scenes include the horrible execution of the Australian photographer Emerson (Christopher Cary) who was caught taking pictures of the prison camp. He tells Yin that he is a point man for a POW rescue mission which has been trying to locate Yin’s operation for some time. Yin doesn’t know whether to trust him or not, and Emerson confesses to Braddock and his men that he is alone and needs photos to prove American POWs are still being held in Vietnam. Emerson is later identified by Francois who tells Yin he is not who he claims to be. Yin has Emerson killed by Dou Chou who executes him rather brutally with a .45 pistol to the head.
My other favorite scene occurs when Braddock plans his escape from the camp. He appears to have hung himself in Yin’s holding cell and is discovered in the morning by a hapless guard who has his neck violently broken. Braddock escapes the compound and makes his way towards a rope bridge which Yin claims is impassable. Braddock manages to kill two guards at one end, and disposes of the others with a flame thrower in yet another brutal display of vengeance. Braddock also builds up an arsenal of weapons outside the camp so he can use the ordinance to free the prisoners and get Yin. By film’s end, the good guys win and the bad guys not only get the crap kicked out of them, but are disposed of in several fashions such as gunfire, explosions, more neck breaks, and even impalement.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning was meant to be the first film in the franchise and was shot simultaneously along side the first film which shows Braddock going back to Vietnam to free more POWs from a sadistic Vietnamese warden. At the last minute, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus changed their minds and decided to present both films as a prequel and sequel. Missing in Action 2: The Beginning was followed by the not so successful Missing in Action 3 (1988) where Braddock returns yet again to Vietnam to rescue his now Vietnamese wife who was left behind after the fall of Saigon, and his son who he never knew existed.
Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is available on DVD through MGM/UA Home Video and can be rented via Netflix.