By: John M Jerva
Back in 1982, the guiltiest of guilty pleasures was released when Flash Gordon was unleashed to an unsuspecting world. Starring newcomer Sam J. Jones and featuring some of the most insane dialogue, situations, special effects and over the top acting, this Sci-Fi opera was poised to make Jones a star in Hollywood. Even with its severe production problems that plagued it.
After the film was released and was panned by critics and audiences alike, although it has gone on to become an elite cult classic, Jones would go into film purgatory as Hollywood didn’t really know what to do with the actor. So, what do you do with the man that single-handedly squashed a science fiction classic character? Well, you make him an obscure 80’s DTV action star that’s what.
Jones would go on to serve his time in movie jail with starring roles in such have to see flicks as Jungle Heat, Under the Gun (not to be confused with the one that starred Richard Norton), and the short-lived NBC series The Highwayman. Let’s not forget the overseas efforts like White Force, In Gold We Trust (also starring Jan-Michael Vincent) and the wonderfully titled Trigon Fire. I mean the list literally goes on and on. I must admit that I’ve seen them all and have a soft spot for them because you know, I like bad movies. Especially ones with lackluster action scenes.
Now I’m here today to talk about one of Jones’ most underrated action gems which teamed him up with legendary Tae Kwon Do grandmaster Jun Chong and the one and only Phillip Rhee who is best known for playing Tommy Lee in the Best of the Best franchise. That’s right! Flash Gordon and Tommy Lee made a movie together and kicked some cheesy 80’s ass.
Called appropriately enough Silent Assassins, the 1988 film hailed from Action Brothers Productions which was a company founded by Chong in that decade in which he made and starred in a slew of low-grade martial arts epics which also included Ninja Turf (AKA L.A. Streetfighters), and Street Soldiers which was essentially an urban take on Romeo & Juliet with wooden acting, poor production values and decent, bone breaking martial arts action. Chong surrounded himself with elite talent that included people he trained with like Rhee as well as James Lew and Phillip’s brother Simon Rhee- Dae Han of Best of the Best.
All of these films are ultra-low-grade chop socky epics that featured shotty acting, dark production values (I mean, really, would it have killed then to buy some lighting for the sets), and incomprehensible plots with off the wall villains. This one is dark but it’s not as bad as Ninja Turf. That film is almost unwatchable from what I remember, and I’m going to try and revisit that film for a future Action Rewind along with Street Soldiers to complete the Action Brothers saga. God help me in my ambition. They also featured some solid fight action due to the fact that everyone involved was a professional martial artist and knew how to throw down. It was the action that made each of these tolerable as they really don’t offer much of anything else.
Helmed by Lee Doo-Yong, who’s a Korean filmmaker who traveled to this side of the pond to make films in the 80’s, Silent assassins is one of many martial arts infused action pics that flooded the home video market during the resurgence of the genre made popular once again by films like JCVD’s Bloodsport. Doo-Yong probably thought he was making high caliber art here, but we all know better with the finished product and it’s quite evident that his production output in his native homeland wielded much better results.
Silent Assassins is in the level of its so bad it’s awesome as it stars Jones as a no nonsense cop (in the 80’s, was there any other kind?) named Sam Kettle (Kettle?) who’s set to retire after a botched operation, which resulted in the death of his partner, because his girlfriend Sara, played by a severally underused Linda Blair, is fed up with his lifestyle and constantly fights and bickers with him. Their relationship is strange as at one minute they’re at each other’s throats and the next they’re jumping into bed. It’s quite perplexing and annoying really and I couldn’t help but think with each passing viewing that this movie would be better without her participation. No offense to Blair.
Enter ruthless criminal mastermind Kendrick, the man Kettle is after at the beginning of the movie, who is played with gloriously over the top extremes by Gustav Vintas. Kendrick has just kidnapped an elderly biochemist named Dr. London (Bill Erwin) so he can obtain a lethal bioweapon to then sell to the highest bidder because that’s what bad guys do. Unfortunately, during the kidnapping, the brother and sister-in-law of one Jun Kim (Chong) is mercilessly executed because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. To make matters worse, Kendrick kidnaps Kim’s niece, for what reason we don’t know, setting in motion a violent turn of events that will lead to some pretty severe butt kicking.
Per the norm, Kettle’s chief wants Sam on the case as it goes along with the death of Kettle’s partner who was killed during an attempt to apprehend Kendrick at the beginning of the movie. Kettle agrees to come back to the dismay of Sara for one last mission because it’s unfinished business to say the least and Flash Gordon doesn’t leave with unresolved issues.
Unfortunately for Kettle, Kim is a huge pain in the ass as he tries to tag along with Kettle because he wants his niece back and at first, Kettle wants nothing to do with him but as the film goes on, they strike up a friendship and partnership to bring down Kendrick and rescue the doctor and Kim’s niece.
Wouldn’t you know it though that Kendrick has hired himself a lethal army of Asian ass kickers who are supposed to be ninjas but never wear the traditional uniform of the ancient clan of killers. Instead, our supposed silent warriors wear combat fatigues which is an odd choice to say the least, but I digress. Maybe they were undercover ninjas. They’re also anything but silent as when they attack, they come across like battering rams and they scream out upon attacking and are as loud as can be while slicing up the competition. I guess Un-Silent Assassins wouldn’t have sounded as good.
Another unintentionally humorous aspect of the so-called ninjas is when one of them proceeds to kill a victim and then the rest of the posse storms in to hack them to pieces postmortem. It’s as if they’re putting a blood-soaked exclamation point on the matter and even though it’s unnecessary, it still drives home the point that this is just dumb fun, and the film needs more over the top violence.
Through their investigation, Kettle and Kim team up with a Beverly Hills pretty boy named Bernard (Phillip Rhee) whose father just happens to be the late, great Mako who is a Yakuza Oyuban. At first, Bernard wants nothing to do with our fearless duo but after his father is brutally executed and his overly snobbish girlfriend is poisoned one night, which was meant for him, Bernard gets serious and joins Kettle and Kim for an assault on Kendrick’s compound where they face off with the…you guessed it…silent assassins. Is it me or do a lot of the character’s names start with K? Once again, I digress.
Silent Assassins is unapologetic as it knows exactly what kind of movie it is and wears it firmly on its sleeve. It’s low budget, cheesy and over the top in its 80’s excess and the cast were probably just like “fuck it, we’re getting paid.”
Jones and Chong do have some pretty good chemistry together and Kettle’s off the rails Westerner compliments Kim’s low brow naivety towards all things American. It’s Chong’s low-key performance that really drives it home and it’s great to see him go from quiet and reserved to full on warrior when necessary.
Like I said, Linda Blair of Exorcist fame is severely underused as Kettle’s girlfriend Sara, and she spends most of the movie doing her best Jekyll and Hyde impersonation. One minute, she’s furious with Sam and the next she’s all forgiving. It’s quite exhausting and Blair’s acting exhibits nothing from that aforementioned horror classic. Plus, I always loved how she was displayed on the VHS box art wielding a gun along with Jones like she’s going to be his female centric bad ass too. Yeah, that’s not the case. She does shoot someone though so there is that but she’s pretty much useless.
Rhee is clearly having the most fun as the spoiled rich kid Bernard who runs an upscale martial arts school. Just like Chong, fans have fun seeing Bernard go from a surfer dude like persona to a more serious take no shit killer when it’s called for. Viewers at home can participate in a fun drinking game and take a shot every time he says man. “Come on man!” “What do ya mean man!” It’s like a second vocabulary with him and it’s laugh out loud hilarious. The finale is vintage Rhee though as he finally gets serious to lay some serious smack down on the baddies which includes a two on one battle with his real-life brother Simon Rhee. Their fight here never reaches the greatness of their altercation in Best of the Best, but it still satisfies on a Saturday night and is a nice warm up to their epic beatdown in that genre classic.
There’s only thing I’ll say about former model turned actress Rebecca Ferratti who plays Kendrick’s femme fatale right hand killer Miss Amy. It’s a good thing she’s easy on the eyes because she downright sucks as an actress. It’s cringeworthy stuff let me tell you. I have spoken.
The funniest scenes involve Kendrick trying to get the bio-weapon formula from the good doctor as the latter tries to stall. At one point, Doctor London points out the fact that the computer they’re using has a curious defect. Simply turn the keyboard over and the system blows up. Now that’s a defect! I wonder how many poor, unsuspecting consumers hurt themselves with that little flaw?
The first half of the movie doesn’t really offer much in terms of hand-to-hand carnage because I guess they were establishing plot and character depth and it’s pretty much Kettle and Kim driving around from one lead to the next. Super fun for action fans. There are a few altercations involving Kim peppered throughout but nothing to really get excited about.
One humorous scene has Kettle super gluing a heavyweight agent on his tail to the side of the building which has to be seen to be believed. I mean Jones literally buys some glue, rubs it on the side of the building and proceeds to stick the guy on it. It defies the laws of physics to say the least and it makes me laugh to this day and is totally ridiculous.
Now it’s the last half of the film which earns Silent Assassins its B movie action trophy as the fighting heats up and even Mako gets in on the fisticuffs as he dishes out some serious moves with a Katana. Chong also gets in some fight action as Jones looks perplexed as to what’s going on.
The finale is the real reason why anyone would want to watch this film as our Three Musketeers launch their assault on Kendrick’s army for all the marbles. Rhee finally showcases his signature skills and Chong puts the CQB pedal to the metal as Jones mows down countless goons with not one but two M-16’s in his hands. Two’s always better than one I always say.
There’s fists and feet of fury galore as Chong and Rhee (who’s rocking some sweet but questionable red sweatpants) take on the hired killers and the choreography, which was handled by Chong, Rhee and his team, is solid, satisfying and brutal. Not only do we have empty handed warfare, but there’s also an abundance of bladed weaponry which enhances the ferocity of the expertly staged altercations. Even though there’s not much to celebrate about the rest of the movie, the action pieces are the showstopper as if that’s all they wanted to get across and the rest of the movie was just a platform to get there.
The effects are practical, and we get some nice blood squibs as well as the some always welcome gratuitous blood spray which accompanies the severed heads and limbs that go along with the finale. One highlight has Kettle blasting away at a goon who then proceeds to explode because the bullets hit explosives. It’s a humorous site as the viewer can tell that a mannequin has been switched out for the desired effect and it’s clear that it’s not really a human being anymore but, hey, that’s all part of the charm. It still serves its purpose however as I miss the days of real effects on set.
Don’t get me wrong though, there’s plenty other action films out there with better action sequences but for what they had here, it’s a real treat and the reason why this is a must watch in 80’s excess on film.
Of course, everything comes to a head at the end and Jones gets to blow shit up with a LAW rocket launcher that seems to reload all by itself. These missile launchers in real life were one shot deals but here, we get multiple uses out of it which is always a good thing. Throw in Rhee jumping on the skid of a helicopter that’s trying to carry Kendrick to safety for no reason whatsoever and you have some serious stunt power to wrap up this true guilty pleasure.
Now you might think that I hated this movie with all the ribbing I gave it but it’s totally the opposite. With all its flaws and mediocre production values, Silent Assassins is the perfect example as to why DTV 80’s action films rocked. We all know they’re bad but they’re bad for all the right reasons and Chong, Jones, Rhee and company all put it out there so we could be entertained with its “holy cow what did I just watch” factor to it.
The casual filmgoer will look at this and roll their eyes at it but we, the serious action fans, all get it. We’re fans of bad acting, low budgets and nonsensical plot elements but if you put in solid fight action that’s all that counts. There’s some serious talent involved here and that’s why it works.
Throw in the always dependable 80’s synthesizer musical score and the icing is placed firmly on the cake. I just stated in another interview, that this type of music should make a comeback because action films would be the better for it.
Jones might not have become the huge mainstream star he was supposed to be, but genre fans love him, and he should be in some B level action film hall of fame somewhere. He never took himself seriously and threw himself into all his roles regardless of budget. A true professional ladies and gentlemen.
Overall, Silent Assassins epitomizes everything that made action movies in the 80’s great. There’s enough cheese to make a truckload of pizzas, the acting is over the top, and the action is the strongest selling point. I kind of wish that Jones, Chong and Rhee suited up together for more of these as they worked well together, and the film does end on a short of light cliffhanger as the real bad guy is still at large. Watching it today, it’s clearly dated but who cares as this was a simpler time with less political correctness and the action films were a direct interpretation of that. Plus, you had Flash Gordon, Tommy Lee and the Grandmaster of Tae Kwon Do teaming up to fight an army of urban clad ninja assassins. It doesn’t get any better than that.
If you don’t believe a word I’m saying about this flick, simply watch the original theatrical trailer which pretty much sums it all up. You’re welcome. Until next time!
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