Sunday, August 18, 2013

The One Armed Executioner (1983)

Interpol agent Ramon Ortega (Franco Guerrero) and his children's book writer wife Ann (Jody Kay) have just returned from their honeymoon. Sad piano music plays when they make love, so that's already three strikes against poor Ann even if you ignore the mild suggestion of coming violence the film's title subtly provides.

Ramon becomes involved into the investigation of an American business Interpol knows to be an important drug dealer, but alas can't prove anything about. An explosive helicopter raid and some slight police threats of the "we've got our eyes on you" type later, and the main baddy decides that his best bet is to go into traditional movie villain overreaction mood and send out a bunch of his favourite henchmen to torture, rape and kill Ramon's wife and saw off one of Ramon's arms.

Understandably, our hero spends the next twenty movie minutes or so becoming a moping alcoholic but - unlike the real-life moping alcoholics I know - he's got a fatherly ex-Interpol agent friend to not only set him straight again but also teach him the martial (and shooting) arts ways of one-armed fighting, which for some reason involves stuff like learning how to balance on a log while being blind-folded.

Once Ramon's up to speed, it's time for him to go out and kill a lot of people. Explosions may be involved.

It's difficult to watch a movie made by One Armed Executioner's director/writer/producer Bobby A. Suarez and not make comparisons to the body of work of Cirio H. Santiago, or more specifically, to imagine Suarez as the good guy Filipino exploitation filmmaker with an eye for the US market to Santiago's shady one, with Suarez always putting the extra effort into his films that makes them actually fun for an audience, a concept which Santiago only seemed to care about - if at all, on his good days - intermittently.

One Armed Executioner is really a case in point here. The film's plot is as basic, possibly crude, as they come, told in a manner that reduces its type of martial arts vengeance flick to its most basic elements, up to a point where even things like character names seem superfluous. However, Suarez really digs into these simple basics, giving the melodramatic set-up an air of surprising conviction with the sheer power of earnestness as well as through an effective performance by Guerrero. There's a sense of concentration on the central parts of the plot (such as it is) with no time for filler that makes the melodramatic build-up just as interesting to watch as the climactic violent release. (Subtext? What subtext?)

It's thanks to this irony and slack-free tone that there was really never any doubt in this viewer's mind that Suarez means business, and knows he needs to apply himself to the melodramatic parts before he can get into the slaughter and action bits effectively. It's surely not easy to find the right balance in this regard, but for my tastes, One Armed Executioner hits the absolute sweet spot for cheap martial arts vengeance flick, with never a boring moment or one that isn't at least important in some form for the rest of the film.

Once we get to the actual action, the film makes much out of the comparatively little it has to work with budget-wise, really going to town with one helicopter and a speed boat, a few crazy and many not quite so crazy stunts and minor actors who literally (nope, not figuratively) throw themselves into their death scenes as is the sweet tradition in cheap action movies. There is, to be sure, a certain lack in originality to be found in the action scenes - by 1983 we really had seen all of this more than once before - but Suarez stages them with such a sure hand it'd be churlish to complain about a lack of originality when it's actually so much fun watching them in The One Armed Executioner.

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