An Eye For An Eye

cast: Chuck Norris, Maggie Cooper, Christopher Lee, Richard Rowntree, and Mako

director: Steve Carver

102 minutes (18) 1981
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary

The legendary Bruce Lee might still be the king of kung fu (even more than three decades after his death), but for many fans of urban vigilantes and western-style cop thrillers, Chuck Norris was really the first American actor-athlete to make it big in US exploitation cinema.

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As the action star who required no stuntman when it came to trading punches with bad guys, Norris himself was often responsible for the choreography of fight scenes in his movies. While the mighty Schwarzenegger was still lifting weights for documentary Pumping Iron, and struggling to acquire the cult appeal needed for film stardom in Conan The Barbarian (1981) and The Terminator (1985), a characteristically laconic Chuck Norris was already playing ‘iconic’ heroes in his own brand of action pictures: Good Guys Wear Black, and A Force Of One (both 1979), The Octagon (1980) and this one, An Eye For An Eye. Yes, wooden Norris was and usually still is, but he could certainly kick the bad guys around when required, and was the first to make Hollywood take notice of the genuine potential for casting a white martial arts’ champion as the scourge of villainy. Norris was soon to be followed by the likes of muscle-bound Jean-Claude Van Damme, the charismatic Steven Seagal, and even wrestlers Roddy Piper, and The Rock (who is clearly being promoted as big Arnie’s ‘heir’ for in new century).

Although somewhat lacking in the seemingly essential attribute of a personality, Norris does have a notable measure of screen presence, and it’s the stoic variety that he demonstrates here as San Francisco cop Sean Kane, who turns vigilante after his partner on the force, Dave (Terry Kiser), is killed when their undercover investigation goes awry. The plot of An Eye For An Eye concerns drug trafficking into California by the ferocious Hong Kong triads, aided by ruthless TV executive Morgan (Christopher Lee, playing the business-suited, flunky-surrounded villain in high camp mode). When TV journalist Linda (Rosalind Chao) uncovers some evidence about the massive smuggling operation, she’s murdered by henchmen led by the club-footed yet super-strong Giant (Toru Tanaka, better known as The Professor), putting her TV news editor, Heather (Maggie Cooper, making her big screen debut), in danger. Of course, domesticated bachelor Sean takes the lovely Heather into protective custody at his fortified marina homestead. With capable but peculiarly erratic help from his mentor James (a tremendously entertaining Mako) Sean sets about the job of destroying the gangsters’ racket, and intends to kill everyone that gets in his way.

Despite some curiously stilted dialogue and sloppy acting that results in a failure of many scenes to generate adequate drama, there are sufficient examples of good humour to save the movie from becoming even slightly boring. Worthy of special note is the lively banter of Mako’s frequently acerbic James, who – at one point – chides Norris’ arrogant hero: “Do not let my praise inflate your ego. It is already swollen enough.” As if standing in opposition to the use of firearms instead of the hero’s penchant for hand-to-hand combat, An Eye For An Eye features probably the most fake-sounding gunfire sound effects heard outside of cheapo, ultra-stylised spaghetti westerns.

Ultimately, what saves this low-budget crime thriller from being merely a routine exercise is Norris. As the lone defender of justice, he is rarely less than watchable, and here makes the most of several well-staged action sequences against heavily armed or formidably skilled opponents. Norris went on star in better movies and, although several of his later works succumbed to a gung-ho formula or sequelitis, he’s on good form cast as a maverick Texas Ranger in Steve Carver’s Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), and delivered a commendable star performance in Andrew Davis’ Code Of Silence (1985).

Overall, then, it’s hardly a must-see cult movie, but is nonetheless a solid example of US exploitation pictures from the early 1980s.