Decade Definers: 1980s – Birth Of The Action Hero

Written by Chris Gelderd

Like most things in life, it’s hard to pin-point the exact formation of something. A season. A movement. A trend. These things just seem to happen when every factor around it comes into alignment and all the signs point to go. Somethings just naturally work with the environment around them. The film industry also does this and has done for over 100 years

The 1980s saw the formation of many things that changed the industry forever. The emergence of special effects allowed film-makers to really let their imagination blossom. Risks were being taken across horror, sci-fi and comedy with franchises taking off left right and centre, content being pushed for teen audiences (the introduction of the US PG-13 rating for such an occasion) and talent was setting the bar high in their chosen genres, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and Eddie Murphy to name but a few.

Yet the 80s was a decade that discovered a new wave of acting and creative talent that changed the way we look at action movies and their heroes forever, and we can see that winning template is used in films today to cater to new generations.

The world needed heroes, and the right men – and women – came along at the right time to deliver. Not satisfied with your suave Brit Sir Roger Moore and his family friendly James Bond adventures, mature audiences wanted more. More action! More violence! More stars! More outrageous, exciting, balls-to-the-wall popcorn entertainment!

The studios listened. The creative talent put pen to paper. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 1980s and the birth of the action hero!

Ask any film fan to name 5 action stars and they will probably give the same names.  From just a rather small selection of big name stars throughout the 1980s, we certainly got a truckload of memorable and long-standing action films from them. Some spawned franchises that still are going strong today, others simply one off treasures. Either way, they helped shape a genre that inspired much of what we see today on the big (and small) screen.

Let’s take a look at some of the big names that came to be during the 1980s and how they helped shape the action movie itself.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

One man proved you didn’t need to be the next Charlton Heston of the acting world in order to make shockwaves across Hollywood and the world. Sometimes all you needed was a thick, inimitable European accent, muscles the size of watermelons and the passion to chase the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ‘Austrian Oak’, did just that when he launched onto the scene during the 1980s with his imposing, unique frame as a bit player in cheaply produced movies before the studio execs took a risk and cast him in films where dialogue and plot were minimal, but action and iconography where high.

Arnie gave us 9 movies during the 1980s that became classics of the genre and his trademark style of witty one-liners, high violence, break-neck stunts and blending action into sci-fi, fantasy and comedy. From ‘Conan The Destroyer’ in 1982 that tested his boundaries for taking any role seriously and dishing out action in any form he was given, he soon was given movies such as ‘The Terminator’ in 1984, ‘Commando’ in 1985 and ‘Predator’ in 1987.

Each film was unique and different, letting Arnie win over fans and critics not with his acting, but with his ability to be an action hero across any genre who was tough talking, physically imposing and looked like a demi-God with his muscles and strong stance. He used any means at his disposal to eradicate bad guys – and sometimes good guys – and gave James Bond a run for his money with the one liners. Arnie became synonymous with action films and many of his 80s films stand strong today and shape franchise on the big and small screen in a career built on action that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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Sylvester Stallone

Stallone gave us two big ‘R’s throughout the 70s and 80s…and 90s and 00s, all things considered. Rocky Balboa was his character for sport and drama, but Rambo was his character for action and excitement. From 1982 to 1988 (and 2008, but we’re not here for that), Stallone carved a new niche for his action ability in the form of John Rambo, a traumatized Vietnam veteran.

After a debut in ‘First Blood’ that actually gave us a grounded action film that used drama, humanity and tension as its main driving points, it’s two sequels “First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III” threw humanity out the window (literally) and cranked up the chaos to 10.

Muscles bulging as he waged war against the Vietnamese and Russians to save POWs and innocent people, Rambo became the invincible one-man army whom America and the world could count on.  Armed with  rocket launchers and sub-machine guns, bow and arrows and hunting knifes, Rambo proved Stallone could deliver the sort of story fuelled action audiences wanted, and it continued over his career with the likes ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘The Expendables’.

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Bruce Willis

An interesting case study indeed when you look at it. Out of all the action heroes of the 80s, Willis looked least likely. He wasn’t imposing to look at, not intimidating to hear talk and his career launched in the 1984 US comedy drama TV show ‘Moonlighting’ and the 1987 comedy romance film ‘Blind Date’.

Fox produced a film based on a 1979 novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, a sequel to the 1966 book ‘The Detective’, which was adapted into a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra and allowed Sinatra to accept or decline to star in the new film. He declined. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined it as a sequel to ‘Commando’. Who was left to cast? Bruce Willis, obviously.

Now when you say the words ‘Die Hard’, it conjures up a film often agreed to be the greatest action film of the 1980s. A simple story about a New York cop saving hostages inside a skyscraper whilst taking down a small army of European terrorists was just what people wanted. Full of explosive action, snappy humour, a surprising world-weary and iconic portrayal by Willis of NYPD cop John McClane and a villain as dastardly and suave as them come in the guise of the late, great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.

‘Die Hard’ quickly became a template to base an action hero saving the day against the odds, and shaped the hero who could be an everyday cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, not just a muscle bound war hero or super soldier. It launched four sequels, video games and also Willis’s career into action orbit and also the greatest debate going in movies today – “Is Die Hard a Christmas film or not?”.

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Sigourney Weaver

The 80s action market was a place for men. Women had little chance to show they could do as much damage as the guys sadly, but one woman took a role, built it up over a franchise and proved that with the right support, it wasn’t just the men who could kick ass and save the world…or galaxy.

Sigourney Weaver has her niche in drama and comedy, but her action debut came in a little known sci-fi film in the late 1970s called ‘Alien’ that had her go up and survive against a deadly alien being in space, where nobody could hear her or her ill-fated male crew scream. The role of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley was a big boost to female talent at that time, and while Weaver continued her box-office draw in comedy with other classics such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Working Girl’, the 80s saw her return to the role of Ripley in 1986s ‘Aliens’.

This time, Weaver led a group of male supporting actors as space marines to return to and wipe out the colony of aliens and their queen to save the galaxy from extinction. Weaver gave just as good as she got in terms of attitude, action and ability. A fine actress of her generation, she carried over a humane side to her tough-talking and ass-kicking Ripley going up against the deadly aliens and held her own, much like John McClane in ‘Die Hard’, being an everyday person up against the odds but who handles weaponry and heavy machinery as easy as breathing. Weaver cemented a successful and iconic role in an already iconic franchise and is one of the few female actors to carve out a successful action hero over the years.

Now, sadly, I have to rein this piece in because I could go on exploring defining actors and their roles for many more pages, but you all have lives and I must let you get on with them.

I hope this small glimpse into what the 1980s gave us in terms of action resonates with you. A handful of international actors helped produced dozens of action films with the support of creative talent such as James Cameron and Joel Silver that would resonate for years to come and also help launch female talent in front of and behind the camera around the world. The 80s gave us simple pleasures without the need for extensive plots, complicated stories and bloated character development. The era is almost a golden age of simplicity and it’s that simplicity that makes it so easy to return to watch any action film of the time for nothing but entertainment and enjoyment.

There are many more stars out there I could have mentioned. I’ll leave you with a handful more here to explore in your own time as ones who also helped define the action decade:

  • Jackie Chan (‘Police Story’, ‘Project A’)
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme (‘Bloodsport’, ‘Kickboxer’)
  • Harrison Ford (‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Blade Runner’)
  • Mel Gibson (‘Mad Max 2’, ‘Lethal Weapon’)
  • Chuck Norris (‘The Delta Force’, ‘Missing In Action’)
  • Kurt Russell (‘The Thing’, ‘Big Trouble In Little China’)

Yippie-ki-yay, mother f….

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The Foreigner

Year: 2017
Directed by: Martin Campbell 
Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Orla Brady.

WRITTEN BY CHRIS GELDERD

This 2017 action thriller, based on the 1992 novel ‘The Chinaman’ by Stephen Leather, is directed by Martin Campbell and stars Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Liu Tao, Charlie Murphy and Orla Brady.

When Ngoc Minh Quan (Chan) loses his daughter in a terrorist attack in London, carried out by a group calling themselves the ‘Authentic IRA’, his world crumbles and he has nothing to live for except finding those responsible.

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), a former IRA operative, condemns the bombing but has little knowledge of who is behind it. Quan makes Hennessy his target in extracting the information he knows is being kept from him.

Taking matters into his own hands, Quan begins to take Hennesy’s world apart by targeting his loved ones and his confidents in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, applying pressure to get to the source of the bombing. But the terrorist group is ready to hit their next target, and time is running out to stop them…

Take the world’s most ambitious and loved action star, add in the 5th James Bond actor and direct them by the man responsible for ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘Casino Royale’. Sound like a hoot? Well it is, but not for the reasons it could have been about 20 years ago.

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Director Martin Campbell, who knows how to direct well-paced and grounded action films, brings 63-year old Jackie Chan and 64-year old Pierce Brosnan together for a slow burning, gritty and tense political game of cat-and-mouse that proves two things: Jackie Chan can act far beyond breaking bones and falling off roof-tops, and Pierce Brosnan can act far beyond wearing a tuxedo and dancing on Greek islands.

There is thankfully little action in this film, and when there is, it’s contained and minimal and real. Yes, Chan does his thing by disarming knife and gun toting bad guys but he does it in a way you’d believe a former Vietnam special ops forces soldier would do. He is a father who has lost everything and isn’t afraid to kill or be killed in hunting down those responsible. And the best thing is there is no catering to Chan’s former audience wanting physical comedy as well as outrageous action. There is no comedy in this film, and Chan doesn’t gurn or prat-fall along the way; he hurts, he investigates and he takes revenge and he does it in a very calculating, cold and rather powerful way. This man can act.

Chan goes up against a few token Irish hitmen along the way (not all your typical “Irish terrorists” thanks to a complex and compelling story) but his main target is Brosnan’s First Minister. With a thinner frame and thinning grey hair and beard, he’s a spectre (see what I did there?) of his former James Bond days. But that was over a decade ago and he’s done with play-acting – now we’ve seen what Brosnan can really offer, and he does it here matching Chan with his cold and calculating and tense performance. Is he a villain? Is he an anti-hero? We can never be sure.

Both men have seen the effects of terror and war, and both have very different motivations and agendas, but both men can’t be right all the time. It’s this brilliant conflict between the two that doesn’t need them to be on screen constantly together, but it’s underlying and it is there in their individual scenes where tension escalates and emotion runs high as two men reach breaking point.

Filmed across London and Belfast, it’s a very simple narrative to follow and richly pictured with crisp Irish countryside and small towns mirrored with bustling London streets and the concrete jungle that is threatened by terror, a plot point all too relevant to audiences nowadays which makes for even stronger viewing.

Yes, this doesn’t break the mould for your usual political thrillers, and you probably suspect how it will end and what outcome will face the main characters, but it’s all about tight direction that nurtures and allows a character driven piece to flourish by two brilliant actors of their generation.

A Chinese martial arts legend up against a smooth, smouldering Irish icon? Sounds crazy on paper but it does nothing but work for this gripping ride.

Chris’ Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Jackie Chan Fights For Answers In The First Trailer For ‘The Foreigner’

“The IRA took his family. The police looked the other way. Now he must get revenge.”

The first trailer for Jackie Chan’s latest film arrived this week, and this time he’s going against Pierce Brosnan in order to discover who killed his daughter. Martin Campbell (‘Casino Royale’, ‘Green Lantern’) is in the director’s chair for this action thriller which is set in the UK.

Now, I don’t know about you but I’m much more used to seeing Jackie Chan in a more comedic light (i.e ‘Rush Hour’, ‘Shanghai Knights’), and this film looks like we’re going to see a much more serious side to him. I know I’ll be sat waiting for him to crack to sort of joke and it’s not going to happen, but I’m excited to see Chan in action again,

‘The Foreigner’ hasn’t announced a UK release date yet, but it is scheduled to release in the US 13th October. 

There’s Bad Blood In The First Trailer For The LEGO NINJAGO Movie

The latest bricktastic LEGO movie, ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’, swoops into UK cinemas this Friday and we already have a trailer the LEGO film that will follow it into cinemas later this year. The first trailer for ‘The LEGO NINJAGO Movie’ has arrived, following  a teaser trailer yesterday, alongside a synopsis.

If I’m honest, I didn’t really enjoy this trailer as much as I did the previous 2 LEGO movie trailers. But my initial impression is that maybe this film is geared to relate more to it’s younger target audience, unlike ‘The LEGO Movie’ and ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ which have a much wider appeal. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say I might not enjoy this film when I watch it, but this first trailer doesn’t have me convinced I’ll enjoy it as much as it’s LEGO predecessors.

I have to say, this is yet another fantastic and strong voice cast for a LEGO movie. Warner Bros. sure know how to pick ’em! I just hope that this spectacular voice cast are not underused like some big named voices were in ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’. This will be a big step for LEGO if this film proves successful, and could pave the way for future films based on other LEGO characters and parts of the LEGO brand that don’t include iconic characters, such as Batman, such as a ‘Nexo Knights’ film. The possibilities are truly endless with LEGO. 

The official synopsis is:

A new animated adventure in Warner Bros. Pictures’ LEGO® franchise, “The LEGO NINJAGO Movie” stars Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods, and the legendary Jackie Chan.

In this big-screen NINJAGO adventure, the battle for NINJAGO City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja, along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu, as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their inner power of Spinjitzu.

‘The LEGO NINJAGO Movie’ is round-housing it’s way into UK cinemas on  13th October 2017

What’re your first impressions of the film from this trailer?

Written by Tom Sheffield

Hong Kong Cinema: Top 5

Hong Kong cinema, I believe, is completely different to mainland Chinese cinema. There are a number of fairly obvious reasons why and probably the biggest is Hong Kong’s long colonial history under British rule. Hong Kong cinema had almost no government funding and filmmakers were therefore free to produce the products that they wanted, which were commercial in the main, as all funding had to be raised in the private sector.

For many years Hong Kong cinema proliferated, coming third in world output after Indian cinema and Hollywood. With Hong Kong’s return to China in the mid-90s, film production has continued to dominate and produce a distinctly different form of cinema. These films are made in Cantonese and Mandarin for East Asia audiences. Below are five films – in no particular order – that everyone should see as they typify the long and rich history of Hong Kong filmmaking.


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 1. ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973); Action with lots of martial arts (English, Cantonese); Directed by Robert Clouse

This was Bruce Lee’s final film before he died at the age of 32. This film has often been described as the greatest martial arts film of all time and it’s also the first Hong Kong martial arts film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio – Warner Bros. Bruce Lee plays a Shaolin martial arts expert who is invited by the evil Mr Han (Shih Kien) to a martial arts competition on a remote Island. ‘Enter The Dragon’ involves plenty of action, treachery and revenge and with Lee at the fore – an incredibly charismatic actor – the action scenes are outstanding. You’ll need to be forgiving because some of the dialogue is weak and the dubbing is at times terrible, but ‘Enter The Dragon’ is well worth a watch.

Available: Netflix, Amazon to rent and DVD

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2. ‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002); Thriller (Cantonese with English subtitles); Directed by Andrew Lau, Alan Mak

Martin Scorsese loved this film so much that he had it translated and made into Oscar gold in the form of ‘The Departed’. The original though, is a taut thriller involving a new police officer who goes undercover in the triad, and a gangster who joins the police force as a mole reporting back to the triad boss. Although Scorsese’s effort is identical in story and content, it omits the incredible gun fight scenes that are carefully choreographed and particular to the Hong Kong original.

Available: Amazon Video, Netflix

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3. ‘Days of Being Wild’
(1990); Drama (Cantonese, English subtitles); Directed by Wong Kar-wei

This film features some of the most successful actors ever to grace Hong Kong cinema. Set in Hong Kong and the Philippines in 1960, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) is a playboy, renowned for breaking hearts and avoiding any commitment. He finds out from the alcoholic ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his mother and she refuses to tell him who is. This sets Yuddy on a search of discovery. A different kind of discovery to the one we’re imploring you to take, but a riveting one all the same.

Available: Amazon Video, Netflix

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4. ‘The Love Eterne’ (1963); Drama/Huangmei Opera/Musical (English subtitles in places); Directed by Li Han Hsiang

In this instance, the history and the power of the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong cannot be underestimated. Produced by Run Run Shaw during the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema, this film was a big deal on its release. Coming from a background of opera and theatre production, the three Shaw brothers dominated everything cinematic in Hong Kong for several decades. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a little gem of a film even if you hate musicals (which I do vehemently).

Available: I’m not sure where – on US Netflix and a few download channels – fairly rare but worth seeking out.

Chungking

5. ‘Chungking Express’ (1994); Drama/Romance (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Japanese with English subtitles); Directed by Wong Kar-wai

This film made Quentin Tarantino cry, simply because he was “happy to love a movie this much”. That aside, this is very much a film lover’s film. Arty, cerebral and highly stylised – the film incorporates two discrete love stories featuring Faye (Faye Wong) and two lovesick policemen that have been jilted. A great soundtrack and defining foreign language film of the 90s with a bunch of awards; ‘Chungking Express’ is slightly strange and totally captivating.

Available: Netflix, Amazon DVD

So, if you thought the films of China and Hong Kong were one and the same, think again. Check out these films and then say a big thank you to Wan Tyszkiewicz for introducing you to the magic of Hong Kong cinema.