Have action fans forgot you don't get cool by being cool, you earn it, and Chuck Norris officially started to earn his coolness factor in a series of Cannon Films productions during the mid-1980s, namely the Missing in Action series, a deeply personal set of action films for Norris. Killer Film is back with another Action Packed Flashback with director Lance Hool on his Missing in Action II: The Beginning.
Before the days of Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris was Golan-Globus's leading star at their Cannon Group in the 1980s, with early fan favorites in Breaker! Breaker!, Forced Vengeance, and Lone Wolf McQuade, but those films weren't that successful at the box office. So Norris, along with his soon-to-be directing brother Aaron, came up with an idea to honor POW/MIA soldiers, as well as his other brother who died in the Vietnam conflict with an ass-kicking hero named Col. James Braddock. "Chuck Norris approached me directly," explains director Lance Hool, who tried to set up a new Charles Bronson vehicle that Golan-Globus did not have the budget for.
"He told me about how his brother died in Vietnam and how much he wanted to make this movie. It was a big gamble because his prior "studio" movies had all failed. However, we met and I saw the possibility of making Braddock a more stoic which would fit Norris better. So we paired the budget down to the bare bones. I decided to direct, as it was our only chance at bringing the film on budget and yet making it marketable. Cannon agreed and we made the film for $2.5 million."
The story would follow Braddock in a North Vietnamese POW camp, as he is brutally tortured and tricked into signing a laundry list of war crimes he did not commit. The camp is run by the evil and vicious Col. Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) who forces the POWs to help grow opium for the French drug lord (Francois (Pierre Issot). After being subject to witness his friend who was injected with the opium he helped harvest to pretend to clear his malaria, Braddock must break everyone loose and kill Col. Yin.
But as fans know, Missing in Action II: The Beginning was shot back-to-back with Missing in Action by director Joseph Zito (Invasion U.S.A., Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter), yet the two films flip-flopped as Zito's film, which was original meant to be the sequel, became the first film in the franchise, allegedly since Golan-Globus liked his film better. Lance Hool, who served as an writer and producer on that film, explains this wacky and weird situation. "Actually what happened was we prepared my movie (Missing in Action II: The Beginning), we made a poster for the film (pictured), Cannon took the poster to Cannes and sold it for three times the budget. The opportunity for a sequel was clear. Cannon was thrilled," explains Hool.
As I directed the movie in the jungle during the day, at night I wrote the sequel. About two weeks before our last day of filming, I sent Cannon the new screenplay, and Menaham loved it. He wanted me to direct it right there, but I passed. I was mostly exhausted," explains Hool on why we passed on filming both films. "So I hired Joseph Zito who had success with that Friday the 13th sequel. Joe prepared his film and when I finished mine, I flew down to met up with Joe and set up the film. Meanwhile, my editor Mark Conte assembled the first film. We proceeded to cut my film as Joe started filming his. When I showed Menaham my film, he was shocked it was that it was a prison escape movie, and I don't think he even read the script. He told me he liked my other screenplay better, so they released that one first and changed the titles," remembers Hool.
Hool was initially fine with the switch, as he even thought the film Zito was shooting was grander in scope, even though it only cost a little more than his film. Soon, Hool became angry with Cannon for lifting his producer credit, changing the screenwriting credit as well on Zito's movie, followed by releasing Hool's Missing in Action film only four months after Zito's. Hool claims this is how his war started with Cannon.
Despite this, the two Missing in Action films confirmed Chuck Norris' rising stardom with these back-to-back hits. "Chuck made a breakthrough in Missing in Action II," explains Hool. "He never really eacted' before, and we worked hard on getting the performance we did get. When Franklin was burned alive, Chuck actually cried. He was thrilled, as was I, that we were able to tap into his inner self. He never considered himself an actor, and from that day on he let the true Chuck appear. It made him a star."
As for the film's villain Col. Yin, actor Soon-Tek Oh, who has had a great, unsung career (in films like The Man with the Golden Gun, The Final Countdown, Steele Justice, and Death Wish 4), tapped into the Devil for his performance. "Soon-Tek is a terrific actor. He brought an added dimension that we didn't get in Missing in Action I. For the hero to work, the antagonist has to work better," explains Hool. "He was a true professional. He was ready everyday, even in the most difficult of circumstances. He made everyone better."
Released on March 2nd, 1985 and four months after Zito's Missing in Action, Missing in Action II: The Beginning opened at number 3 at the box office and eventually grossed $11 million total, on its tiny budget. While critics were down on these two films, it was mostly unfair as a similar themed Vietnam hero dominated the box office at the time, the one we call Rambo (in First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II). "It's funny you say that, because in other countries, the critics are reversed on that, as they view the Missing in Action films, as a much stronger film and truer one that the Rambo films," Hool states as he is in France now. "As fate would have it, I was offered to produce First Blood and did not. I felt it drew the Vietnam vet as to one-dimensional."
As for Cannon Films, Lance Hool has a bittersweet remembrance on the company. "They were an exciting place, but unfortunately, they were not honest. I brought them Norris and Bronson and helped create multi-picture deals for them. Cannon made a fortune, but their ethics were absent. As I said above, they changed credits and on top of that, their accounting was not honest. They refused to pay profits, when both of these films were made for $5.1 million, and grossed and continue to gross 10 tens that. It took me seven years to win the lawsuit, however, I will say they were always gamblers and doers. They did not talk about making movies, they made them. Good, bad, and always cheap, a lot of film makers cut their teeth with them, and for that, I will always admire them."
The movie opened at #3, grossing $3,868,515 in the opening weekend. It was released in 1,336 theaters for a $2,895 average. The opening week grossing accounted for 36% of its total grossing. The total US market revenue is $10,755,447.