Force: Five (1981)

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A loose remake of the 1976 martial arts film Hot Potato meshes with a dose of Enter the Dragon in this action film from the makers of the latter.

Reverend Rhee is the leader of a religious group that is funded through the children of affluent families, who sign over their inheritances to the leader, whose temple is a front for some dangerous activities. When government agent William Stark unsuccessfully sends an assassin to kill Rhee, he learns that he may be in serious trouble. He realizes there is only one person who might be able to stop Rhee and that man is secret agent and martial arts instructor Jim Martin.

Jim agrees to take on the mission and gathers five of his comrades to help him out. He rallies a band of martial arts experts including the hulking Lockjaw, the flashy Billy Ortega, the very money-hungry but still loyal Ezekiel, the unpredictable Willard, and the intelligent yet still street smart Laurie. Together, with the help of Senator Forrester, the group disguises as both interested parties of Rhee’s group as well as the helicopter crew. Their mission is not only to stop Rhee but rescue a young woman, Cindy Lester, whose father, works with Forrester. Will this team be able to succeed?

After the success of Enter the Dragon, the producer-director duo of Fred Weintraub and Robert Clouse have made a string of martial arts action films in the 70’s and 80’s. This is perhaps one of their underrated films that is a loose remake of the 1976 film Hot Potato, which Weintraub produced but adds elements of Enter the Dragon. Clouse wrote the screenplay based on a story by martial artist and stuntman Emil Farkas and George Goldsmith. While the film is by means not up to today’s standards of action, it holds well for an early 80’s martial arts film from the United States.

The cast boasts a cast of martial artists led by the late great Joe Lewis. Lewis does pretty well as the leader of the heroic team in charge of infiltrating the cult of the evil Reverend Rhee, played by the late Hapkido grandmaster Bong Soo Han, who doesn’t necessarily have to beat up people unless compelled to. He leaves most of the dirty work to the massive Bob Schott, who plays the hulking henchman Carl. Benny Urquidez, Richard Norton, and Sonny Barnes round out the martial arts leads while Ron Hayden and Pam Huntington, more known for their acting than fighting, play two of the heroes here.

There is some comic relief in the film courtesy of Hayden’s introduction scene, in which he turns his Ecuadorian prison cell into a Ty Webb-style home, as well as Peter McLean as Senator Forrester, who just at times looks too overjoyed for Rev. Rhee but when he sees his room and says “beautiful”, the look on his face afterwards is priceless. There is a nice twist to the story in terms of that the team is not not only ones trying to expose Rhee and his activities, but an undercover reporter is there as well. The film also marked an early appearance by Amanda Wyss, who would go on to play the first victim of one of horror film’s most iconic characters, Freddy Krueger, in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Pat E. Johnson, best known for his work on The Karate Kid series of films from the 80’s, served as the film’s stunt coordinator and did a good job utilizing the talents of the martial artists cast in the film. You can even see Johnson in the scene in which Benny Urquidez’s Billy Ortega is introduced as a mob thug, a role he played before in Enter the Dragon and Jackie Chan’s Hollywood debut, The Big Brawl (which was also directed by Robert Clouse and produced by Fred Weintraub). The film’s action scenes are not too bad for what it was, even with Grandmaster Han forced to use spur-heeled shoes against four of his men when they couldn’t stop Lewis in his nightly infiltration mission. The finale is quite fun to watch as we see the heroes utilize their skills. One could expect something certain to happen in this film, but it doesn’t happen here. This film could have truly influenced the South African action sequel Kill or be Killed as it had a virtual similar plot.

Force: Five is a pretty decent effort by the team of Weintraub and Clouse. A cast of veteran martial artists drive this film, especially in the action department and has a bit of comic relief as well. A fun 80’s martial arts action film for fans.

WFG RATING: B-

An American Cinema Productions Inc. film. Director: Robert Clouse. Producer: Fred Weintraub. Writer: Robert Clouse; story by Emil Farkas and George Goldsmith. Cinematography: Gil Hubbs. Editing: Bob Bring.

Cast: Joe Lewis, Master Bong Soo Han, Richard Norton, Sonny Barnes, Benny Urquidez, Ron Hayden, Pam Huntington, Bob Schott, Michael Prince, Peter McLean, Amanda Wyss, Mel Novak, Dennis Mancini, Tom Villard.

 

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