Let’s say you’re a closed off society. Due to minimal contacts with the outside world, you end up quite backward in most areas. Your economy sucks. Technological advance is stymied. Millions of your people starve because your agricultural efforts can’t feed the populace. Worst of all, your action movie industry is non-existent!
What’s a totalitarian government desiring to show the rest of the world that it’s a force to be reckoned with in the arena of kick ass movies to do? You assemble the greatest array of talent that ration coupons and promises of a week’s worth of work in beautiful North Korea can buy!
The first thing that surprised me when I heard that the Eternal President of the Republic of North Korea Kim Il-Sung’s government put up the money to hire a bunch of outsiders to make its movie was that they didn’t just go and kidnap a bunch of movie types to make it. That’s what happened to poor old Sang-ok Shin! He was forced to make the Godzilla clone Pulgasari for the North Koreans before escaping their evil clutches! (There was a happy ending though since he ended up in the United States and realized the American Dream by making 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up.)
The other thing that was shocking about North Korea’s foray into late-1980s action movie making is that despite their isolation and backwardness, they were still smart enough to hire the experts in the field – the Italians! Can you imagine how awe-struck they must have been when the saw their Italian action all-star team get off the plane? Director Ferdinando Baldi was coming off an unprecedented winning streak that included two 3-D movies (Comin’ At Ya!, Treasure Of The Four Crowns) and the original Warbus!
Backing up Baldi was not one, but two of Italy’s most action-tested stars! The Bronx Warrior himself, Mark Gregory had just finished up his trilogy of Thunder movies and the first Delta Force Commando feature and would later escort stolen Iranian gold as the War Bus Commando. At the top of his game, Mark’s giant lips snarled and pouted their way through things here as Jason, the leader of a group of mercenaries involved in a scheme to create a master race.
Lou, the guy hired to stop him at the astronomical cost of $65,000, is played by Frank Zagarino. Frank is the blonde stud who launched a one man war to avenge his buddy’s death in Enzo G. Castellari‘s Striker! A role in Enzo’s Hammerhead followed and Frank’s status as Italian movie legend would be cemented with his memorably stiff performance as Cy Warrior! In fact, you can see some Cy Warrior mannerisms in this film, usually when he talks or moves or does pretty much anything!
For the veteran of Italian action flicks, watching Ten Zan – Ultimate Mission is somewhat disorienting. It’s pretty much like all the Italian commando movies that you live for like the aforementioned Striker, Strike Commando, and Last Flight To Hell. One tough hombre (plus a few pals who usually get killed) kills and blows up everything between him and the head bad guy until an unavoidable epic confrontation occurs that changes the viewer forever! Except that instead of the steamy, stinking jungle, it all takes place in North Korea! With Frank, Mark, and co-star Sabrina Siani (Throne of Fire, The Sword of the Barbarians, The Invincible Barbarian) surrounded by North Koreans!
Don’t let the locations throw you off though. Baldi wrote the script and he smartly adheres to the template that’s necessary for the movie to be a rousing success for fans of stuff exploding and extras getting shot up! The bad guys are kidnapping young, virginal women from villages in order to use them in experiments to create healthy strong people and thereby eliminate the weak and sickly. Lou’s pal Rick (Romano Kristoff, another low budget action luminary!) brings him in to stop them and they get help from Rick’s adoptive sister. She’s an expert with the crossbow and with getting captured by the bad guys.
Lou doesn’t fare much better since this guy, who is another one of those “best there is” kind of guys, immediately gets captured and beaten up. Rick eventually rescues him which leads to a poorly staged shootout on some docks. Run, stop, shoot, run is pretty much how it goes though Rick does swing on a rope once to keep things interesting. After making their escape in a dump truck, Rick hoses Lou off for some reason. Well, I suppose there is one reason Rick might have turned his fire hose on Lou to get him all wet, but surely that sort of thing is frowned upon in a place like North Korea.
More questions though are raised rather than answered when Lou tells Rick about his last mission. He was in Russia and infiltrated the Bolshoi Ballet as a dancer in order to terminate a spy! It seems that this spy was in a position to derail disarmament talks between the United States and the Soviet Union! Too bad the Soviets didn’t commission the Italians to make that movie!
Once Rick’s sister is taken prisoner, he and Lou head off to Jason’s apparently not-so-secret base (it’s over by Three Pagoda Pass) and they proceed to blow the holy hell out of it! So much stuff gets blown up, you’ll swear that a lot of it blew up a couple of times! Before they could rescue Rick’s sister though, Jason has all the prisoners loaded into a truck and taken to another location! You know what that means! Another base gets the piss blown out of it! But that isn’t the end of things either!
Jason is determined to escape and leave no evidence behind, so we have our final showdown at a fishing village. Once Lou figures out Jason’s plan to destroy everything, a look of disappointment crosses his face as he realizes that he won’t be getting to blow stuff up himself this time! I will confess that in an otherwise thoroughly confusing, routine, cheap, and awesome movie, the one disappointing thing is the clash between the Thunder Warrior and the Cy Warrior. Jason gets shot in a horribly edited scene that sees him clutching his stomach and falling down in a boat. It’s redeemed a little bit when Jason manages to detonate another gigantic explosion with his last bit of life, but those hoping for some intense hand-to-hand combat like we saw at the end of Delta Force Commando will be left wanting.
If you can overlook that, you still thankfully have a beyond sucky effort that’s several steps below the usually dingy Italian action affair. Say what you want about North Korea, but the fact that they brought Baldi, Gregory, Kristoff and Zagarino together should earn them a little slack with the rest of the world. Clearly, a testament to what is possible with Communism.
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