The One Armed Executioner

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Bobby A. Suarez
Starring: Franco Guerrero, Nigel Hogge, Pete Cooper, Jody Kay
Genre: Action, Drama, Exploitation
Country: Philippines

Director Bobby Suarez (Dynamite Johnson & They Called Her Cleopatra Wong) teams up with Franco ‘Chito’ Guerrero for a tale of revenge from the Exploitation Mecca of Marcos’ Manila.  Guerrero plays Ramon, an Interpol operative who’s recently opened his own restaurant with his Western wife Ann (Jody Kay).  Having learnt that one of their undercover operatives has been killed Interpol go after mob boss Edwards’ right hand man and diary in order to bring his organisation to its knees.  When the op goes wrong Ramon urges his boss to put out a story that the diary survived only for Edwards’ men to come calling to his home, kill his wife and severe his left arm.

Battling back from depression, a semi professional alcohol dependency and the crippling grief of his loss Ramon enters a martial arts academy with one goal, to kill them all.  What’s interesting about Suarez’s film is the time it takes to explore Ramon’s fall into alcohol abuse before turning it around.  Few action genre films take the time out of the busy narrative driven realm they inhabit in order to deal with the minutia of human emotion and the overwhelming nature of grief.  Suarez’s interest in the humanity of his character is an interesting and incredibly original narrative arch in what must be considered to be one of the most narratively generic film genres.  The emotional kudos gained from this time to develop Ramon’s character is enough to power the audiences’ connection to the central character.

Narratively this is the most original moment of the film as the rest is content with charting a course safely along a well trodden path.  The revenge film’s archs are rarely changing, the originality in the genre comes from how the director gets us to these archs and Suarez’s direction being the cinematic wheel is a curious one.  The mash-up with the martial arts film is an interesting one, and one that’s culturally appropriate though why a Filipino action film would opt for Kung Fu over their native Kali schools of martial arts is an odd one, though most likely the answer is that (at the time) Kung Fu was the cinematic martial arts language of choice.  Another interesting aspect about Suarez’s film is the representation of Edwards (played by Nigel Hogge).  This is not the American funded and filmed Exploitation films of the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a lot of which carried revolutionary messages.  This is Marcos’ Philippines and as such, like For Y’ur Height Only, carries a retort to the American cine-political world which the likes of Jack Hill, Joe Viola and Eddie Romero exported from his land.  Edwards is white, American accent and defined by a litter of conflicting ideologies with one common trait, they all make him evil.  His gang is made up of multiple ethnicities, his primary export is death – whether it be from firearms or drugs yet his speedboat is marked with a swastika.  He has been an untouchable and detrimental influence in the Philippines for years and it has come to the point when he must be removed.  The white man is, all too often, the corrupting force in Filipino action films which is a timely rebalance for all the years in which directors have portrayed ethnic minorities as their films antagonists.

Guerrero (as Ramon) is a striking piece of casting; he has a remarkable screen presence.  He just looks like a Filipino Adonis, even as an older gentleman.  His physicality on screen is remarkable, the sequences in which he is training in the martial arts academy is breath taking.  Hand to hand, with one unconvincingly hidden inside his oversized shirt (if you’ve seen The Thing with Two Heads you’ll know what I mean), he bests five men with a level of confidence that comes from someone who’s been practising martial arts for as long as he’s been acting.  Similarly his back flip from the tree and his gunmanship is exquisite.  Nigel Hogge (as Edwards) is rather one tone of baddie, whether it’s from the underdeveloped character on paper or the fact that it’s his first acting role is up for debate and most likely something to come back to once American Commandos and Mission Manila are watched.  Joe Cunanan is under used as the Chief of Interpol, fans of Filipino Exploitation will recognise him from outings alongside Weng Weng (The Impossible Kid, D’Wild Wild Weng and Da Best in da West) and will no doubt cherish each moment he’s given on screen like it’s the last moments with a dearly beloved and dying relative.  For my money, aside from Guerrero of course, the best performance belongs to Joseph Zucchero (as Milo).  As Edwards’ press officer he’s given some of the funniest lines and is another veiled dig at the United States as you’re only as bad as you’re mad out to be in the margins of the daily papers.

The film suffers from a lack of funding, all the helicopter sequences throughout the film were shot in a two hour period as that’s all they could afford.  This doesn’t often come across on screen but when it does it’s seriously noticeable but when it comes to the films finale The One Armed Executioner has more of a whimper than a bang and it’s unsatisfying for the audience.

Bobby Suarez’s filmic oeuvre all come with a certain sensibility that gives the film a humanity that’s original and enjoyable.  The One Armed Executioner is not Suarez’s finest piece of work but it is a bona fide thrill ride that has most of it’s pleasure in the set pieces rather than the overall outcome.


Ty said...

Looks like a blast! Always wanted to see this. Love the title.

John Baxter said...

Yeah it's kinda excellent.

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