Director: Lee Doo-Yong
Producer: Phillip Rhee, Jun Chong
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Linda Blair, Jun Chong, Phillip Rhee, Mako, Bill Erwin, Gustav Vintas, Rebecca Ferratti, Bill Wallace, Alexis Rhee, Simon Rhee, Joanna Chong
Running Time: 91 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Let’s be clear, there are only two kinds of people who should be checking out Silent Assassins. The first is the demographic that feels inexplicably drawn to a movie which would team up Flash Gordon with Regan from The Exorcist. The second is the demographic that feel a kind of morbid fascination at witnessing a reunion of Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave director and star Lee Doo-yong and Jun Chong. If there’s someone out there that’s seen this movie and doesn’t fit into either of the above categories, then I strongly encourage you to make yourself known. As for myself, I fall into the latter.
Silent Assassins is one of the bi-products that came out of a small wave of Korean directors that immigrated to America in the 1980’s, much like many Hong Kong film industry talent would do a decade later. The recurring theme that appears to run through all of the directors output once they got stateside though, is that they seemed to lose the ability to string a coherent picture together, regardless of how good their output was on native soil. Directors like Park Woo-sang subjected us to The Miami Connection, Nam Gi-nam assaulted us with Ernie and Master Kim, and Richard H. Kim delivered the celluloid equivalent of being water boarded with Kill Line.
For Doo-yong and Chong though, this wasn’t their first time filming in the U.S. In 1976 Chong was already an established Taekwondo instructor in Hollywood, and when a Korean film crew came to the States to talent scout for a movie they planned to film there called Visitor of America, he scored the lead role. The director was Doo-yong, and the movie became a hit across Asia, however initially failed to score a release in the place it was filmed. That changed a couple of years later, when a still unknown source decided to turn it into a Bruceploitation flick, filmed a new opening which shows Bruce Lee jumping out of his grave, and renamed it Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave.
Doo-yong was so impressed with Chong’s skills that he urged him to return to Korea and make more movies there, and later in the same year he did just that. However Chong would only stay there for a few months, during which he did indeed make a couple of movies, before returning to Hollywood to resume his life as a Taekwondo instructor (although he does have a small part in the 1978 Chuck Norris movie Good Guys Wear Black). Doo-yong would remain directing in Korea until he made Silent Assassins, in which he maintained his reputation for being a reliable studio director. He’d go on to make the kung fu movie Secret Agents II later in the same year, and was also responsible for directing many of Han Yong-cheol’s most popular movies.
Chong remained absent from the film industry for almost a whole decade, until he re-surfaced in 1985 as the lead in Park Woo-sang’s American debut L.A. Streetfighters. It was perfect timing, so when Doo-yong secured the talents of Sam Jones (likely to be forever known for his iconic turn as Flash Gordon, in the 1980 movie of the same name) and Linda Blair (the possessed teenager from 1973’s The Exorcist) for Silent Assassins, the production provided a reunion for the director and star.
In Silent Assassins Jones plays an L.A. cop who, after his partners gets killed, decides to pursue a quiet life in Colorado with his wife, played by Linda Blair. However when the same criminal organization that killed his partner appear back on the radar, thanks to kidnapping an elderly biochemist with the key to a deadly bioweapon, he decides to stick around to take them down. It’s worth pointing out that he makes this decision literally as they’re about to drive off into the sunset in a removals truck, their belongings all packed and ready to go, but a peaceful life be damned, revenge comes first!
The villains, played by Gustav Vintas (Lethal Weapon) and Rebecca Ferratti (Gor and Gor II – look them up, preferably via an image search), also kidnap the young daughter of a family that gets caught in the crossfire. Thankfully, the daughter is the niece of Chong’s character, and that’s as good of a reason we get as to why he’s in the movie. Regardless of the questionable coherency, it does provide the excuse for an L.A. cop to partner up with a high kicking Korean, so we’ll take it. Also along for the ride is Philip Rhee, another local Taekwondo instructor. In 1988 Rhee was still a year away from starring in the classic Best of the Best, but he had worked with Chong before, in the previously mentioned L.A. Streetfighters, which they choreographed together. Here Rhee is a kind of dojo Casanova, playing the son of a businessman who has insider information on the kidnapping.
If Silent Assassins sounds like a typical 80’s action B-movie, it’s fair to say that it fits the bill pretty well. It might even be a C-movie. The sound quality is terrible, with everyone sounding like they’re talking through a sock, and in some scenes you can even see cameras that are filming the same scene from a different angle. High art this isn’t. However it does manage to entertain, mostly in the form of a clan of ruthless ninja assassins, which Vintas and Ferratti hire to kill anyone who attempts to rescue their kidnapped victims. While these ninjas (and I use the term ninja lightly, as technically they’re just guys wearing black balaclavas) do employ some traditional ninja weaponry, like the clawed hand and a spiked cudgel, their favorite weapons of choice are a selection of axes, sickles, and shovels, that look like they’ve just been bought from the local hardware store.
Whenever one of the ninjas kills someone, a group of them immediately surround the body, and they manically hack it to pieces while yelling at the top of their lungs, which leads me to believe that the title Silent Assassins is supposed to be ironic. Yelling while trying to make a discreet entry isn’t the only nonsensical aspect of Silent Assassins though. In another scene the biochemist explains to the villains that he can’t give them what they want, because the brand of computer they have contains a fatal flaw. He then turns the keyboard upside down, and the monitor blows up. If there was ever a legitimate reason for a product recall, the risk of turning your keyboard upside down making your whole computer explode is as good a one as any.
Silent Assassins is full of goofy moments like this, however it always remains watchable, and builds to a worthy action finale. Chong even shaves his head especially for it, in a scene that clearly inspired a similar one with Won Bin in The Man from Nowhere, over 20 years later. Actually who am I kidding, I’m sure it didn’t. Arming himself with a dagger and rope, together with an assault rifle-toting Jones and samurai sword wielding Rhee, the trio launch an attack on the enemy’s underground base. At this point, for those wondering why the poster has Linda Blair armed to the teeth and looking every bit on equal ground as Jones, it’s just promotional material. Her role in the movie is a thankless one of being the wife in distress, and she disappears from the finale all together.
Chong and Rhee are also on fight choreography here, and while their talents are sprinkled throughout, in the finale they really get a chance to shine. Both get to unleash their kicks on a seemingly regenerating stream of ninjas (played by their real life students), and Rhee gets involved in a nicely executed two-on-one fight in a bathroom involving his brother Simon. There’s even some decapitation thrown in for good measure, with some charming low budget practical effects on display. When Jones unloads a round at one particular villain, the recipient switches to an obvious mannequin which gets blown to pieces, its limbs flying off in different directions, resulting in a death scene equal parts cool and hilarious.
What I found most humorous though, is that the rope Chong has tied around his body, an obvious nod to Bruce Lee’s underground infiltration in Enter the Dragon, never actually gets used, he just runs around wearing it like a fashion accessory. Madness. Despite so much inconsistency, Silent Assassins still manages to be a lot of fun. Why does Jones at one point superglue someone to a wall, and why was he carrying superglue around with him anyway? Since when do rocket launchers never need to be reloaded? You’ll ask yourself all these questions, and many more. Doo-yong ends things with a twist involving the scene of a general, who we only hear the voice of, but is in-fact played by Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace (who was also in L.A. Streetfighters), indicating that a sequel was most likely planned. Who knows, with all of the main cast still active, perhaps one day we may still get it.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5.5/10