Chuck Norris Entered the 1980s Darkly Part 2: ‘An Eye for An Eye’
After battling ninja mercenaries in The Octagon, for Norris’ next film, An Eye for An Eye, he is fighting an enemy cloaked in respectability and camouflaged in business attire. An Eye for An Eye stands out as being a darker movie and also sporting an impressive supporting cast that includes Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings, Dracula: Prince of Darkness), Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame, Mako (Conan the Barbarian, The Killer Elite), and the first movie credit for the physically impressive Professor Toru Tanaka. Other recognizable supporting actors fill out the rest of the cast and help make An Eye for An Eye a cut above the rest in the martial arts film genre.
An Eye for An Eye (1981)
Norris plays Sean Kane, an undercover narcotics officer in San Francisco, who is looking for the killers of his partner and the daughter of his master, James Chan (played by Mako). All leads point to the drug trafficking triads, so Kane, relieved from duty from his police gig for taking things too far, decides to uncover the truth and deliver some payback on his own.
Of all the Chuck Norris films up to this point, An Eye for An Eye feels much more like an 80s action film than a traditional martial arts movie, with more gunfights and some set pieces that would feel at home in a Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie. While vehicles haven’t really been a fixture in most of Norris’ films, the red Pontiac Trans Am features prominently throughout. On the technical side, Aaron Norris returns as the stunt coordinator, and An Eye for An Eye is directed by Steve Carver, who would later work with Norris on the film Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).
Christopher Lee is a great villain in his portrayal of aloof TV station owner Morgan Canfield. Perfectly cast, Lee’s villainous chops had been honed superbly after portraying so many Hammer Horror creatures over the years, including Dracula multiple times, and the Bond nemesis, Saramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Lee’s presence adds a touch of class and elevates the film.
There is no shortage of action in this outing from Norris. Early on, Kane has to use some knife defense skills in a skid row hotel room against brother and Stunt Coordinator Aaron Norris, in an uncredited role, and shows how defenestration can be an effective ending to a kick, punch combo.
Looking for how drugs are being smuggled into San Francisco, Kane infiltrates a freighter used by the triads, which provides a great opportunity for Kane to demonstrate some stealth ala The Octagon before dealing out kicks, punches, and chops to the unsuspecting henchmen. The fight on the ship is an interesting sequence that has Norris, as Kane, mixing up his prodigious kicking and punching with some more conventional pugilistic techniques. It works well and showcases simplicity in action without sacrificing the great on-screen work audiences had come to expect from a Chuck Norris movie.
There are plenty of great techniques utilized during the fight on the freighter, such as the re-using of the double-rolling kick/sweep from The Octagon to flatten his opponent on the deck of the ship. Overall, the fight has a similar rhythm to The Octagon’s last battle with the ninjas, with Norris dealing with multiple opponents, weapons, and escaping holds before ultimately diving from the bow of the ship into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.
An inspired exchange is Norris showcasing his kicking prowess by defeating one of Lee’s henchmen with his hands, literally, tied behind his back. If it was Stallone, I wouldn’t believe it, but with Norris, it seems totally legit.
When Chan and Kane descend on Canfield’s (Lee) lair, to rescue Kane’s love interest, Heather (Maggie Cooper), the epic showdown begins. The last battle has an almost Bond flavor to it. Explosions, machine guns, and battling armies of police and triad soldiers face off, while a helicopter strafes the compound. There are some classic Norris techniques mixed in with some 80s-style comedy and ultimately a showdown with the mammoth Professor Tanaka.
The confrontation with Professor Tanaka is the first time we see Kane in real trouble as the formidable Tanaka seems at first impervious to the power and skills of Kane’s attacks. For example, a devastating spinning sidekick to the gut has scarily little impact on the Professor, and after taking a couple more blows from Kane, responds with a wicked swat. Similar to the battle with Kyo in The Octagon, there is some great give and take in the fight. Kane gets thrown around Canfield’s chic abode a few times, before coming up with a kicking combination that ends with a callback to the signature kick from Good Guys Wear Black.
The 80s would end up being a prolific decade for Chuck Norris, with Code of Silence, Delta Force, and the Missing in Action trilogy to name just some of the films still in the offing. The decade of decadence would see Norris further solidify himself as more than a great martial artist but as an action-film star. He was able to expand his reach from the narrow niche of martial arts aficionados to the wider film audience that was going to see the action vehicles of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and newcomer Van Damme. Norris had progressed a long way from Breaker! Breaker! and he still had a whole decade left to make more great films, but more about those next time.