Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missing in action: Missing in Action

Remember how I knew I'd seen a Chuck Norris movie before, but if you asked me which one I would have had trouble telling you?

No? Is that because I've never actually articulated that thought before?

Well, to paraphrase the tagline on this poster, my movie list isn't over until the last movie comes home.

It's not all that often that I retroactively add a forgotten movie to my movie list. In fact, it happens less than once every two years. But it happened yesterday when I updated my movie list spreadsheet, my movie list Word document, my list of movies seen from 1984, Flickchart and Letterboxd.

That's right, I've actually seen Missing in Action -- as far as I can tell, my one and only Chuck Norris movie.

Scanning his filmography now on IMDB, I realize there's some chance that I've seen The Delta Force. But before considering adding that, I'll wait for the kind of inciting incident that led Missing in Action to finally be brought home to see its family and to eat a nice juicy hamburger and fries.

That incident was recently watching a movie called Chuck Norris vs. Communism, which I guess might be my second Chuck Norris movie, except that only footage of Norris in Missing in Action actually appears in it.

Chuck Norris vs. Communism is a documentary about Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, where black market video tapes helped Romanians connect with the west in a way that was not otherwise possible under Ceausescu's communist rule. Thanks in part to the heroic efforts of a translator named Ilina Nistor, who recorded translations for hundreds if not thousands of Hollywood films, people were able to engage in a kind of thought uprising against the prevailing rule of law. The doco contains interviews with Romanians today looking back on those times, as well as recreations from the time. It's done pretty well even if it actually drags in spots.

So one of these interviewees, who is probably about my age (as well as the same age I would have been when I saw Missing in Action), talks about a memorable scene from this one Norris movie involving POWs in Vietnam. It is, most definitely, the most memorable scene from the movie. "The gooks" (term always used for Vietnamese in these movies) still have Norris kept in some kind of pit in the ground, years after the end of the war, and seeking to torture him at one point, they hanging him upside down with a bag over his head. That might have been torture enough, but the bag also contains an angry, hungry, possibly rabid rat. The camera watches as all kinds of grunting, screaming and mayhem occurs inside the bag, and Norris' body thrashes back and forth. Finally he's still, and the assumption is that the rat has killed him. But when "the gooks" remove the bag, we see the dead rat clenched between Norris' teeth.

If not for this one scene having been described in detail in Chuck Norris vs. Communism -- the only scene so focused on, out of a bunch of different popular movies from the 1980s that get mentioned in one way or another -- who knows how much longer it would have been before I realized I'd seen Missing in Action.

My mission is not over, of course. Even though my list has stood the test of time and receives a retroactive addition only ever couple years -- but really, less often than even that -- I wouldn't be surprised if there were as many as 20 others out there, still missing in action, still waiting to be remembered by a grateful nation back home.

We'll just have to wait and see what the next inciting incident will be.

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