Braddock: Missing In Action III
Released: January 22, 1988
Directed by: Aaron Norris
Starring: Chuck Norris
Availability: DVD (only as part of a set with Missing in Action and Missing In Action 2), VHS
Chuck Norris stars in the third iteration of his Rambo-clone vehicle, only without the subtlety of the Stallone films. Norris himself is a Vietnam veteran, and though I’m not trained in such matters, after watching this film I suspect he has some issues with his experiences over there.
What’s it About?
The film begins with a flashback to the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Chuck Norris plays Colonel Braddock, an American soldier trying to get his Vietnamese wife out of the city. He finds a body, burned beyond recognition by an explosion, but wearing the bracelet he gave his wife. Believing this body belongs to his wife, he leaves Vietnam for good.
His wife, however, had left the building that exploded moments before and is, in fact, still alive. A series of unfortunate events prevent her from leaving the city, however, and she spends the next 12 years in a rural hovel raising her and Braddock’s son.
Twelve years later, Braddock is visited in America by a Polish missionary, Reverend Polanski, who runs an orphanage for Amerasian children who informs him that his wife and child are still alive. Braddock confronts the head of the CIA, Littlejohn, who tells him to drop the matter.
Braddock, being the lone wolf he is, ignores Littlejohn’s advice and travels to Thailand. He’s pursued by the CIA, culminating in a bar fight where Braddock singlehandedly disarms the half dozen agents sent there to apprehend him. With the help of his friend, he parachutes to the coast of Vietnam, outrunning the Vietnamese army in the process.
Braddock is reunited with his wife and meets his son for the first time. The family reunion is short-lived, however, as the movie’s villain, General Quoc, immediately shows up outside their home. He shoots Braddock’s wife, killing her, and takes Braddock and his son prisoner. Braddock is then tortured, but escapes and sends his son to the orphanage for safety.
General Quoc sends his soldiers to the orphanage and takes the entire gaggle of children, as well as Reverend Polanski, hostage. Braddock shows up and kills most of the soldiers. Braddock and Reverend Polanski attempt to shepherd the children to safety in Thailand, about 90 kilometers away, but are pursued by General Quoc and his army.
Braddock steals a plane, crashes it, and kills a bunch more soldiers. They reach the bridge to Thailand, where American soldiers are waiting to assist on the other side. The American soldiers want to cross the bridge to assist Braddock and the children, but are ordered not to. Braddock gets caught in an explosion, and General Quoc pursues him in a helicopter. Braddock’s son, finally accepting him as a father figure, takes Braddock’s gun and shoots the helicopter pilot. The battle over, Braddock and the children walk over the bridge to freedom.
The 1980s are littered with films about the American struggle in Vietnam, from Apocalypse Now in 1979 to Born on the Fourth of July in 1989. Most of these films are ultraviolent, as war is indeed a violent endeavor. The Missing in Action series, however, seems to take it a step further. They glorify the violence to an absurd degree, dehumanizing the Vietnamese to almost the same level as the propaganda films of World War II dehumanized the Japanese.
Braddock is full of Asian stereotypes masquerading as film characters, and Chuck Norris shows no mercy in mowing them down. I mentioned in the introduction that Chuck Norris was a Vietnam veteran. His brother, Aaron, who directed this film was also a Vietnam veteran. They both lost their brother Wieland in Vietnam, and I wonder what it is that compels the two to revisit a place and time that must harbor some very serious emotions for them.
The first two Missing in Action films were modest box office successes, the first earning $22 million at the box office and the second nearly $11 million. This third film struggled to find an audience, however, opening with just $2 million in ticket sales, good for 6th place during its opening weekend. Another Vietnam movie, Good Morning, Vietnam, continued its run of dominance for the 4th straight week, followed by Three Men and a Baby, Moonstruck, For Keeps, and Broadcast News. Braddock ended its theatrical run with only $6 million in box office receipts.
Braddock didn’t appear to be reviewed by any of the prestige reviewers of the time, but both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times criticized the film’s portrayal of the Vietnamese as inhumanly evil.
We live in an era now where throwback action films with lots of gunplay and explosions can be successful. The Expendables franchise, for example, has done wonders for the careers of many of these 1980s action stars. This movie is basically a precursor to the Expendables films, but if this particular movie were made today, the dehumanization of the enemy would need to be toned down considerably. Chuck Norris, at 75, is still in good enough shape to go through many of the same action set pieces, I’m sure.
Is It Any Good?
The film ends with a caption suggesting a call to action: “15,000 Amerasian children are still trapped in Vietnam.” The phrasing seems weird to me: I’m not sure how many of these children considered themselves “trapped,” but nonetheless that does seem like an issue worth exploring in film. Braddock doesn’t really explore this particular issue, though. It’s more content to depict the killing of the evil Vietnamese army.
Braddock has some real problems with tone. Yes, it is a serious action film with virtually no humor in it, but a ten minute torture scene in the middle of the movie still feels out of place. There’s also a scene in which a soldier attempts to rape a girl at the orphanage who couldn’t have been a day over 12. I have little doubt that stuff like that happens during war, but this is supposed to be over 10 years after the conflict in Vietnam ended.
By the end of the 1980s, when this film came out, Americans were certainly at least tolerated in Vietnam. Braddock dehumanizes the Vietnamese people so much it’s really difficult to watch. Chuck Norris kicking people can be a fun time, but him doing so at the expense of other cultures’ humanity is not as fun.