6.16.2011

Blood Chase (1989)

PLOT: A wife drags her husband on a dangerous cross-continental journey to find the truth about her father’s death. Not quite the ideal getaway but it’s better than another trip to Disney World.

Director: Teddy Page
Writer: Jeff Griffith, Teddy Page
Cast: Karen Sheperd, Andrew Stevens, Jerry Beyer, Ian Senzon, Jim Moss, David Light, Mike Monty, Tony Chang




PLOT THICKENER:
I can’t tell you much about the evolution of the Filipino film industry or why so many resources from the West -- both human and financial -- went into making exploitation b-films there. Go here or here for that and a whole lot more. What I do know is that a lot of American martial arts actors went into the sweltering heat of Southeast Asia during the 1980s and 1990s to make action movie magic. That trend continues as we follow Karen Sheperd to Manila, where she worked with Teddy Page to create the somewhat compelling but mostly confusing 1989 action-mystery Blood Chase.

When we first meet John Hayes (Stevens), he introduces himself as “Peter Boyle” to a group of toughs led by Nick Nicholson, who have stopped to unload a stash of drugs hidden in plush unicorns. They seem unconvinced. After Nicholson’s character fails to intimidate this unwanted presence, the aforementioned Boyle launches into action and punches and kicks the gang into submission. His covert status not only requires expertise in the fighting arts but apparently that he also masquerades as one of the great character actors of the 1970s. He’s not the only one leading a life of crimefighting; his wife, Cheryl Anderson (Sheperd) is a police officer too.


Despite her successful career and loving marriage, Cheryl has a dark secret. No, it’s not herpes. During her surprise birthday party, planned ever-so covertly by John, she receives flowers from a mystery sender. Did she get the herpes from cheating? No, and to reiterate, she doesn’t have herpes. The flowers are from a former “business associate” from her deceased father’s past. Doting dad Ross Anderson was one member in a group of thieves; their last job on an armored truck -- seen in the very beginning of the film -- went swimmingly up until the post-robbery meeting to divvy up the winnings. The crew’s ringleader, Eddie Nichols (Light), gets arrested during a set-up, along with his henchmen Diego (Beyer), Stillwell (Senzon), and Hopper (Moss). Missing from that equation is Ross, who allegedly made off with the loot but later died in a carsplosion.

With the help of a crooked cop, Nichols and his crew bust out of the clink and start stalking Cheryl and John in an effort to locate the stolen money. Random cars with tinted windows appear outside their home. A gang attacks them in a public park during a morning jog. Cheryl gets kidnapped and then escapes on several occasions. None of it will stop unless Cheryl and John explore her father’s past, his death, and what remains of his links to the treacherous gang.


The details of the plot aren’t so much mysterious as they are sloppy and confusing. The passage of time between the robbery and the present day is never explicitly stated until Cheryl’s expository monologue later in the film. While I’m not the biggest fan of the “X AMOUNT OF YEARS LATER” title card, it would have gone a long way to clear this up. It didn’t help that my DVD copy of the film skipped forward by about 10 seconds a dozen times over the course of 90 minutes, but that might have been a really fucking important 120 seconds of dialogue that I missed. All this said, it should surprise no one that this was Jeff Griffith’s only screenwriting credit. The various plot developments seem to get in the way of the story itself and from a narrative perspective, this gets a bit grating.

Fortunately, the action itself is quite good. While less prolific than his Filipino directorial brethren Eddie Romero or Cirio Santiago, Teddy Page is a solid action director and easily the best filmmaker with at least five films to his credit with the word “blood” in the title (Blood Debts, Blood Hands, Blood Chase, Blood Ring, and Blood Ring 2). Since his cast consists largely of martial arts actors, he emphasizes hand-to-hand fights but peppers the story with plenty of shoot-outs, splosions, and chase and pursuit sequences.


The dynamic among Nichols and his crew is mapped out with a reasonably well-defined pecking order. Nichols is the brainy taskmaster while everyone else acts as the qualified but bumbling muscle. (In reaction to a failed shakedown, Nichols scolds his boys in stating “You two couldn’t piss a hole in snow.”) Jim Moss is a face you’ll find familiar when watching these Filipino action efforts, and he’s quite good here. As Diego, Beyer is his usual awesome kick-happy self, though he opts for a tight and cropped ‘do in lieu of the flowing mane he sported in Fighting Spirit. The real surprise is Ian Senzon as Stilwell. While a bit stiff as an actor, he’s a fairly competent martial artist and he and Sheperd have one of the better fights in the film. Unfortunately, this is his only film role.


Despite chain-smoking like a character out of Good Night and Good Luck, Andrew Stevens is more than competent in his fight scenes as well. It’s really hard to gauge his proficiency in this aspect of his performance because he didn’t do a whole lot of action roles aside from this. He’s probably best-remembered for his early work in Brian De Palma’s The Fury and the Charles Bronson joints Death Hunt and 10 to Midnight. That said, his acting breathes life into a pretty flat character and helps to ground the film, and he and Sheperd play well off each other as a convincing husband and wife team.

VERDICT:
To be blunt: my desire to love Blood Chase exceeded the actual level of enjoyment I got from watching it. In the annals of really fun Filipino action films starring American martial artists, Blood Chase is nothing more than a solid entry. It’s not on the level of a Live by the Fist or even the hot mess that is Fighting Spirit, but the action scenes were enough to keep me engaged. This is a great credit to Teddy Page, who keeps the affair reasonably well-paced despite the collars of a very clunky script, and Karen Sheperd, whose skills for executing choreographed violence can’t be overstated.

AVAILABILITY:
Extremely tough to track down. Your best bet for a DVD copy is either the gray market or an out of region seller.

4 / 7

4 comments:

  1. Andrew Stevens has tripped me out over the years; here's a guy who has acted in some major Hollywood films in his youth, then he got into his Big Fish In A Little Pond period of his career with his DTV joints (he and Shannon Tweed were like the Bogie & Bacall of DTV for a while), then he produced/directed his own DTV for a while, and next thing you know, the motherfucker was producing big Hollywood films for the infamous Franchise Pictures. As you can see, I'm easily tripped out.

    I do miss the days of so many action movies taking place in the Philippines for no other good reason aside from "it's cheaper to film there" (although Coppola found out the hard way that's not always the case with APOCALYPSE NOW).

    Anyway, hooray for your typically awesome review and hooray For Karen Sheperd.

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  2. Good Review! Teddy Page doesn't usually disappoint. Will have to track this one down.

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  3. I've been looking to do more Karen Shepherd, so this might be a good place to go.

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  4. @EFC - Stevens certainly followed a strange path, didn't he? From De Palma to Bronson vehicles to an obscure 1980s DTV Filipino actioner and a guest spot on Murder, She Wrote all before the age of 40........ I'm such a failure.

    @Ty - This one isn't quite Phantom Soldiers good, but Sheperd and Stevens keep it eminently watchable.

    @DtVC - I'm not sure why Sheperd didn't do more. I think Terminator Woman proved she could carry the bulk of a film while still working well in the buddy-cop mold. Her acting is actually pretty good in spots and I wish she had more prominent starring roles to her credit.

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