80's Action Attack!: P.O.W.: The Escape

"Cannon produced 'Namsploitation that's the rare example of the film being just as badass as it's cover art"

by robotGEEK

This film has been following me around for as long as I can remember. I can vividly recall seeing this kickass cover on many a video store shelf back in the late 80's on through the 90's when video stores were in full swing. But I'd learned early on that a killer painted VHS cover art didn't mean the film would be just as good, because more often than not, the cover art was far better than the actual film, and in some cases, the only good thing about them. And since I didn't know anyone who had actually seen it, I was never given the push I needed to actually make the effort. Considering this is a Cannon production, that thought was pretty dumb, as I can now admit. Because I've finally just seen it, and it was far better than I anticipated. Let's dig in.

Col. Cooper (David Carradine) lives by a code, and that is "everyone goes home". When he leads a group of captured P.O.W.'s out of Saigon during the Vietnam War, he's given an offer by his captor, the ruthless Captain Vinh (Mako), to escape Saigon and flee to the U.S. as long as he takes Captain Vinh with him, only Cooper refuses unless he's allowed to bring "all" of the captured P.O.W.'s. Vinh agrees, but when they attempt their escape, complications arise in the form of double-crosses, murder, betrayal and salvation.

I have to give Cannon credit - this film was badass in a way I hadn't expected. A short rocky start (i.e. poorly and cheaply shot and edited) is followed by a film that very easily could have fallen through the cracks and ended up something like Missing in Action IV, V or whatever; an easily forgotten entry in the "exploding huts" genre. But as far as 'Namsploitation goes, this one is a definite winner. That's not just a misleadingly badass cover (which was so often the case). This film "is" legitimately badass and as good as that cover promises.

While there wasn't anything particularly special about this "exploding huts" tale, it's in it's casting that really grabbed me, starting with Carradine, who coasts by simply with his charisma. Carradine is playing the way he plays every other single character in any other film, which is ultra cool. For him, it seems effortless, and I can appreciate that. But what's a solid lead without a strong supporting cast?? Luckily this is another area where P.O.W. excels. How? With Steve James! That's how! Whom I had no idea was even in this, which is such a shame because much like everything else he's in, he completely elevates the material he's given and always leaves a strong lasting impression. Why isn't he on the cover?! The rest of the cast is pretty solid, with the legendary Mako delivering a truly ruthless and memorable performance as the evil Captain Vinh.

The film plays on familiar themes, making it pretty paint-by-numbers in this very specific genre, but it's done with technical care in a way that you wouldn't expect. In fact, it comes off a bit more polished than say Missing in Action II: The Beginning, which totally surprised me. For a film that never gets much respect or even any attention, I think most will agree it's a better made film than you're expecting when you go in. And this could very well be attributed to director Gideon Amir, who cut his teeth as a producer a few years earlier with such Cannon classics like Missing in Action (line producer) and American Ninja (associate producer). So Amir already had some idea of how to produce this type of film on a relatively small budget thanks to his previous experience, and that little bit of know-how helps tremendously with films like these. It helps that he shoots pretty straight-forward, without much flair. But that works to his credit though, because the film looks professional when most of these looked cheap.

Amir would continue to work as a producer in both film and television, where he still produces to this very day, but sadly only directed one other film in his career with 1989's Accidents.

For all intents and purposes, P.O.W.: The Escape aka Behind Enemy Lines has largely gone unnoticed and could easily be dismissed as one of Cannon's lower-end fodder. Except, it's actually quite good and worth seeking out. And guess what? It's easy now as Hulu Plus just recently added it to their lineup under their "action" category this month. Give it a watch! It's worth your time.

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