The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #286: Rewatching Laser Mission (1989, a.k.a. Soldier of Fortune) + Remembering Brandon Lee

This week’s episode will be released on 2/1/21, an interesting number pattern date by itself, but it also would have been Brandon Lee’s 56th birthday.  As I discuss in the episode, my first exposure to Brandon Lee had nothing to do with movies.  It didn’t even really have anything to do with martial arts.

No, my first exposure to Brandon Lee was occasional childhood details I remember my mother telling me – of Bruce Lee and that he’d had a son who was also of mixed Caucasian – Asian ancestry.  That may not seem like a big deal now (and to be honest, it really shouldn’t have been then, either), but until my brother was born when I was eight, I don’t recall meeting anyone else with a similar racial mix.  I might have, of course.  Memory is faulty that way, but I can’t remember anyone else in my grade school classes, in Little League, or any of the other things I did as a kid.  And aside from my brother, it probably wasn’t until maybe high school that I met one or two folks with similar backgrounds. 

Although we still have our fair share of racial issues today in the US, I get the sense that things were more rigid in the 80s, and as an adult, it’s not hard to spot the entrenched racial stereotypes and issues in a lot of the films of the time, even in some of my favorites.   That doesn’t make me like them any less for what they meant to me as a child, but they are what they are.   That said, we still live in a fairly unilateral world when it comes to racial identity, and sometimes I think it makes people a bit unsettled when you don’t pick a side. 

Sometimes my mother would tell me that Brandon Lee also struggled to reconcile both Eastern and Western parts of his identity, but looking back, I was never sure how she knew that (Chinese newspapers, I think) or if that was even accurate.  Regardless, that’s how I was introduced to Brandon as a kid – not though movies, not through kung fu, not even so much as the son of Bruce Lee, but as an older sort of kinship soul. 

I was straddling the fence between East and West in my own little way as a grade school kid growing up in a largely working-class New Jersey suburb made up of families of Irish and Italian descent that did strange things like go to Sunday school and visit Ocean City in the summer.  The teasing, the comments about hot Chinese food lunches my mother sometimes packed that were labeled “weird” since they weren’t sandwiches in those little brown (supposedly disposable) paper bags, the wide eyes and frowns of disbelief if I mentioned I went to a school on Sunday (for a time, my father took me to a Chinese language school about a half an hour away in hopes I would learn something), the internal debate about which racial demographic should I check on standardized tests … all these things registered, but I was too young to really make much of them.  In a way, that’s the great thing about being a kid.  Things happen to you, sometimes good things, sometimes bad things, but you don’t really understand them as fully as you will later, so you just move on.  However, even if the adolescent and adult questions of identity were still years away for me, I think in her own way, telling me about Brandon was my mother’s way of preparing me for them.  “See, there’s someone else out there that’s like you” was what I think what she was trying to say, and I’m glad she thought to do it. 

Oddly enough, even when I started practicing martial arts at age 13, it was through the occasional newspaper article or martial arts magazine that I read about Brandon, not through movies or video clips (there was no internet, we didn’t have any of his movies; everything is harder to find as a kid without a bank account, driver’s license, or credit card).  I’ve attached scans two articles from the 9/1994 issue of Black Belt magazine here – one is a reprint of an interview of his from 1986, and the other is about his films.  There was awhile when this issue was the only martial arts magazine I had, so I used the read the same articles over and over again.   Aside from eBay, finding these old magazine articles is not especially easy.  They deserve to be out there.  You can download the articles here or clicking the cover below.

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I don’t know he’d have been especially proud of today’s choice of movie or not, but Laser Mission from 1989 (sometimes titled Soldier of Fortune) is pure gold in so many respects.  Critics probably panned it, and it gets like a 3 point something on IMBD, but what do any of those people know?

One look at this photo of Brandon Lee kicking this chap with two feet …

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… or the introductory theme song, done by David Knopfler of the Dire Straits, entitled “Mercenary Man” (which basically plays every time an amped up cue is required) is all I needed to know this film was destined for 80s movie greatness.  So, as a bona fide 80s US action film, you have to remember a few things – it will be loud, there will be explosions, plot holes large enough to throw a donkey through, unlimited ammunition, unlimited lives, gratuitous T ‘n A, overall misogynistic attitudes towards women, lasers involved, communists on every corner, and yes, an overall feeling at the end that the world was made safe for truth, justice, and Capitalism through guns, guts, and some good ‘ol asskicking, not bumbling bureaucrats shuffling papers and rubbing stamping documents that no one knows how to fill out correctly.  However, there are enough subtle jabs at these stereotypes inserted into the film (either consciously or not) that suggests it was done in a self referential, humorous way that pokes fun more than perpetuates old tropes.  You can watch the full film free on Youtube (thanks, kind souls) or Tubi (more legit but ad supported).

Shannon Lee maintains the social media platforms for the family, including an Instagram profile for Brandon.  She also does a regular podcast (highly recommended) about her father’s teachings and how his philosophy applies to aspects of day to day life.  Check out this past episode about Brandon.

Stay tuned for more Brandon Lee in time for lunar new year in a few weeks!

And, as mentioned last episode, the patches I mentioned a few weeks ago are now ready and available for purchase here!  They come with a high quality mp3 download from Once Upon a Dream, the next Thirteenth Hour soundtrack LP.

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If you still have a cassette player, take advantage of the following deal and be transported to another world!  SALE!  While supplies last, grab Long Ago Not So Far Away on cassette!  Just $1/tape!
https://ko-fi.com/s/5579db9b27

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There are now Thirteenth Hour toys!  If you’d like to pick up one of these glow in the dark figures for yourself, feel free to email me or go to the Etsy store I set up (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ThirteenthHourStudio) and get them there.

If the past few months have got you needing a break, you may want to chill out to this 80s synth throwback track for a upcoming LP with the accompanying music video:

Empty Hands, the synth EP soundtrack to the novella, Empty Hands, is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.  

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Stay tuned.  Follow along on Spotify!  There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.

Check it out!

As always, thanks for listening!

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