Blind fighters

Warning: some spoilers.

There seems to have been a fair bit of this going around of late. I recall Rutger Hauer in Blind Fury as an ex-soldier who lost his sight and was trained to fight in Vietnam, but until recently I can’t think of any other examples among movies released in the West.

Of course Daredevil was created in the early ’60s, though the film is recent, but gifting a character loads of superpowered senses, including a radar sense that largely compensates for loss of sight, is a slightly different matter. This item was provoked by House Of Flying Daggers and Zatoichi, which have an extra twist in common, up to a point. I know this isn’t a new idea in South-East Asian stories, but we haven’t had many of them hitting our cinemas until recently.

In the former we are introduced to Zhang Ziyi as a young blind woman, a dancer and, it is soon revealed, expert martial artist. It’s a movie full of twists (I think I counted eight in one insane and hilariously jaw-dropping two-minute period!)
, but one of them **SPOILER ALERT** comes when it’s revealed that she isn’t blind at all, and had been faking as part of impersonating someone – it’s an implausibly perfect performance. In Zatoichi Takeshi Kitano plays an old blind masseur,
who, we quickly see, is a magnificent swordsman. The film is a bit Yojimbo in some ways, but there is a surprising sequence of twists at the end. **SPOILER ALERT** In what seems the climactic confrontation with the secret head villain, he opens his eyes for the first time, and confesses that he was faking blindness to help him read people. Once he has despatched this guy, he moves on to the double-secret actual real head villain, an old man. He announces that death is too good for him, and instead he condemns him to living out his life as… a blind man! This is weird enough at that moment, since he was presenting it as an advantage up to that point, and clearly he was a mighty warrior with his eyes closed. In a bewildering and slightly slapstick final twist (after a bizarre and unexpected dance sequence that looks far more 1950 Harlem than feudal Japan), it is revealed that actually Zatoichi really is blind, and that opening his eyes was a fake-out shock-tactic. What is this saying?

Attitudes to disability interest me. I can see how portraying a tremendously able fighter despite the blindness is positive, but there is still that ‘despite’ there, which is something I dislike. I was particularly troubled by condemning someone to blindness as a fate worse than death, as that seems to hugely undercut any positive meanings. I’m not seriously expecting movies to combat prejudices (though CSI in particular on television frequently does a very sophisticated job of doing just that), nor am I making major claims either way for any of these movies, which are after all very far from any kind of realism, and I don’t imagine there is any didactic intent – I’m just noting what seems to me an interesting little mini-theme.