Harrison Ford once pistol-whipped a one-armed man unconscious. A wheelchair-bound lunatic was the bad guy in two different Bruce Willis movies. And James Bond has almost exclusively battled opponents with missing limbs hired by a wheelchair user.
There's a weird trend in fiction whereby the bad guy and/or his main henchman is disabled, and this is a weird article trying to figure out why that is. We haven't decided on an SEO-optimized title yet, but we will definitely not call it ...
In Police Story 2, Jackie Chan plays a detective demoted to traffic cop after he singlehandedly punched a mall to pieces in the first movie. When he and his partner try to arrest a deaf-mute, it begins as an awkward game of charades and ends with Jackie getting blasted by a rigged remote control car and his partner getting kicked in the face 7,000 times. It's such a vicious and unexpected assault that the subtitles don't even know how to describe it.
The next time they meet, it doesn't go much better for Jackie. The deaf guy captures him, strings him up, and pelts his chest and face with bang snaps. And since it's a Jackie Chan movie, the actors are definitely exploding needlessly real fireworks against his bare skin. By the way, I should mention the deaf guy keeps trying to talk, but seems to have no idea he's only squeaking, "Ah, ba bah! Ah, ba bah!" I'm not making fun of him; this will come up later. Fun fact: In the English-dubbed version, "Ah, ba bah!" gets translated to "Habba GABBA." According to Police Story 2, you are now fluent in deaf Cantonese.
When they meet up for a third time, shit does not go well for the deaf guy. Jackie Chan has just finished running 25 miles (most of it on fire), fallen twice that distance, killed an entire gang with his bare hands, and been smashed through at least 80% of Hong Kong's shipping crates. He is pissed. He starts throwing boxes of explosives at the deaf guy, which turns out to be his one weakness. Once Jackie seizes the upper hand, he then, and I'm so glad I get to share this with you, blasts his dick with fireworks while mocking his disability.
"AH BAH BAH" taunts Jackie Chan as he lights the man's dick on fire over and over. "AH BAH BAH" he insists while the deaf man's hands switch between patting out crotch fires and pleading for mercy. Jackie then throws him off a catwalk and leaves him to die in a warehouse explosion. This movie had to have been written immediately after Jackie Chan found a hearing-impaired man inside his wife, or nothing in the world makes sense.
What does this say about us?
There comes a point in action movies where the audience needs to know the good guy is done fucking around. If Liam Neeson kills you and you're a sex trafficker, you're like, "Is this movie going anywhere?" But when he shoots your wife in the arm to get you to talk, you're like, "Oh man, this guy is getting serious." And nothing communicates "The kid gloves are off" like turning a disabled guy into a bomb dick-first. Now please enjoy the greatest hearing-impaired penis-exploding scene in cinematic history, dubbed from Cantonese into Spanish -- a version that stayed faithful to the original "Ah, ba bah" dialogue.
In 1990, Paul Hogan wrote and starred in Almost An Angel, a movie about a career criminal who dies pushing a kid out of the way of a van, but not really, and is given a second chance at life by God, only not really. A twist at the end of the film reveals that wait, yes really. But more notable than Almost An Angel's ludicrous plot is how this man starts a fistfight with a stranger in a wheelchair and wins.
Before you get too upset, Steve, the guy in the wheelchair, is a bit of an asshole. Or rather, it seems like the story calls for him to be an asshole, but Paul never got around to writing it into the script. All Steve really does is roll into a guy playing pool and get upset. Paul Hogan, once nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, thought, "How can I justify beating up a disabled man?" and he came up with "Maybe he's sort of clumsy and cranky?"
Paul Hogan sees Steve bump into the pool player and is so clearly ready to kick his ass right then and there, but an old man at the bar tries to talk him down. Paul -- who, again, thinks he is working as an agent of Heaven -- tells this sweet old man that someone needs to beat that son of a bitch's ass. It would be way, way too much even if the three characters weren't an angel, a voice of reason, and a handicapped man. The old man does his part to keep society functional by cheerfully reminding Paul "He's a cripple!" Paul's only response is the look you give someone when they're about to watch you punch some fucker out of his wheelchair.
As Steve tries to wheel past, Paul gets in his way and says, "Are you rude to everyone who's not stuck in a chair?" It's weird. It's a weird thing to say. Steve responds almost with a whimper, "No. But if you were stuck in this chair? I'd punch your lights out." It's also a weird thing to say, and supports the point I hinted at earlier that Paul Hogan should maybe not have an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
To further my argument, Paul takes off his watch and says, quote, "That sounds fair. Chair." He sits down, they punch each other, and Steve decides they are best friends because this belligerent man punished him for his sadness instead of tolerating it. Now, any punch scientist could explain why a fit man with full hip mobility surprising a depressed paraplegic with a fistfight isn't very close to "gentlemanly," but I think it's more important to focus on how this contrived scene in which a handicapped man gets suddenly beaten was written by someone who thinks not only that they respect the disabled, but that they respect the disabled much more than you, in a way that can only be explained with their art.
What does this say about us?
There were PSAs in the '80s reminding people to "treat a disabled person ... like a person!" Most of us imagined this meant not to pick up non-consenting dwarves or talk in a condescending baby voice whenever you explained shoes to someone missing a foot. But I guess a dickhead could also take it as "Technically this means you're allowed to pick bar fights with them." The one skill every dickhead has is figuring out how being a dickhead actually makes him a hero. I know this because when I say Paul Hogan has a clumsier writing style than a JonBenet Ramsey ransom note, I'm technically doing him a favor by encouraging him to improve.
In 2003, the WWE hired a 19-year-old wrestler named Zach Gowen. At the start of his storyline, he was nothing more than a heroic fan who jumped into the ring swinging an American flag to save Mr. America from Roddy Piper and Sean O'Haire. It did not end well for him.
Sean O'Haire awkwardly tackled him neck-first into a bar stool, his aim off by several feet because Zach is 280 pounds lighter than the smallest person Sean O'Haire has ever touched. It was more like a humpback whale filtering krill than an attack. Roddy Piper then followed up this accidental reenactment of Million Dollar Baby by beating Zach's head against the mat. He seemed determined to make sure none of the boy's neurotransmitters would ever again reach his legs. Oh, and speaking of legs, Roddy Piper yanked one of Zach's the fuck off.
The crowd was not expecting this to be a one-legged intruder, and it took a few seconds for it to register, then a few more to decide killing him was bad. As the boos started, Sean O'Haire put up his hands and left, apparently wanting to distance himself from the optics of beating a handicapped boy to death. This would be the last time anyone in the organization took that point of view.
In the following months, Zach would get just annihilated by an all-star cast of men with twice his legs and three times his size. It wasn't quite the inspirational story of a boy who could do anything. It was more like an unsurprised zookeeper seeing what would happen if you gave a junior mannequin to gorillas.
Zach ended each match like a sack of partially recovered remains, and his WWE career became a shrine to man's capacity for cruelty. Then, after all decent viewers had had enough of this flagrant insanity, Vince McMahon put young Zach in a feud with Brock Lesnar. Lesnar was famously hatched from a pod discovered by wrestling researchers in Argentina labelled "L.ethality E.nhanced S.uper N.eanderthal A.rmored R.obot." He's the worst-case scenario for a squad of six-legged men, and an obvious cause of death for a teenage boy with only one.
When they faced each other, it wasn't technically a wrestling match. To bypass state athletic commissions, they had to call it "sacrificing a virgin to the Kraken." Brock was a quarter ton of twitchy horse meat, and Zach Gowen had the muscle density of a high-schooler who enjoys sports where you don't have to run. Any Argentinian geneticist would describe his physiology as "Ve have very nearly created a creature who is already a hot dog! Vas ist zat sound!? Mein gott, ze containment alarm! Ze L.E.S.N.A.R. chamber has been brea-AAAIIEEEEE!!!"
To add a whole other layer of tragedy, they brought Zach's mother to the front row. Maybe so she could remember her son after Brock Lesnar squeezed him into a red stain on her slacks. She looked on while Zach's tiny body was rammed into the floor like a series of landmine accidents. Then Brock came out, looked directly at her, and tossed her son leg-first into the ring post. She was not a trained actress, but you'd swear she was genuinely concerned. Mainly because Brock Lesnar's wrestling style is throwing people in every direction until he finds the one that makes them stop moving. Combine that with the expertise of a nervous, lopsided teenage rookie, and there was no need for Zach's mother to "act" like her son was in terrible danger. He was coming down from moves with all the grace and foresight of roller coaster vomit.
When it was all over, Zach had to be taken away on a stretcher, a barely living demonstration of how much blood a heart can pump out a human face when it only has to worry about one femoral artery. He looked like an extra from a high school production of Saving Private Ryan. Then, while the gamblers who placed bets on Gowen to win were still tearing up their 8,000,000-1 claim tickets, Brock Lesnar charged through the paramedics and knocked over the stretcher. That's right, Vince McMahon had this kid turned inside-out in front of his own crying mother and decided "No. The boy has not suffered enough."
So they beat and humiliated this kid over the course of months, broke his good leg, and then beat and humiliated him some more. At that point, why not blindfold him and hiss in his ear how he'll never see his death coming before you roll his wheelchair down some stairs? "Now wait, that's not a bad idea," thought Vince McMahon, who had Brock Lesnar do exactly that on the next broadcast. It's beyond any reasonable person's capacity for violence. It's like WWE executives mixed up their focus group data with the diary of a serial cat murderer.
What does this say about us?
This sadistic insanity seems like it was motivated entirely by novelty. A plucky one-legged kid getting pounded into wet silence still felt unusual, even after the tenth time we saw it. Everyone loves an underdog story, but it was made pretty clear by the second or third maiming that the saga of Zach Gowen was not going to include any happy endings. He was only there because UPN wouldn't let Vince McMahon drown Make-a-Wish children.
Sometimes the WWE insisted they saw Zach as a "real pro wrestler" and not a "freak act," but this was undercut by the rumor their talent scouts accidentally hired the "wrong one-legged wrestler." If bashing amputees open with chairs is so normal, why didn't we ever see that other guy? Where are your principles, WWE!? Feed all the disableds to Brock Lesnar, you hypocrites!
In Ong Bak, Tony Jaa is hunting the bastard who stole his village's Buddha head. If you haven't seen the movie, he is way overpowered. He shatters the skeletons of most of his enemies in one shot and double front-flips over their heads if he's in a hurry. Whenever someone ducks his kicks, he just does a 360 and kicks them 50 times harder when he comes back around. One guy tries to kill him by shooting the exploding barrel he's hiding behind, and all it does is ignite his legs and add fire damage to his attacks. He dominates his opponents like Steven Seagal refusing to pay for frozen yogurt samples.
Naturally, when the hero is cartoonishly invincible, you need an even deadlier villain. Maybe some kind of half-man, half-tank cyborg. It's possible the script called for this and there was a terrible misunderstanding, because the villain in Ong Bak is Komtuan, a wheelchair-bound old man who speaks with a robot voice out of his laryngectomy hole. But I'm not here to criticize a perfect movie. I'm here to talk about how this broken robot prick dies.
Tony Jaa finally tracks him down to a location any sane person would describe as a "Buddha head mine," and easily defeats his top henchman. To be clear about what I mean by "easily," Tony lowers his hands and lets the guy beat on him just to demonstrate that he kicks like a bitch. Then he knees a crater into his chest.
Things stop going Tony's way after he goes head to head with a saw blade and the now-drug-enhanced, possibly undead henchman. He's forced to watch helplessly as the villain prepares to take a sledgehammer to his town's Buddha head. Next, and I proceed with full knowledge I may win the Pulitzer for Perfect Sentence, Tony's friend "Dirty Balls" leaps in front of the disabled man's hammer to protect the severed statue head. This dislodges a much larger Buddha head, which very slowly starts to fall on the two men. There's plenty of time for Dirty Balls to roll away, but the villain and his non-working legs have to sit there and watch their impending crushing inch toward them. This means the filmmakers thought, "Ha ha ha, we should have this piece of shit die specifically because of his disability."
To create a realistic cripple-crushing effect, they filmed a dummy of Komtuan which was facing the wrong direction get slowly squashed by a real statue head from four different angles. The producers were not going to spring for a second clearly fake dummy, so they made sure they got the shot. And after they nailed it, they weren't going to just waste three good angles of a clearly fake dummy facing the wrong direction getting squashed. No, those all go in the picture. It seems deranged, and yet here it is, in an objectively perfect movie.
What does this say about us?
When you, as a creator, make your villain disabled, there's a risk you're communicating "A crippled body represents a crippled soul." You need to flesh out the details of their character and his or her condition, or you might end up suggesting their handicap was something God gave them because they deserved it. It can cause your art to be interpreted as cruel or ableist. One way to avoid this is to simply make sure you don't end your movie with an act of god causing an actual god head to crush your crippled villain.
Before we talk about the 12th James Bond movie, let's talk about the third Rambo one. Rambo III has an awesome ending in which a Russian colonel is in a helicopter and Rambo is in a tank, and they each decide to settle things by ramming into each other. As you'd expect, the helicopter loses so, so badly.
This is amazing because no one should have OK'd this. A five-year-old girl could have looked at the script and said, "Yeah, I have a note: This helicopter guy is fucking stupid." Literally everyone involved in the process, from the stunt coordinator to the assistant to Mr. Stallone, knew this was a dumbshit thing to do, and they did it anyway because smashing a helicopter into a tank rules. I bring all this up because almost the exact opposite of this situation happened in For Your Eyes Only.
In the opening sequence of the film, James Bond is in a helicopter, while his mortal enemy Blofeld is in a wheelchair. Now, for the helicopter guy in this scenario, unlike in Rambo III, ramming your opponent's vehicle is a good move. Helicopter beats wheelchair nine times out of ten, easy. So Bond flies into Blofeld while he tries to scoot away hilariously at wheelchair speed. But instead of obliterating him, 007 skewers the chair with one of the skids and carries Blofeld into the sky. He's a paraplegic begging for his life while attached to the side of a speeding helicopter by wheelchair seat cushion stickiness alone. "Helpless" is not a strong enough word for how fucked this guy is.
It's worth emphasizing that this is the opening five minutes of the movie. Bond has his longtime antagonist captured, and instead of carrying him off to an interrogation room or holding cell, he starts flying in circles and making fun of his hair loss. Blofeld is squealing at the top of his lungs directly under helicopter blades, so it's unlikely he's hearing any of this, but he gets the idea after James reaches out the window to give his bald head a little pat. If you knew none of these details and I simply said, "The disabled man spent the last moments of his life cowering before his bully while being tortured and belittled," you would absolutely guess wrong about which character was the bad guy.
Bond eventually picks a spot to kill Blofeld and expertly dumps his chair down a smokestack. He never had any intention other than murder; he was only screwing around this whole time. If anything, the smokestack gave Blofeld more of a shot of survival than if James had just dropped him on a parking lot. I can think of at least 50 ways an evil genius could live through that (sweet corkscrew ride down the sides, grappling hook, pan out to reveal sign saying "Blofeld Inc. Trampoline Factory"). But the point I'm trying to make is that this movie took a very sensible thing -- killing a wheelchair with a helicopter -- and made it into sadistic, uncomfortable nonsense.
What does this say about us?
I probably shouldn't have structured the article like this, because there's no sane answer for why anyone filmed this shit. I honestly think James Bond exhausted all the cute ways to kill people long before the '70s ended, and his movies make more sense if you think of him like a serial killer going down a "cause of death" list to see if one of them can make him feel something. Would expertly dunking a cripple down a chimney with a helicopter finally give him joy? Remorse? Anything? Only one way to find out!
For more, check out Why Andy Is Secretly The Villain In Toy Story:
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