It's rare to find Arabs as even minor good guys in English-speaking action pics, given the sledgehammer scripts and generally boneheaded sensibilities of the genre. The presence of Arabs commonly connotes cardboard terrorism or subhuman fanaticism, but in OPERATION GOLDEN PHOENIX an
ethnic Lebanese gets to star, plus write and direct, as the high-kicking hero. Unfortunately, the movie's still boneheaded.
Overseeing the shipment of an ancient pendant from Lebanon to Toronto, security expert Mark Assante (Jalal Merhi) is betrayed by partner Ivan Jones (Loren Avedon), who steals the trinket and leaves Assante to take the rap. Escaping police custody, Mark flies to his native Beirut looking for
answers. He still has no clue what's happened, though, and so Ivan and his criminal boss Chang (James Hong), also conveniently in Lebanon, easily dupe Mark into stealing a second pendant from a peeved princess. Both baubles hold the secret of the lost Ottoman treasure (not a sofa but gold coins),
and when their designs are juxtaposed via computer, they reveal a map of the ruined city of Baalbek. Mark and local allies catch up to the villains there for victorious kung-fu amid the postcard scenery, as an Indiana Jones-style mechanism within a temple buries Chang under a rain of coins.
The pic's most potent images are of the ruins, ancient and modern, of war-torn Lebanon, until recently the jewel of the Middle East. Before long, however, OPERATION GOLDEN PHOENIX starts to resemble a ruin itself. Key scenes and continuity edits are clearly absent, turning up as background for
the closing credits, along with blown outtakes and home-movie shots of cast and crew goofing off, reminiscent of a Burt Reynolds romp from the '70s. Equally out of style is teasing T&A content--no actual nudity--portraying Beirut as a town teeming with bikini girls and belly dancers. Is that why
soldiers use every excuse to invade? Merhi, who's displayed a raffish appeal in other direct-to-video martial-arts potboilers like TC-2000 and TIGER CLAWS, plays it straight, stiff, and dull here, but he still acts circles around most of the supporting cast. As a filmmaker he shows more finesse
with travelogue footage than mortal combat, as fight scenes often occur in constricted close-up. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: It's rare to find Arabs as even minor good guys in English-speaking action pics, given the sledgehammer scripts and generally boneheaded sensibilities of the genre. The presence of Arabs commonly connotes cardboard terrorism or subhuman fanaticism, but in… (more)