P.O.W. films were all the rage in the 1980s. For a country just starting to get back its confidence, refighting the Vietnam War onscreen was a way to deal with the lingering trauma of that conflict. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Sylvester Stallone asked, “Do we get to win this time?” and for a while, the answer was yes. By sending action stars like Stallone and Chuck Norris to rescue American soldiers still being held captive in Asia, we would win this time (if only in our dreams).
P.O.W.: The Escape (also known as Behind Enemy Lines and Attack Force ‘Nam) is one of the many P.O.W. films that was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus during their legendary time at Cannon Films. In place of their usual star, Chuck Norris, P.O.W.: The Escape stars David Carradine as Col. James Cooper. Cooper is a U.S. Airborne commando who, in 1973, is sent to North Vietnam on a special missions to rescue the soldiers behind held in a POW camp.
Why has Cooper been selected for this mission?
As one officer puts it, “Aside from being the best, he’s got one rule and it’s never been broken. Everybody goes home!”
When the rescue mission goes awry, Cooper is himself captured and sent to the POW camp. He gets his fellow prisoners back into fighting shape and, when the cowardly Sparks (Charles R. Floyd) challenges his leadership, Cooper reminds him of who the senior officer in charge is. When the camp commandant, Vinh (Mako), offers to help Cooper escape in return for Cooper helping Vinh reach the United States, Cooper simply responds with his name, rank, and serial number. When Vinh threatens to kill the prisoners unless Cooper helps him, Cooper agrees on one condition: “Everybody goes home!”
When Sgt. Johnston (played by perennial action sidekick, Steve James) learns of the plan, he argues that “Everybody goes home is a slogan, not a religion!”
“Speak for yourself,” Cooper replies.
Even, if like Sparks, they betray you and run off with a cache of gold, the religion of Everybody Goes Home means that no one gets left behind. Even if it means having to trek through the jungle and going over a waterfall in a canoe, everybody goes home. That is something that Sparks only comes to realize as he watches a prostitute undress and starts to have flashbacks to earlier scenes in the movie. Suddenly, Sparks understands that everybody goes home and it gives him an opportunity for some last minute redemption.
Even though it is not as well-known as Missing in Action or First Blood Part II, POW: The Escape is enjoyably mindless entertainment in the legendary Cannon style. As the world’s least likely paratrooper, David Carradine gets to show off some sweet kung fu moves. By the end of the movie, Carradine is literally wearing an American flag. Nothing about POW: The Escape is subtle but what’s important is that “Everybody goes home!”