“Attack Force Z” is an Australian movie that is most known for starring young future stars Mel Gibson and Sam Neill. It was directed by Tim Burstall and was filmed in Taiwan. The movie was premiered at Cannes, but after that was only shown briefly in Australian theaters. It was a flop. It was based on a true story. There was a Z Special Force which was an elite unit of Australian volunteers that was part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s army in the Pacific. It conducted missions behind enemy lines and was similar to the OSS. The movie claims to be an “honest retelling” of one of those missions.
The movie opens in January, 1945 as five commandoes land on an island via kayaks launched from a sub. They are led by Capt. Kelly (Gibson). Their mission is to rescue the survivors of a downed plane. An early encounter with a Japanese bunker results in the wounding of one of them and his subsequent stoical dispatching by Sgt. Costello (Neill). These guys mean business. They hook up with a local resistance leader who uses martial arts against a Japanese patrol. Is this the first use of kung fu in a war movie? There are some problems, but they eventually locate their targets which turn out to be an American government official and a Japanese defector who holds the key to a quicker Allied victory over the Japanese. A romance is thrown in between the top billed John Philip Law and a native girl. Queue the sappy music. In the climax, the village stands against a Japanese unit to aid in the escape of the commandoes. In a crescendo of violence, the movie lives up to its “who will survive?” nature. Answer: 20 %.
“Attack Force Z” (also unknown as “The Z Men”) is a low budget resume white-out target. The acting is not the problem. Gibson and Neill show promise, but Law (who had achieved fame as the blind angel in “Barbarella”) shows that he is properly obscure. The plot is shaky. Parts make no sense and it would be best to not think too much while watching it. A Japanese defector who wants to reveal important secrets? Ridiculous. There is some low budget action movie violence that should keep the combat porn demographic happy. The deaths are not silly and they are fairly graphic. It certainly goes out with a bang (but not a loud bang because the heroes use silencers on their sub machine guns).
As to the claim of historical truth, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call “shenanigan” on that one. The movie is clearly based on Operation Opossum. In 1945, Z Special Force was tasked to rescue the Sultan of Temate. Thirteen members landed on the island on orders from MacArthur. They made contact with the Sultan, but the next day had to defeat several boatloads of Japanese soldiers that landed near the village. The Japanese were wiped out in a firefight. The Australians lost only their commander. The Sultan and his family were evacuated by PR boat and taken to meet MacArthur.
Forgotten gem? Appropriately forgotten and certainly not a gem.
Grade = C