DAVE CRIBBIN May 2005 MED231
PART I - FILM INFORMATION:
“THEY’LL DO THE IMPOSSIBLE
OR DIE TRYING”
John Phillip Law ... Lieutenant J.A. Veitch
Mel Gibson ... Captain P.G. Kelly
Sam Neill ... Sergeant D.J. Costello
Chris Haywood ... Able Seaman A.D. Bird
John Waters ... Ted King
Ned Chun ... Rice farmer
Sylvia Chang ... Chien Hua
O Ti ... Shaw Hu
Koo Chuan Hsiung ... Lin Chan-Lang
Lung Shuan ... Watanabe
Vi Yuan ... Imanaka
Wei Su ... Womng Chong
Hsa Li-Wen ... Lee Chang
Val Champion ... Ed Ayres
JimmyYu Wang ... Oshiko Imoguchi
Director … Tim Burstall
Producer … Lee Robinson (III)
Screenwriter … Roger Marshall (I)
Editor … David Stiven
Executive Producers … John McCallum
Assistant Directors … Eddie Prylinski
… King Ad Hsing
… James Parker
… Chang Chih-Yeong
… Fu Le Gou
Production Supervisor … Betty Barnard
Unit Manager … R.Andrews Baxter
Production Manager … Mei Chang Kwan
Continuity … Lynn Hyem
Musical Score … Eric Jupp
Production Design … Bernard Hines
Art Director … Chang Ping
Lighting … Chi Hsieh-Fu
Special Effects … Lui Fang-Hsing
Sound/ Sound Design … Tim Lloyd
Cinematography … Lin Hun-Chung
Boom Operators … Joe Spinelli
Dubbing Mixer … Peter Fenton
Sound Consultant … Don Saunders
Make-up … Michelle Lowe
Wardrobe … Byi Syou Jen
Technical Advisors … Officers of the Z Special Force
Association of NSW
Production Company … John McCallum Productions
Classification: Wartime Drama
Runtime: Australia: 93 min / USA: 84 min
Country: Australia / Province Of China Taiwan
Australian Distributor: Roadshow
Production Budget: N/A
Language: English / Japanese / Mandarin
Certification: Australia: M
Norway: 16 (1982)
Attack Force Z was first released at the Cannes Film Festival on the 18th May 1981.
Unfortunately my research uncovered conflicting dates in 1982 to when it was
released to the box office. Other countries for release included Sweden, United States,
Norway and the United Kingdom.
Also Known As: The Z Men
Z-tzu te kung tui (Taiwan)
Now available on DVD and Video
(DVD Features: An interview featurette with John Waters, Chris Haywood and
John McCallum; the original theatrical trailer.)
AT THE BOX OFFICE:
The following figures can be found through the Movie Marshall website
Opening weekend: N/A
Gross: $AUD 88,000.00
Ranked 323 overall for Gross takings by an Australian film
“They‟ll do the impossible or die trying”
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS:
The original director for this fact-based story was Phillip Noyce. Due to “creative
differences” executive producer John McCallum replaced him with Tim Burstall
shortly before production began.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ‘Z’ FORCE:
The Inter-Allied Services Department, a cover name for the Special Operations
Executive – Australia, raised special units to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage
operations. These units were known as M Special and Z Special Units. The Z special
Force was a secret operations unit made up of volunteers from all branches of the
Allied Forces and came under the direct command of General Douglas Macarthur.
The Z Special forces carried out two hundred and eighty-four wartime missions in the
Pacific. The most publicized of these were the successful canoe raid on Singapore
harbour from the „Krait” and the subsequent Rimau raid in which all twenty-three
participants were either killed in action or executed. (Attack Force Z, Burstall.T,
Trivia: There is a memorial dedicated to the Z Special Unit, it is located on Garden
Island at Rockingham, near Perth.
International Movie Database – A comprehensive online film database, which
provided valuable statistical information for my project. http://www.imdb.com
Movie Marshall – An online database providing the gross takings for over 400
The New York Times / Movies – The newspapers online database
Cinefile – An online database for reviews and ratings for Australiana films
MSN Movies – An online database for information on movies
Interviews with Filmmakers
“The events depicted in this film are an honest and unflinching account of the type of
operation carried out by our unit during the war.”
John. R. Gardner
Z Special Force Association of N.S.W
PART II – CRITICAL REVIEW
Attack Force Z is the tale of an elite military unit dispatched to the South Pacific
during World War Two. This team of crack commandoes‟ mission is to rescue the
survivors of a plane crash, one in particular; a Japanese defector has a secret which
may lead to the end of the war. If the Z Force is going to be successful it will have to
encounter Japanese forces, as well as local Chinese villagers.
Director Tim Burstall‟s 1982 film Attack Force Z depicts the story of an elite unit of
commandos during World War Two. The Z special force is made up of a blend of
allied troops, all of which have volunteered for the unit and the mission it is assigned.
The unit comprises of Capt. Paul. G. Kelly (Mel Gibson) and Sgt. Danny. J. Costello
DCM (Sam Neill) both members of the Australian Imperial Forces, Lt. Jan „The
Dutchman‟ Veitch (John Phillip Law) of the Army of the Netherland East Indies,
Able Seaman A. D. Bird nicknamed Sparrer Bird (Chris Hayward) of the Royal Navy
and Sub Lt. E. P. King aka Ted King (John Waters) of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
This elite squad of Allied soldiers led by a young Mel Gibson and under the direct
command of General Douglas MacArthur is on a covert mission to invade a tiny
tropical island under the cover of night.
The setting for this World War Two drama is the Straits of Sembalang on a remote
Japanese occupied island in the South West Pacific. The date is the 10th January 1945
and the Z force‟s mission is to rescue the survivors of a plane that has crashed on the
island. Somewhere on the island, a defecting Japanese government official and an
American delegate are being sheltered from the Japanese Army by members of the
local underground. Only Capt. Kelly knows the identity of the Japanese official that
they either have to rescue or kill, for he holds the secret to ending the war. Although
the Chinese aren‟t pleased about the Japanese occupation of their island, they are
nevertheless hesitant about the arrival of Z force and the consequences involved in
helping them. For the Z force to stand any chance of completing their objective, they
are going to need the help of the local resistance.
During my formative years, I watched many a war flick. It didn‟t matter whether it
was Where Eagles Dare, Kelly’s Heroes or Guns of Navarone, as long as there was
action and it was reasonably fast-paced, I would enjoy the experience. Attack Force Z
is no different as it posses all the attributes of a wartime drama, albeit on a presumed
lower budget. It‟s enjoyable to watch the very young looking Mel Gibson leave his
mark on a somewhat wooden script. Although Gibson and Sam Neill play second
fiddle to declining actor John Phillip Law. Unfortunately for a supposedly Australian
film it was lacking much in the way of distinctive Australian characteristics other than
the accents. This is fundamentally a boy's war movie.
REASON FOR PRODUCTION, RELEASE AND BOX-OFFICE:
There was no literature to support this theory, but it is my belief that, this was
Australian cinema‟s attempt to follow in the footsteps of the US and UK producers of
films from the wartime genre. This argument is supported by the use of up and
coming stars of the silver screen such as, Mel Gibson and Sam Neill to help re-enact a
piece of historical wartime history. The casting of an identifiable face in John Phillip
Law was clearly aimed at a larger market then a purely Australian audience. Although
he was not originally cast as the main protagonist, Gibson‟s rise to fame was such that
when the film was released on video, some video companies upgraded him from 3rd
in the cast to top billing.
Tim Burstall was born on April 20th 1927 in Stockon-on-Tees, England, UK. He
received acclaim not only as a director, but as a writer and producer. Burstall directed
Stork, the 1971 comedy, for which Bruce Spence won an AFI for best actor in a lead
role. Stork became the nation's first commercially successful feature since Jedda in
1955. He also made Alvin Purple in 1973, the first Australian feature released
worldwide by a big US distributor. He has made a total of 12 feature films, more than
35 short films plus several television series and mini-series across many genres. After
Attack Force Z and up to the time of his death in April of 2004 he worked extensively
in television with credits including Great Expectations-The Untold Story and series
such as The Man from Snowy River series and the Water Rats.
In 1960 Burstall's first film, The Prize, won an award at the Venice Film Festival.
He also received numerous AFI Awards, including Best Director and Best Film, as
well as receiving the prestigious AFI Raymond Longford Award for significant
contributions to the Australian film industry. Tim Burstall is credited as someone who
helped to revitalise the Australian film industry in the 1970‟s.
Trivia: Tim Burstall was the Father-in-Law of Sigrid Thornton.
A quote from Bruce Spence after his death "It's a tragic loss and most unexpected,
I was talking to him about two weeks ago and his creative flame was still burning
The writer credited with the Attack Force Z is Roger Marshall (I). The only other
notable credits for Marshall were popular TV police dramas: The Sweeney (1975),
The Professionals (1977) and Dempsey and Makepeace (1985).
Mel Gibson as Capt. Paul.G.Kelly
Mel Gibson, Australia‟s quintessential Hollywood superstar! Well okay, so what if he
only studied in Sydney at NIDA, I like to think that the Australian film industry
assisted in shaping one of Hollywood‟s most popular leading men. Some of Mel‟s
early acting work included the part of Ray Henderson during the 1976 season of the
hit Australian TV series The Sullivans. Mel‟s supporting role as the intense Capt.
P.G.Kelly in Z Force is one of the more convincing performances in the film.
This performance follows those of his AFI award winning roles as Tim (Tim, 1979)
and Frank Dunne (Gallipoli, 1981). Mel Gibson has since gone on to star in over 40
feature films including the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon films, as well as the award
winning Braveheart, (1995). More recently he has starred in Hollywood blockbusters
such as The Patriot, 2000 and We Were Soldiers, 2002.
Trivia: Attack Force Z is Mel Gibson‟s lowest ranked film in relation to gross
takings at the box-office.
John Phillip Law
John Phillip Law stars as Lt. J.A.Veitch a multi-lingual idealist who is sent to assist
the Allied commandoes. His only other notable roles were as a vengeful cowboy in
the Western, Death Rides A Horse and opposite Jane Fonda in Barbarella, 1968.
Sam Neill as Sergeant D.J. Costello
The character Sgt. D.J.Costello is played by the shinning star of New Zealand cinema
Sam Neill, the man Australians like to call their own. Previously to his role in Attack
Force Z Sam Neill starred in My Brilliant Career, (1979) and also played the role of
Ben Dawson in The Sullivans, (1976). His star quality as well as his commitment to
the Australian film industry can‟t be overlooked.
Besides some noteworthy performances in TV dramas, Sam Neill has been a luminary
of Australian cinema for many years. Some his more recent roles include Walter
Murray Gibson in Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, (1999), Cliff Buxton in The
Dish, (2000) and the dirty copper Ray in David Caesar‟s Dirty Deeds, (2002). Besides
his involvement with Australian cinema Neill has appeared with some of the biggest
names in Hollywood. Notable mentions include Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm, 1989),
Sean Connery in the 1990 submarine drama The Hunt for Red October and Robin
Williams in Bicentennial Man, (1999). His most recent performance was as Kirsten
Dunst‟s over protective tennis Dad, Dennis Bradbury in Wimbledon, (2004).
Awards: 1989 AFI award for best actor in a lead role (Evil Angels).
In my opinion Chris Haywood epitomises the Australian identity in Australian
cinema. Some early roles include Rod "Spike" Morley in the TV series Alvin Purple
(1976), Darryl in the 1974 Gothic flick The Cars That Ate Paris, Cpl. Sharp in the
Boer War drama Breaker Morant (1980) and the pesky Curly in Banjo Patterson‟s
The Man from Snowy River. After his role as Sparrer Bird in Z Force, Haywood won
an AFI award for Best Leading Role in 1985 for his performance as Col Turner in A
Street to Die. Following that success Haywood, has since appeared in outstanding
Australian films such as the 1994 hit Muriel's Wedding as well as the 1996 acclaimed
In recent times playing the role of law enforcer has become a forte‟ of Haywood‟s. He
played Det. Hummer in Kiss or Kill, 1997, he then moved up the ranks with the
character of Det. Sgt. Wilansky in Blackrock (1997) and most recently Det. Sgt.
Karskens in the 2002 drama Black and White.
Like the Antipodeans previously mentioned John Waters had a role in the hit
Australian TV series, The Sullivans (1976). He later played the part of Capt. Alfred
Taylor in the 1980 wartime drama Breaker' Morant (1980). Following Z Force
Waters appeared as Brenton Edwards in the 1984 TV mini series All the Rivers Run as
well as his cherished moments as Fred Mitchell in TV series Neighbours. His most
distinguished performance to date came in the 1988 film Boulevard of Broken Dreams
with his AFI award winning role as Tom Garfield.
Trivia: In between the years of 1979 and 1989, the cast of Attack Force Z
accumulated a total of 6 AFI awards between them.
The late Lee Robinson was born 22nd February 1923 in Sydney, New South Wales.
Prior to Z Force Robinson was involved with the Australian TV phenomenon Skippy;
there were no noteworthy credits in Australian cinema to follow.
Born in 1940 England, the editorial talents of David Stiven were acknowledged in the
early 1970‟s when he won an AFI award in 1973 for Best Achievement in Editing for
Gillian Armstrong‟s short film One Hundred A Day. His resultant work included Tim
(1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981) before he landed the job with Attack Force Z. Since Z
Force, Stiven‟s only notable credit was the first Crocodile Dundee film, unfortunately
for Stiven he also worked with Paul Hogan on the 1988 sequel Crocodile Dundee II
and the atrocious 1990 comedy Almost an Angel.
The billboard for ‘Almost an Angel’
The man who composed the music for Z Force, Eric Jupp was born 7th January 1922.
Some of Jupp‟s musical credits were with the classic Australian TV series Skippy, he
also wrote the musical score on Mel Gibson‟s 1979 film Tim. Eric Jupp died on 2nd
January 2003 in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia resulting from complications of a
A vinyl cover of a 1960’s Eric Jupp album.
Trivia: Eric Jupp worked with David Stiven on at least four other productions.
No information relevant to Australian cinema was found on Lin Hun-Chung.
Sam Neill, Mel Gibson & Chris Hayward
There is no doubting the talent of the cast in Attack Force Z, yet unfortunately the
film itself is a poor second to other Australian films of the same genre. Such wartime
classics as Gallipoli and Breaker Morant have not only received more awards as well
as acclaim, they are still spoken of in high regard within both the Australian Film
Industry and audiences alike.
Australian Film Institute (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL:
http://www.afi.org.au/awards/generalinfo.asp (Accessed May 2005).
Burstall Tim, 1982, Attack Force Z, Roadshow Pictures, Australia.
Cinefile (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL:
International Movie Database (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL:
http:// http://www.imdb.com (Accessed 13th March 2005).
The Movie Marshall (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL: http://
www.moviemarshal.com/idg-australianfilms.html. (Accessed 13th March
MSN Movies (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL:
(Accessed May 2005).
The New York Times / Movies (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL:
Sam Neill website (Online), Available World Wide Web: URL: