Sho Kosugi, seen in last year’s NINJA ASSASSIN, became a brief exploitation star in the 1980s after a series of Cannon action flicks that included REVENGE OF THE NINJA and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, as well as the shortlived TV series THE MASTER, in which Kosugi played an evil ninja in pursuit of star Lee Van Cleef. At the height of his stardom, Kosugi teamed up with producer Don Van Atta and director Gordon Hessler to make two action pictures for Transworld Entertainment: RAGE OF HONOR and this one filmed in Houston, Texas.
Akira Saito (Kosugi) moves his wife (Donna Kei Benz) and two young sons (played by Sho’s real sons Shane and Kane Kosugi) from Tokyo to Houston, where they buy a restaurant and plan to live a normal life. It’s the same restaurant some corrupt cops have been using to store stolen merchandise in the back room. One of them swipes a priceless necklace (named after producer Van Atta) from their boss, Limehouse Willie (James Booth), who wants it back. He blames the Saitos, who know nothing about the criminal enterprise happening on their own property, and torments the family for its return.
The last thing anyone should do is mess around with the family of a ninja, and the pain Akira inflicts on Limehouse and his boys couldn’t happen to nicer guys. Booth (AVENGING FORCE), who also wrote the ludicrous screenplay, plays Limehouse like a real nasty bastard, and all of the villains are sadistic bigots who inflict violence on children, so there’s no doubt we’re on Sho’s side when it comes time to dispense vigilante justice.
The MPAA originally saddled PRAY FOR DEATH with an X rating, but Hessler and Transworld removed some of the more gruesome scenes to get an R. Although MGM has been pretty good about releasing uncut versions on DVD and the MGM HD cable channel, it appears the PRAY FOR DEATH running on MGM HD is the R-rated cut, judging from some rough editing in some scenes of violence. Unfortunately, the film could use the extra footage to spice up Hessler’s flat direction. The very long fight scene at the end between Kosugi and Booth is worth the wait with Sho dressed in a ninja suit of armor and Booth arming himself with tools ranging from an axe to a chainsaw.
In RAGE OF HONOR, released by Transworld two years later in 1987, Kosugi plays Shiro Tanaka, a federal narcotics agent working undercover in Buenos Aires to bring down a major drug operation run by the sadistic Havelock (Lewis Van Bergen). One night while Shiro is dining in a tuxedo at an elegant restaurant with his gorgeous American girlfriend Jennifer (Robin Evans), his partner is tortured and murdered by Havelock. Enraged at not only Havelock, but also his by-the-book boss Sterling (Gerry Gibson) who pulls him off the case, Shiro quits the agency and bolts to Argentina, where Havelock has also kidnapped both Jennifer and his pal Dick (Chip Lucia), leading to a one-man assault on Havelock’s jungle retreat.
Although Kosugi doesn’t wear his traditional ninja garb, he’s still the same old Sho, mowing down dozens of foes with his vast armory of edged weapons. Spikes, spears, shurikens, whatever—stand in Sho’s way, and prepare for a blade in your gut. Or forehead. Or neck. And sometimes Kosugi even kills the old-fashioned American way—with a good ol’ automatic pistol.
As directed by old pro Hessler, RAGE OF HONOR is very standard ‘80s action fare, lacking the outlandish absurdities of Kosugi’s more entertaining Cannon fodder. It does pick up in the second half after Kosugi begins his trail of vengeance, culminating in a climax that feels lifted from Chuck Norris’ CODE OF SILENCE. It also contains less dialogue for its star, whose mangling of the English language is in direct proportion to his stiff performance, and unfortunately Hessler hasn’t recruited a supporting cast strong enough to counterbalance Kosugi’s shortcomings.
Kosugi played opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in BLACK EAGLE and Rutger Hauer in BLIND FURY, but virtually disappeared from Hollywood movies to work in Japanese television and train performers in the martial arts. Fans were happy to see him return to the big screen with a solid supporting role in last year’s NINJA ASSASSIN.