Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Octagon

In just his fourth starring role, Chuck Norris plays Scott James, a martial arts superstar who retired from competition after seriously injuring an opponent. Now he just works out and hangs around the site of the latest big match with his karate pal A.J. (Art Hindle, who's got the feathered hair thing going big time).

Scott and A.J. attend a dance recital, and Scott, after meeting the lead dancer backstage, asks her to dinner. His plans for romance are foiled after he takes her back to her place to discover an army of ninja has slaughtered her entire family. During Scott's battle with them, the dancer dies. The next day, he meets sexy heiress Justine (Karen Carlson from THE STUDENT NURSES), who tries to trick him into hiring on as an assassin. She wants to whack a man named Seikura, who she believes murdered her father. Scott knows Seikura well—they grew up together in Japan as brothers, but Seikura was forced to leave after shaming their father.

There's much more going on in director Eric Karson's film, including a secret training base for ninja assassins run by Seikura in Central America, a crusty old mercenary with a hoop earring played by B-movie vet Lee Van Cleef (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY), and the "octagon" itself, which is never explained or showcased very well by Karson. It's actually an impressive set—an eight-sided obstacle course filled with blade-wielding ninja who leap out of every corner and behind every barrier.

Norris' climactic tangle in the octagon is the best scene in the movie, even if you hardly understand the plot to that point. It's possible Karson (OPPOSING FORCE) was aware of his story's pitfalls, since he in no way skimps on the action, throwing in several well-choreographed (by Chuck and his brother Aaron) karate battles, along with a few explosions, a car chase, some bullets, and even a burning man. Still, it's hard to take seriously an action film that tries to illustrate what's going through its hero's head by having Chuck dub his thoughts in a low whisper and playing them back with a laughable echo effect ("Seikura-ah-ah-ah...why-why-why-why? My brother-er-er-er-er.").

THE OCTAGON isn't one of Norris' best films, but it's well paced with lots of kung fu fighting and a cool score by Richard Halligan. Co-starring are Carol Bagdasarian, Tadashi Yamashita, Richard Norton, Kim Lankford, an unbilled Tracey Walter, Brian Tochi, stunt coordinator Aaron Norris, and Chuck's son Mike as Chuck's father in a flashback. You also might notice big Brian Libby, who later turned up in a much larger role in Norris' SILENT RAGE.

Paul Aaron, who receives story credit, was probably originally attached to direct, since he had just worked with Chuck on A FORCE OF ONE. Screenplay writer Leigh Chapman (DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY) had an interesting career, combining acting as "The Girl" in '60s television shows like THE MONKEES and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. with penning action-oriented scripts for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and THE WILD, WILD WEST.

Below is the original theatrical trailer for THE OCTAGON's 1980 release, digitally remastered for the recent Blu-ray.

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