Blu-ray Review: The Octagon [Kino Lorber Studio Classics] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, May 25th, 2024  

The Octagon

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Sep 19, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Former karate champion Chuck Nor—whoops, Scott James—is reluctantly roped into taking down a prestigious International School for Terrorists which, it turns out, everyone he encounters in his day-to-day life is somehow connected with. Not only are multiple girlfriends targeted by mysterious ninja assassins, but his best friends—high-priced mercenary McCarn (Lee Van Cleef) and fellow karate champ A.J. (Art Hindle)—happen to hold vendettas against this far-off ninja training facility. Who is behind these dastardly deeds? And could they possibly be related to Chuck’s estranged, adoptive brother, Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita), reputedly the only person on Earth capable of training martial artists in the dark arts of the ninja?

Released in 1980, The Octagon was the third of Chuck Norris’ films for American Cinema Productions following Good Guys Wear Black and A Force of One. (All three were recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.) Climaxing with Chuck facing off against a small army of ninjas in the film’s titular arena, this movie actually predates the ninja craze which swept Western pop culture by the mid-1980s. The ninjas here, however, come off more like stunt men getting slapped around in black pajamas—they don’t make ninjas look anywhere near as cool as Sho Kosugi would soon do in films such as Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja. And so while The Octagon technically came first, ninja-mania would have to wait a couple years to catch on.

As cool as the premise of Chuck Norris kicking ninjas around sounds, this is probably the weakest of Norris’ three ACP pictures. A lot of that has to do with an overly complicated storyline that squeezes in twice as many characters as needed, each with different motivations that ultimately point to the same result. There’s a pretty consistent correlation between the quality of a Chuck Norris movie and how little time it wastes on things that aren’t Chuck Norris doing what he does best: wrecking dudes with karate. A movie about Chuck Norris fighting ninjas shouldn’t be this boring, but The Octagon is relentless in showing us scenes where someone asks Chuck to go fight ninjas for them, and Chuck politely saying ‘no thanks.’

The Octagon’s kitchen sink plot also saw fit to provide Chuck Norris with not one, but three different romantic interests: prima ballerina Nancy (Kim Lankford), sultry heiress Justine (Karen Carlson), and aspiring commando Aura (Carol Bagdasarian). This adds lots of extra drag to the sections where Chuck isn’t kicking his way through anonymous ninja foot soldiers; as an actor whose woodenness is already unmissable when he’s asked to show emotion, he can look downright uncomfortable whenever he’s forced to act out romance with a female co-star. To his credit, Chuck himself acknowledged this weakness by the next phase of his film career, and would regularly ask producers to downplay or even remove his hero’s love stories. But in The Octagon, we’re forced to watch him visibly squirm through scene after scene of beautiful women throwing themselves at him. He looks like an awkward thirteen-year-old boy approaching a girl at a middle school dance.

If you can hang though until the very end, the movie vastly improves once Chuck stops dragging his feet and finally starts using them against ninjas. The climactic battles play out like modern video game level design, complete with endless ninja grunts who go down with a single Chuck-punch, an unnecessary platforming section, and a pretty cool mini-boss battle before our hero finally squares off against the Ninja leader. While there are some gigantic action scenes to finish out the movie, anyone hoping that this would be Missing in Action meets American Ninja will come away sorely disappointed.

Finally, it’s impossible to talk about The Octagon without mentioning that Chuck’s character has an inner monologue that pipes in whenever the movie has a rare moment of silence. He not only whispers exactly what his character is thinking, but does it through an Echoplex—the same tape delay heard in Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” and so many other classic rock tracks—so that his whispers repeat over and over themselves. This would probably be aggravating in most movies, but for some reason it’s really fun in The Octagon—perhaps because we’re listening to Chuck Norris explain the very obvious through a silly sound effect.

Like their releases of A Force of One and Good Guys Wear Black, Kino Lorber’s new special edition of The Octagon looks really strong given its low-budget source, and is crammed with extras. The disc includes a new commentary by action scholars Mike Leeder and Brandon Bentley, as well as an older commentary from director Eric Karson. There’s also a deep gallery of advertising spots and an archival Making Of featurette that has some fun production stories in its second half. All-in-all, it’s a robust selection of supplements.

The Octagon isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t come close to living up to the high expectations it sets through its cool poster and what should have been a can’t-miss premise. We’d recommend either of Kino’s other two new Chuck Norris reissues before this one, but if you’re a bigger Chuck Norris fan, The Octagon’s AV quality and package of bonus features make this edition well worth grabbing.



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