Rage of Honor | Blu-ray Review
Stemming from the wild success of Cannon’s B-picture ninja streak with films like the Franco Nero starred Enter The Ninja and its Shô Kosugi starred sequels, Trans World Entertainment decided to amp up their newly launched production game by enlisting the help of the German director Gordon Hessler and stealing the burgeoning martial artist Kosugi for a pair of action pictures in the ninja carbon copy Pray For Death and the more flamboyant actioner Rage of Honor. It’s the kind of fun and flimsy beat ’em up romp you might have expected to show up on TNT on a Saturday afternoon a couple decades back. There are probably better things to do, but why not indulge in some flying split flips and explosion defying leaps?
The physically talented, but overly hammy Shô plays Shiro, a DA-ish hard boiled cop whose partner is killed in a drug bust gone bad. Like an inane, narratively lax, globetrotting precursor to Infernal Affairs, there seems to be a mole. Played by the mangy, murderous, and cyborg-like Lewis Van Bergen, the drug kingpin Havlock leads Shiro to scour the Earth’s seas and jungles to avenge his partner’s death and recover a mysterious floppy disc wanted by the corrupted department he formally worked for. All along the way Shiro is confronted by countless baddies – kitana touting ninjas, spear tossing tropical natives, flame throwing drug dealers and beyond – each with little to no motivation to impose violence on Shiro, but who cares? There’s ninjas, natives and flamethrowers!
Pair that with passable hand to hand combat, plenty of airborne acrobatics and an impossibly catchy 80s synth score by Stelvio Cipriani (A Bay of Blood, Baron Blood) that could easily have come from the Nintendo classic, Double Dragon, which was released the same year – 1987. Upon the film’s original US release, I was just eight months old, but already being primed for high-octane action with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme already in primetime rotation, a video rental shop just down the block and plenty of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal to look forward to later down the pipeline. Hessler’s late period burst of B action productions fit soundly within that low-budget Corman lineage and directly into that Cannon canon. Plot points, performances and conversational coverage were always an afterthought, but
As is usual with Arrow releases, the restored digital transfer and cleaned up audio are a welcome way to revisit this ’80s B-actioner. Plus, all the excellent extras surely help to enlighten on the details of the production and Kosugi’s career as a whole.
Sho and Tell Part 2: The Domination
Following Part 1, which is included in Arrow’s Pray for Death Blu-ray release, this new interview with Sho Kosugi on Rage of Honor and the later stages of his film career sees the action star speak about the differences between Japanese and US productions, his thoughts on the current cinematic reliance of CGI, and his professional relationship with the Wachowski sisters. It’s proof that the man remains full of passion for filmmaking and ninja movies. 18 min
Interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani
Probably known most from his work with Mario Bava on films like A Bay of Blood and Baron Blood, here Cipriani talks about how Gordon Hessler came to know his work and the styles he honed throughout his filmmaking career. 3 min
Writer Chris Poggiali discusses the rise in popularity of the ninja film in the US during the 1980s, starting back at the root in the 60s Bond films and running through the Chuck Norris picture The Octogon, James Clavell’s Shōgun and beyond. 8 min
Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery
Included within are trailers for Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983), Pray for Death (1985) and Rage of Honor (1987).
Though I can’t say Rage of Honor is among my favorite B-grade crime romps of the ’80s, it does remind me of all the beat ’em up television I consumed throughout the ’90s. Despite the frankly hilarious narrative disconnects and wooden line deliveries, there is something nostalgically satisfying about the film’s rejection of logic in favor of fist pumping stunts and straight bonkers action sequences. It’s cinematic penny candy – cheap, empty calories, and enjoyable almost solely due to ease of consumption.