I Saw A film!
Forty-one years ago Chuck was 40. I was about 15 and went to the Coventry, RI cinema (which later became a restaurant- when the multiplex opened in the late 80s) and saw this film. As a teenager obsessive about martial arts and martial arts films, I was entirely forgiving of the many boring tangents and annoying whispered voice-overs this film employs to tell its story.
To be fair, the Octagon was one of the first films we saw that deeply involved the concept of ninjas. Of course, they’re basically silly versions, wearing bright red armor and clambering up the outsides of buildings with steel cleats, doing lots of breath control, and setting up goofy cartoon traps. James Bond also had a moment with ninjas long ago, but they were quite peripheral to the old 007 story.
Here what we have is a slow boil to Chuck realizing ninjas are being trained to be terrorists and are trying to control publishing concerns. Hmmm. Chuck meets a lady whose father, a newspaper magnate, was done in. She’s aware of the terrorists who have been threatening her as she parades around in immense fur coats and huge hair.
Meanwhile, the typical louts are gathering for the hokey “training”. Only the body sleeps the mind must stay alert! We’re told, and we watch as the godfathers of video-game bosses beat up the wanna-be mercs. Of course we’re treated to lots of crappy sticks and sai routines, and bad attitudes turning into laughable fist-fights.
Sadly, the slow build to Chuck doing his version of Enter the Dragon takes forever, and we simply lose interest in the two damsels-in-distress he’s meant to be getting his information and guidance from. It’s fun to see Lee Van Cleef here, as well as a small collection of other unexpected TV faces. Including the voice actor who played the Yukon gold-hunter from the old 1964 Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer show. Why? Who knows. But Chuck’s own son plays him young as he’s mistreated by his “brother” and the adult training them. Nothing but scars could possibly have come from the way the training was executed, but as kids we loved it. Once he has a foot race through a gauntlet and slightly beats his brother they are declared enemies for life! Sounds productive. And, Chuck has to go kill this wayward bad brother now. When we finally get to the kooky-looking octagon training facility, and Chuck fights his way through the wait is somewhat paid off. Chuck always looks impossibly fast and accurate with his strikes. There’s no taking away from him his impressive speed and grace. However, much of the surrounding action is throwaway. Lots of our mercs decide to turn against the training bosses, but just end up taking arrows to the chest.
All in all it’s an amusing revisit, but even the mighty Chuck could not really save the ponderous mess this mess of a film offers. Chuck is sexless, booze-free (I swear at one table as he talks to his friend AJ there’s a glass of actual milk on the table), and mostly passionless. Even when he beats up some of the mercenaries at a recruitment center (during some of his dead-end research) he merely looks amused by them. He invites them to try again. Definitely one of his better moments as a slick humble ass-kicker.
This is running free on Prime (usa) and despite the film needing a good edit, it’s still a fun Saturday Night retro watch.