If you are really lucky and care enough, you may find, in the void known only as the Wal-Mart Discount DVD Bin, one famous Chuck Norris film from 1980 called The Octagon. It is noteworthy not because the late Lee Van Cleef is in it and is the best actor in the entire film, not because the film was the last Norris film under indie guerilla style studio American Cinema (which has a nice featurette on the DVD about the rise and fall of the studio), which could make an entertaining film all of itself, but rather, this is the only known film where Norris goes up against a terrorist camp run by ninjas.
Yes, the photography is murky, yes, the grainy transfer isn’t the best. Darn right this would look better in a widescreen. Yes, the ninjas and thier leader, Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita)- the adopted brother of the film’s hero Scott (Norris)- should train thier mercenaries a little better. Alright, even by 80’s standards, this was low class cheese. Chuck’s voice overs didn’t help. Did the flashbacks? All I know is as a kid I didn’t like Seikura much, simply because in those flashbacks he was a whiny sore loser. I really didn’t see much friendship or distrust between the two, it is just a simple case of jealousy, envy and how one, Scott, winds up knowing good guy CIA mercenaries and Seikura would grow up to train wannabe assassins and terrorists in the art of ninjistu. An interesting note is that few, if any “graduates” from the ninja training program actually get to wear ninja outfits. Those that do sometimes look like second hand street muggers, and are easy pickings for Cleef’s boys as they blow ninjas off various buildings.
Does it matter? When, in the glory days of my youth, the plot was odd and Karen Carlson as Rich Socialite Justine, as cliched as the character was, when her character was knocked off by a ninja, I was kind of sad. But then Carol Bagdasarian’s Aura made up for it, as she kicked some tail, shot off some guns, and got lucky with Chucky.
One thing for sure, Richard Norton steals the movie- not as mercenary recruiter ‘Long Legs’, but as that whacked out, snake hissing head ninja, Kyo – Seikura´s right hand guy. Octagon may have aged badly, but for five or six bucks? That’s a bargain. Because, folks, the main show is not only Kyo’s hissing at and knocking off mercenaries who argue in the soup line, oh no, no. It’s when Scott goes after Seikura, infiltrates the camp, and goes through several ninjas (some of who were again played by Norton), but that fight between Scott and Kyo? Priceless.. In a sad way, it’s also a letdown. After seeing Kyo in action, I always thought, this head ninja is really loyal. There is no doubt he could have wiped the floor with his boss’ own blood. That’s the sort of hissing villany Kyo could be capable of. When Scott faces down his former “brother”, the film is so poorly lit that it can’t top the Kyo fight before it, not to mention that Seikura was practicing all day with his Kusari-Kama . How sad.
Still, my childhood memories were intact. It was a lame, cheaply acted film. But it is the film that helped put Norris on the map, I always liked legendary tough guy Van Cleef no matter what he was in, Ernie Hudson, later of Ghostbusters had a cameo as an up and coming boxer, and the last act where Norris really does his thing in the Octagon…insane.
The Octagon (1980)
Directed by: Eric Karson
Written by : Leigh Chapman
Starring: Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef, Richard Norton, Karen Carlson, Art Hindle, Carol Bagdasarian and Tadashi Yamashita.
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