Stars: Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Gerry Gibson, Charles Lucia, Richard Wiley, Carlos Estrada, Ulises Dumont, Theodore McNabney, Alan Amiel, Armando Capo | Written by Robert Short, Wallace C. Bennett | Directed by Gordon Hessler
As a kid who grew up in the video store there were a few staples in my cinematic diet – none more so than the VHS releases from Imperial and Trans World Entertainment. From chop-socky flicks featuring an incredibly young Jackie Chan, to the ninja films of Sho Kosugi, I could not get enough of the Far East fight action. However the death of VHS also saw the death of those types of films being freely available here in the UK. Sure you can go down the import route (which I did for a number of those dear-to-my-heart action movies of the early 80s) but there’s nothing quite like walking into a store and picking up a kung-fu classic every now and again.
Thankfully Sho Kosugi seems to be undergoing a resurgance on Blu-ray, not only are Eureka set to release the Ninja Trilogy (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III) next month, but the folks at 101 Films are releasing some of his flicks as part of their cult movie collection! First up is 1987′s Rage of Honor…
Directed by Gordon Hessler, Rage of Honor follows narcotics cop Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi), who vows revenge when his partner is murdered by sadistic drug dealers. Disobeying orders, he tracks the killers from Singapore to Buenos Aires. But in a cruel twist, the killers kidnap Tanaka’s girlfriend and take her deep into the jungles of South America. Now, armed with an arsenal of deadly weapons, Tanaka must use all his powers to destroy a battalion of highly trained terrorists and get her back.
Hessler originally found fame making horror and fantasy movies in the late 60/early70s but would, in the mid-80s, direct not only three episodes of The Master, the Lee Van Cleef martial arts show (which also co-starred Sho Kosugi), but also work with Kosugi on three martial arts movies: Rage of Honor (1987), Pray For Death (1985) and Shogun Warrior (1991). Whilst Pray For Death is easily the best of the three (and is coming to Blu-ray in February, again courtesy of 101 Films), Rage of Honor isn’t that far behind. This time round Hessler mixes the tropes of the early 80s ninja movies with more Americanised action movie cliches, creating something of a hybrid action movie that, if it wasn’t for Kosugi and the “ninja movie” tag, could have easily featured Chuck Norris as the hero.
Watching Rage of Honor today, in a climate where any type of action is possible thanks to special effects and CGI in particular, it’s surprisingly to see just how well the film stands up. Back when i first saw it I though this was one of the high points in the ninja movie genre and even now – almost 30 years later- I still hold that opinion! It’s all down to Sho Kosugi who was, and I posit still is, THE king of the ninjas. Thankfully he was allowed to choreograph the fights in the film so at all times you really believe he’s a badass cop and even moreso a badass ninja… Even if in this movie he dresses like Don Johnson in Miami Vice a lot of the time!
The Rage of Honor screener I was supplied with was a 4:3 anamorphic presentation of the film, with no extras (though the retail release does come with a trailer). The picture quality on 1010 FIlms’ release is superb, there is some grain but for the most part the image is incredibly clean and surprisingly crisp – much better than the well-worn rental tape I originally saw the film on and even better than the MGM Region 1 DVD, making this well-worth the upgrade.
Rage of Honor is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from 101 Films.