Friday, November 2, 2012

Ninjas learn not to mess with Chuck Norris

It's the annual Nine Days of the Ninja here at the Cinema Steve blog network.

The Octagon (1980)
Starring: Chuck Norris, Karen Carlson, Lee Van Cleef, Tadashi Yamashida, Richard Norton, and Larry D. Mann
Director: Eric Karson
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A retired professional martial artist who just happens to be the adopted son of a ninja master (Norris) is drawn back into the world of violence and ninja intrigues when his brother (Yamashida) starts a martial arts school for international terrorists.

"The Octagon" is the film that launched a thousand "American ninja" movies. It was a surprise hit for the production company--that had reportedly pitched it to investors as a tax write-off--and it stands one of the very best examples of this kind of film. It's also an early Chuck Norris film and one of his bests, as it makes as much sense as a movie featuring ninjas building a secret lair/major militarized terrorist compound a short drive from a major urban center can, and it is non-stop plot, action, and/or neat fight scenes from beginning to end.

Chuck Norris is Chuck Norris--meaning that he is wooden but likeable--and most of the rest of the cast is made up of pretty decent B actors. Except for Lee Van Cleef... he plays another one of his you-love-to-hate-him sort of bastard characters... and he does it with his usual A+ style. But what really makes this movie are the various fight scenes. The grand showdown in the terrorist training camp, as well as the final battle between Norris, Norton, and Yamashida in the titular octagon arena has rightfully made it onto numerous "best fight sequence" or "best action sequence" lists. All the wire-fu, jump cuts, and computer graphics tricks that infest movies these days can't hold a candle to the real skill on display here.

Oh, and filmmakers--please PLEASE pay attention to the cinematography in this movie if you think you want to make a martial arts film. If you have people who can actually do martial arts, you should be doing mostly medium or long shots and pans rather than cuts when filming the fights. Let the audience see the skill on display. Don't do the god-damned close-ups that I keep seeing in so many martial arts and action films made after 2000 or so.

Even if your one of those strange people who say you don't like watching old movies, this is one you should check out if you your action films with a side-order of Ninjas.

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