Review: The Octagon (1980)

Starring Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef, Tadashi Yamashita

Fight Choreography by Aaron Norris

Directed by Erik Karson

The Octagon is a heartfelt story of one man’s quest to live the rest of his life never having to see or deal with that normal affliction many 80’s action heroes had to deal with…ninjas. Okay, so heartfelt is a strong word…but it kinda is. The Chuck Norris love is on full display here, as the film opens with Chuck standing silhouetted in from of a setting sun, talking a lot of nonsensical shit that still won’t mean much later. The film then jumps to a group of lively looking folks walking in the forest toward a village, followed in the brightness of day by ninjas wearing black, because of course they want to blend in with the forest surroundings which makes perfect sense, assuming the person you are following is color blind.

We then cut to a rich old guy leaving his mansion in a limo only to get shot like 15 times point blank by assassins, who aligned with the ninjas. We then meet Scott James (Norris) a karate champion, who goes on a night out on the town with a pretty yet vapid woman named Nancy. He takes her home, and dammit, before he can charm her into the sack with that moustache of his, ninjas attack. Now, to this point I thought this film might be autobiographical, but alas it wasn’t. But it would be fun if it were. What occurs during this fight, and after, and throughout the whole damn film is hearing Chuck’s inner monologue, which is his voice speaking in a whisper for no damn reason. Does an inner monologue have a whisper? Any time ninjas are around, that monologue goes off like some sort of damn ninja-spider sense kind of thing.

To get back to the moment at hand, they do jump Chuck, and he makes them pay, but they do kill Nancy, and to be honest, he must really not have cared for their date too much as he didn’t seem too broken up about her getting stabbed to death. In fact he seemed kinda relieved.

Actually, how the hell did he know they were ninjas other than his ninja sense? They looked like a bunch of douchebags wearing black clothes that looked like those makeshift Halloween costumes you make when you find out you’ve been invited to a party at the last second and rifle through your closet to put something together.

The next day James goes to see an old mercenary friend named McCarn played by Lee Van Cleef, who seems to only exist in this film to tell James to watch his ass, and to shoot a few bad guys in an attempt to protect James. Meanwhile, and throughout the first half of the film we are treated to really weak scenes of ninjas trying to train the new douchba-I mean recruits on how to be ninjas. I’m not sure the guys teaching them know how to be ninjas, but at least they dress like them.

We then meet another rich lady named Justine who was related to Nancy (I think) who tries to get James to help save her from the ninjas, but what she doesn’t realize is that James knows that the ninjas were trained by a childhood ninja classmate named Seikura, who dreams of ninja domination. Just as all ninjas do, I think.

Soon, after an inexplicable car chase that must have been left on the cutting room floor from Smokey and the Bandit, he goes back to see McCann and realizes that McCann knows about the ninjas too. Back at the ninja ranch, once French dude figures out that while being a ninja is cool, training to be one actually sucks ass. He tries to leave, but a well placed shuriken in the back of his neck says otherwise in a hilariously bad acting scene as he dies. Jeez, I know it was this guy’s only scene, but damn, dude!

James then attends a merc rally in an attempt to be recruited so he can get to them from the inside, and who should turn up but Richard Norton (City Hunter, Shanghai Express) as one of the recruiters. Of course this doesn’t work, and Justine winds up getting killed, and his buddy CJ kidnapped by the ninjas, and James goes to free him, but must go through the ninja maze known as the Octagon to meet Seikura for one final duel…

Ugh. I know this film helped start the ninja craze of the 80’s, but our standards must have been low back then. Chuck acts like Chuck, and the story here is truly insipid, and the side stories with his friend AJ make no sense. The ninjas look like they are on a pledge drive for as much urgency they portray. The story plods along, as we get varying behind the scene things going on that really go nowhere and don’t really matter. Not to mention the fact that while James is the hero, he doesn’t save a damn person. Pretty much everyone he tries to save dies. Not a great track record for a hero, but since this isn’t a great film, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Oh yeah, and hearing Chuck’s internal monologue is truly headache inducing.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Chuck pretty much fights everyone with the same trademark moves he uses in every fight. The best fight in the film isn’t against Seikura, but against his second in command, which is a great fight until the end of it. The rest is Chuck fighting a bunch of guys who really don’t know how to fight. It’s obvious Aaron Norris never watched a damn asian martial arts film, or else he’d know how much his choreography sucks.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. What weak stunts there are is combined with horrendous acting, which makes this almost a Troma flick. Actually Troma flicks have better stuntwork. No offense to Lloyd Kaufman.

STAR POWER: (6) Chuck Norris and not much else. Look out for Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow) in an early appearance, and of course martial artist Richard Norton, who made better films with Cynthia Rothrock.

FINAL GRADE: (4) If anyone wondered why Chuck Norris is such a movie icon, they won’t find it out here. A terrible ninja movie that takes itself way too seriously for the story they present.


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