The Octagon (1980): Breakdown by Kain424
A martial arts master must track down and confront his estranged brother, who is training ninja terrorists.
Before Cannon there was American Cinema, making B-Action films from the 1970s onward. It is fitting then that their star player at the time, Chuck Norris, would usher in the type of Action for which the next decade would become known. More than perhaps even An Eye For An Eye, The Octagon shows a glimmer of things to come with car chases, shootouts, explosions and martial arts fighting.
That being said, the film is still carrying over the styles (in both film and fashion) of the 70s. But with an impressive cast that includes Lee Van Cleef and up-and-comer Norris, things are off to a good start. In fact, there are several small roles from people who would gain more notable ones in the future, including Ernie Hudson, Tracey Walter, and former John Belushi bodyguard Richard Norton. Norton actually gets to play a couple roles, as a recruiter and one of the primary villains.
Taking the fitness obsession that had begun sweeping the nation a few years before and adding to that the martial arts craze that had also begun taking hold in Hollywood, The Octagon mixes these elements and ends at the next logical level: Ninjas. Though the ninjutsu way had been seen in earlier films, it was here that they began appearing in the low-rent 80s flicks as villainous assassins. As Chuck Norris was already known as an accomplished martial artist, having his opponents also be skilled in the deadly hand-to-hand arts only makes sense.
As can be expected, the movie is hard to take seriously. The actors aren’t master thespians, the dated fashions easily take hold of one’s senses and become distracting at times, and an echo-plex device is used as a stand in for Chuck’s inner thoughts. This creates unintentionally hilarious results:
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Still, the dialog is written cleverly, even if the actors can’t always pronounce it quite right, and there are a few actors with a natural charisma to them making the best of their scenes. And as this is a Chuck Norris picture, the main reason for watching the film is for the fights. For fans of Norris’s style, The Octagon does not disappoint in this category. Norris uses a hard, fast, and powerful style, emphasizing strength over flashy moves or acrobatics. This contrasts well against the ninjas of the film, who have a quick but ultimately ineffective style whose movements are given a shadowy appearance by their dark costume.
Ultimately, this is one of Chuck’s better early films and one of the best Ninja flicks ever made. The fights are great, there are shootouts with terrorists and ninjas, chicks with machine guns, giant explosions, and Lee Van Cleef as a hard-as-nails mercenary. What else do you need?
[HOW BAD-ASS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?]
Chuck Norris is Scott James
James is a martial arts master, having been raised by a Ninja alongside his adoptive brother. He trains every day, and yet seems to fear confrontation. He doesn’t seem to have a job, but appears wealthy despite this fact. The only thing you really need to know, however, is that this guy can take on hordes of ninjas and even another master with equal training and barely take a scratch. He’s a bad-ass without a cause.
[THE BODY COUNT: 32]
The gore is plentiful here, with the violence punctuated each time with blood and squib-work. Most of the deaths are ninjas at the end of the film, with Chuck Norris killing 9 of them. This, of course, makes him the film’s most lethal character.
[MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING & DEATH]
Chuck Norris vs. Richard Norton as Kyo
Norris makes his way through the Octagon of the film’s title and has to take on the hissing bad-ass ninja Kyo. In a fight that utilizes swords, sais, fists and feet, the two masters kick the shit out of each other. In essentially one long take, the fight is an example of what can be done when filmmakers use people who actually know how to perform these moves. It’s total bad-assery, ending with a burning-man stunt and a sword chop.
[MOST SATISFYING DEATH]
Karen Carlson dies in the film’s most satisfying death. I hate to sound like a jerk, but she really was annoying and I was glad to see her manipulative ass finally go.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
There are several excellent shirtless scenes featuring Chuck Norris and other characters. Richard Norton, as a character named Long Legs, gets to wear the film’s gayest outfit, a vest with a bob haircut and a tiny mustache.
Then, of course, there is the relationship between Scott and A.J., perhaps the queerest thing in guy-to-guy action relationships of the 80s until Lethal Weapon. The two men constantly tease one another, going after different women they seem to have no actual intention of sleeping with just to make the other person jealous. They attend ballet performances together and spy on one another constantly. Scott’s own inner monologues reveal he thinks about A.J. frequently, and after A.J. gets killed, Norris finally emotes.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
As a rule, B-Action films typically feature damsels in distress. And while The Octagon does this, it also adds the noir cliche of a femme fatale. Karen Carlson’s character of Justine is a manipulative tramp, using her body and money to exact revenge over the death of her father. She sleeps with men able to do the job and plays upon their innate need to protect and express pity. Aside from her, we get some bimbo A.J. seems to be with (and treats like shit) for the sole purpose of making Chuck Norris jealous.
Fortunately, there is one strong female character played by Carol Bagdasarian. Aura is a terrorist-in-training for much of the picture, but seeing the nasty ways of the ninja make the dark-haired woman change her mind. By the end of the flick, Aura has nearly become the flick’s coolest character, blasting away ninjas and blowing up their compound.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
NORRIS TAKES ON THE OCTAGON
Trapped by the ninjas he is fighting, James is given one chance to escape: make it through the lethal obstacle course of the film’s name, The Octagon! Over water and past a set of walls, Norris gets involved in a series of uneven battles. The fight scenes are quite impressive, and Chuck’s display of skill is even more so.
An ex-terrorist appears in Scott James’s apartment and, aiming an uzi at him says, “I need your help.”
Scott smiles and responds casually, “I like the way you say ‘please’.”
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Face your fears and confront violence head-on or you’ll lose everything you care about.