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  Octagon, The Ninja Binger
Year: 1980
Director: Eric Karson
Stars: Chuck Norris, Karen Carlson, Lee Van Cleef, Art Hindle, Carol Bagdasarian, Tadashi Yamashita, Kim Lankford, Larry D. Mann, Kurt Grayson, Richard Norton, Yuki Shimoda, Redmond Gleeson, Alan Chappuis, Brian Libby, Ken Gibbel, Ernie Hudson, Tracey Walter
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: A Canadian diplomat has been assassinated by some expert terrorist planning - but what has this to do with martial arts champion Scott James (Chuck Norris)? Scott has retired from fighting after a tragic accident during a bout, despite his undoubted skill, and tonight is picked up by a young dancer who takes him back to her place. But the second he walks through the door, he is suspicious: why is the bulb out? And are there figures lurking in the shadows? Yes there are, and his companion is killed off by them as he tries to save her and defend himself... someone, somewhere is training ninjas.

The first thing you should be aware of before you watch The Octagon is that Chuck goes sans beard in this one, he has a bushy moustache, but his chin is well and truly exposed. This could be to indicate our hero's exposed emotions in this acting workout for the high kicking star, but if you can work out what is happening to whom and why in this murkily plotted thriller, then you might have a better idea. Scripted by Lee Chapman, for an action movie it's pretty cheeseparing with the combat, with some of the ninjas even dispatched with the use of a machine gun, which is surely cheating.

In fact, that brief burst of violence at the beginning is your lot as far as the martial arts we want to see Chuck administering go until the last twenty minutes or so. Before that, we have to sit through a kind of detective story with Chuckles slowly working out that his old childhood friend Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita) is behind the ninja attacks and gradually coming round to the idea that he should probably do something about it. Along the way, he meets rich Justine (Karen Carlson) who contrives to get to know him after staging a car breakdown, but has ulterior motives.

One of the reasons The Octagon has gone down in history is the use of the voiceover, which leaves us privy to Scott's thoughts. In effect... effect... fect... ect... it results in a weird echoey style of speaking - "Oh my God - ninja... ninja... inja... ja...!" that adds nothing to the plot, certainly not clearing anything up, but does add a layer of hilarity, and that's always welcome. He doesn't do what Robert Hays does in Airplane! when faced with a similar situation, but we have to assume there's a lot of empty space in Scott's mind for his thoughts to reverberate around so much.

All that empty space is because his fighting skills have scared away any other thoughts, we presume, it's the only logical explanation, but after a while we grow impatient for the action to begin. Scott also has feminine interest from a terrorist at the training camp, Aura (Carol Bagdasarian), who sees the error of her ways and leads Scott back to the training camp at the end. For male companionship, there's Art Hindle whose sole purpose is to be beaten up by the bad guys, and Lee Van Cleef whose purpose is - here, wait a minute, what was his purpose? Coolness by association, I suppose. The climactic fight is not between Chuck and his childhood friend, but with Richard Norton as one of the ninjas, which is fair enough but does mean the film ends incredibly abruptly. Music by Dick Halligan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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