The Octagon (1980)
Director: Eric Karson
Trinity Home Entertainment
Although Japanese folklore can only vaguely pinpoint the origins of the ninja, Scott James can look at a roomful of corpses and determine the cause of death: ninjas! Does it have to be ninjas? Couldn’t it be disgruntled employees? Ninjas are as good a guess as aliens, I suppose. Chuck Norris plays Scott James. James is a guy like Chuck Norris. The film never fully explains James’ stake in the scenario presented except that he is an ex-soldier, ex-professional fighter, and he trained as a ninja. As the story progresses, he acquiesces to a call from someone for an assignment. Who does he work for? It doesn’t matter. Scott James walks around kicking ass. Women swoon. Evil schemes fail. His entering a room is enough to stop a square dance.
The movie is mostly a series of fights with an occasional break thrown in to attempt a plot. Eventually, we are treated to the martial arts expo we are all waiting for. James and all his cronies converge on his old training camp run by his arch nemesis Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita). There, ninjas get a chance to show off their ninja training: training that covers important topics such as how to hang around under leaves until an intruder happens by and how to stop in the middle of a fight you are winning and swing your weapons around skillfully until you get kicked in the head. And throwing stars. Yes, there are throwing stars. But as movies no longer seem to care about time, space, or the limitations of the human body when it comes to action sequences, The Octagon delivers great analogue action and is the best vehicle to showcase Chuck Norris’ talent as a martial arts practitioner.
The Octagon contains early appearances by Oz and Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson and character actor Tracy Walter. The movie was written well before the Internet, before people had ready access to casual information. All that people knew about ninjas in 1980 was that they are awesome. That’s really all you need to know to enjoy The Octagon. -Billups Allen