Rage of Honor (1987)

Starring Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Gerry Gibson, Charles Lucia, Richard Wiley, Carlos Estrada, Ulises Dumont

Directed By Gordon Hessler

Like a sneak attack from the shadows, I bring you another stealthy actioneer from Sho Kosugi: Master Ninja™!

Rage of Honor is definitely a low point in the Sho Kosugi arsenal. Taken as a straight 80’s actioneer it will definitely satisfy. The film not only contains genre staples such as jungle warfare, shirtless dudes with machine guns, and slick-haired assholes in bright suits and aviator sunglasses, but it also seems to stem from that holy trifecta of all great action films of the era: Heroin, Uzis, and Organized Criminals.

That’s great if your name is Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone. But if you are Sho Kosugi, purveyor of all things ninja, you come to expect a little more. Don’t get me wrong, Sho does a lot of ninja-like things this time around. You’ll get your shurikens, grappling hooks, and exploding smoke bombs. Unlike previous films however, he decides to ditch the ninja costume and Japanese mysticism for a more Americanized, guerrilla warfare approach. The result is not a ninja film, by any stretch. It’s more like a ninja-tinged, loosely tossed together version of First Blood, Part II.

This is Rage of Honor’s fatal flaw. By trying to fit Sho Kosugi into the Stallone mold, you will lose a lot in terms of quality ninjustsu antics. I want to see motherfuckers scaling walls, tossing straw dummies at each other, and spitting spiked caltrops out of their mouths like watermelon seeds. You can’t have it both ways. I’m not interested in South American drug lords, slow motion explosions, or torrential gunfire if it comes at the expense of Sho’s crazy-ass, high flying ninja shit.

Dissecting the film will leave you with plenty of great, trademark Sho moments however. You have Sho punching henchmen into bubbling vats of heroin. Sho flipping around in warehouses, executing ten-foot high double split kicks while firing rounds of ammunition into bad guys. Sho snapping necks. Sho crossing canyons with grappling hooks, and Sho romancing the ladies while wining and dining them in an expensive tuxedo. Let’s face it, even in a film as ill-suited as this, Sho is still the fucking man.

Also of note is that Sho seems to throw more concealed weapons in this film than in all of his others put together. No longer satisfied with plain ol’ vanilla throwing daggers and shurikens, he decides to pad his extensive arsenal with computerized ninja stars that eject blades with the touch of a button and explode on impact. I have no idea where he keeps all of this shit. When he is dropped by helicopter in the Argentinean wilderness I only saw a crossbow and a piece of rope on his person, but it never gets old watching him produce knives, stars, and explosives out of nowhere within the blink of an eye.

And although he doesn’t have an opportunity to go full bore into ninja mode, he does get to battle ninjas a few times in the film. The first fight against a couple of ninja “specialists” whose only specialty seems to be cutting tossed apples in half is pretty lame, and ends seconds after it begins. Later on though, in a moment of PURE INSANITY, Sho takes on a gang of camouflage ninjas armed with flame throwers, machine guns, and swords while an airborne chopper fires rockets down at him, always missing their intended target, but never failing to destroy random jungle huts in towering explosions.

The film’s main villain (played by Lewis Van Bergen) seems like an uninspired attempt to recreate the ruthless Limehouse Willy of Pray for Death fame. Even though he looks like an unthreatening cross between The Karate Kid III’s Thomas Ian Griffith and soft rock legend Michael Bolton he still has a few choice moments, almost making the grade when he utters the immortal line “I like pain. Precisely, I like inflicting pain!” Unfortunately he never seems to reach the soaring heights of James Booth’s demented character, despite a thorough knowledge of karate and an uncanny ability to return from what looks like certain death a couple of times throughout the film. When he and Sho lock swords in the film’s final battle, even the cool sparking effects from the clashing steel is not enough to make the fight interesting.

Rage of Honor would perhaps work a little better with about 30 minutes excised from its total running time. Towards the middle, the film bogs like a marketing seminar and if it wasn’t for Sho’s gruff trademark growling of his lines I would not have made it through. Thankfully the film picks up towards the last 40 minutes or so when our hero accidently stumbles upon a tribe of face-painted natives who attack with spears and blowguns for no apparent reason.

Still, I don’t think there’s anything that can save this film from ultimate back-burner status. Taken as a slice of ham-fisted 80’s action, it will provide a few thrills. But comparing this to a film like Revenge of the Ninja is like comparing a plain throwing dagger to a computerized exploding shuriken.