Movie Review: The Octagon

Ever since the passing of Bruce Lee in 1973, Hollywood had been on a kung fu craze. Martial arts action films dominated the airwaves through the mid-seventies and into the eighties.

Before they were taken over by the larger-than-life 80s action hero who used guns and explosives more than high kicks and fancy takedowns.

The Schwarzeneggers, Stallones and others pummeled their way into the glory of the 80s and slaying Cold War villains.

“The Octagon” came towards the end of the martial arts craze. Chuck had been there at the beginning facing off against Bruce Lee in the now classic action scene from 1972’s “Way of the Dragon” it would be Lee’s last Hong Kong martial arts film before 1973’s “Enter the Dragon”.

Chuck had been encouraged to get into acting by his friend Steve McQueen who he trained in martial arts.

Chuck was a multi-North American Karate champion with a record of 65-5 between 1964 and 1974.

They called him “unbeatable” which made him the perfect choice to square-off against Bruce Lee in “Way of the Dragon”, his first starring role in a motion picture.

“The Octagon” embraces parts of Chuck’s past as in the film he stars as a retired martial arts champion who while attending a martial arts expo gets caught up in a conspiracy that involves a renegade group of ninjas creating a training ground for terrorists.

The film’s last 30 minutes are why this movie is so remembered by fans. The first almost 90 minutes are so unforgettable it is almost laughable. That surprised me because I remembered this film as jewel in the Norris library. But the story is convoluted and nothing really happens. There is a love story sub-plot that it seems the writer gave up on.

Karen Carlson is not appealing at all as Chuck’s love interest. If I would have been casting this film I would have swapped Kim Lankford and Karen Carlson. Kim Lankford’s short appearance in the film is just much more interesting than anything Carlson brings. Lankford also had wonderful chemistry with Chuck opposed to Carlson. I did like the chemistry between Chuck and his final love interest Carol Bagdasarian but even that felt rushed. But she was great in every scene she was in and one of the strongest female characters in any Norris film.

Also other than plot devices what were Lee Van Cleef and Art Hindle really doing in this film? What were Lee Van Cleef’s motives? I mean its like he was there one second and gone the next.

I would have liked to have seen him and Chuck take on the Octagon. You know like Van Cleef did in his series “The Master”. That would have been cool. As for Hindle, well he is great character actor but really he is only memorable here for his hair.

This should have been full tilt Chuck vs. Ninjas. Expand his backstory with his evil brother, his connection to the ninjas, give him deeper motivation and structure before taking on the camp and quit trying to splice in needless drama scenes and that utterly ridiculous voiceovers with an echo.

I liked the last 30 minutes but I just wish the film was more like that overall.

(2 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer

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