RAGE OF HONOR (1987) Blu-ray
Director: Gordon Hessler
Arrow Video USA

Shô Kosugi is back with a RAGE OF HONOR in his Trans World Entertainment follow-up to PRAY FOR DEATH, on US-exclusive Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

After an unauthorized raid on a drug lord's yacht in Buenos Aires, U.S. Drug Investigation Bureau agent Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi) and his partner Ray (Richard Wiley, DEEP SPACE) are targeted for death. Back in Phoenix, Ray is lured to Tetra Imports on a false lead where he is tortured to death by urbane sadist Havlock (Lewis Van Bergen, BUGSY). Shiro discovers his body and manages to survive the explosion meant to kill him. When bureaucrat Sterling (Gerry Gibson, RACING WITH THE MOON) forbids him from going after Havlock, Shiro quits the force and takes his girlfriend Jen (Robin Evans, ONE DARK NIGHT) on a vacation to Argentina. He gets a tip from associate Dick (Chip Lucia, X-RAY) that Havlock may be associated with a Rova Exports executive (Carlos Estrada) whose business is a front for drugs; indeed Dick is on his way out of the country with a floppy disc containing the country's potentially incriminating database. After an attempt on Jen's life, Shiro convinces her to accompany Dick on the next private plane out. While Shiro infiltrates Rova and virtually obliterates the operation and the personnel in an attempt to discover who betrayed Ray and him to Havlock, even getting himself arrested to get to the survivor before he is silenced by Havlock's specialists. When Sterling turns up and tells him that Dick's plane was hijacked but Dick and Jen managed to escape into the jungle with the disk, Shiro braves the Amazon and its inhabitants in search of them, but Havlock and his men are also on the hunt.

Slicker with somewhat higher production values, better fight coverage, and special effects although blander in story and lacking the grisly violence of PRAY FOR DEATH's unrated cut, RAGE OF HONOR could actually have used some of the former film's audaciousness with much of Havlock's predilections for S&M and torture more implied than depicted (Ray's torture by hot poker is truncated by an R-friendly cutaway and scream while the threat of sexual violence against Jen is limited to Havlock advancing on her knee deep in a shallow portion of Iguazu Falls). Besides choreographing the fight scenes, Kosugi also designed several of his own weapons (including a combination throwing star/smoke bomb). Stunt extras fall in the double digits in action set-pieces glutted with gunfire and pyrotechnics but little onscreen gore, and Havlock's comeuppance is a bit of a letdown. The twisty plot is rather predictable and Hessler once again wisely favors the action scenes over exposition, making the end result not quite as outrageous as the preceding film but still an entertaining time-waster. Stelvio Cipriani (BARON BLOOD) provides a funky score, including an uncredited theme song even catchier than that of PRAY FOR DEATH.

Released theatrically by Trans World and on video by Media Home Entertainment, RAGE OF HONOR was released on DVD by MGM in a fullscreen transfer and then more recently as one of their manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer has some peculiarities of its own. The opening and closing credits are framed at 2.00:1 or thereabouts while the bulk of the film is framed at 1.85:1. While some close-ups seem rather invasive, the film does not look cropped from a scope ratio. The look of the transfer – possibly due to the cinematography of Spanish DP Julio Bragado (PANIC BEATS) – is less consistent with grain sometimes heavy in what seem like adequately-lit interior scenes (reportedly 101 Film's UK Blu-ray of last year came from a pillarboxed fullscreen 1.33:1 master mistakenly provided by MGM). The LPCM 2.0 rendering of the Dolby Stereo track is reasonably punchy when it comes to sound effects and the theme song and scoring of Cipriani. The optional English SDH subtitles do not appear to have any errors.

The Kosugi interview continues from PRAY FOR DEATH in "Shô and Tell: Part 2" (17:48) in which he discusses how the film was an attempt to move away from ninjas to James Bondian adventure for a wider audience (he soon realized that ninjitsu was his niche). He makes the observation that American action films have much more coverage than Japanese ones, and that stunt people in American films are more likely to get injured or killed (before listing off several of his injuries throughout his filmography). He discusses his later films including BLOODSPORT and BLACK EAGLE, as well as the honor of being asked by the Wachowski brothers/sisters (the MATRIX trilogy) to play the villain in NINJA ASSASSIN in which he only choreographed his own fight scene (not wanting to step on the toes of the film's appointed martial arts choreographers even though they and director James McTeague asked him for advice. He also discusses his friendship with Gordon Hessler and their plans to put together another project before he passed away, as well as his plans to make the film in Hessler's memory.

Cipriani (2:47) appears in a brief interview, seemingly an extract from another featurette, in which he discusses recalls that Hessler contacted him about scoring the film because of his admiration of the composers work on his Italian crime films (including KILLER COP and WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO OUR DAUGHTERS?). In "American Ninjas" (7:34), Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali discusses the rise of the Ninja film in the 1980s, including the western interest in Japanese culture following the miniseries adaptation of James Clavell's SHÔGUN. He also covers the Cannon films with Kosugi, the AMERICAN NINJA series, and the two Trans World efforts. The same "Shô Kosugi Trailer Gallery" from PRAY FOR DEATH is included here, including a fullscreen trailer for RAGE OF HONOR (1:35). PRAY FOR DEATH and RAGE OF HONOR are Arrow's USA-only releases since 101 Films has licensed them in the UK. Not included for review are the reversible cover and the booklet that comes with the first pressings featuring extracts from Kosugi's biography. (Eric Cotenas)