Rage of Honor
Following his star turns in 80s actioners Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, Sho Kosugi continued his domination of the US martial arts movie with 1987's Rage of Honor helmed once again by Pray for Death director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad).
Federal agent Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi) used to live for his job now, he lives only for revenge. When his partner is killed during a bungled drug bust, Shiro throws away his badge and the rule book with it: arming himself with an array of deadly weaponry including nunchucks, blades and ninja stars he sets out to Buenos Aires to settle the score with the bad guys.
Packing explosions, flying kicks and somersaults aplenty (as well as some truly logic-bending stunt sequences), Rage of Honor sees Kosugi at the top of his game as he battles his way from the streets of the urban jungle to the very literal jungles of South America.
Gordon Hessler’s Rage of Honor, starring Sho Kosugi, gets a surprise Blu-ray release, presenting the film in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc, marking the first time that I know of where the film has been released on home video in widescreen. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a 2K scan of the original negative.
Similar to my reaction to Arrow’s Pray for Death I was incredibly surprised (in a good way) by what we get here. The film oddly opens in a ratio closer to maybe 2.20:1 and looks this way during the opening credits. After the credits it then changes to 1.85:1. It’s actually always looked this way on home video: I recall the VHS looking like this and the otherwise full-screen DVD released by MGM also looked this way. Because of this I was always under the impression the film’s ratio was actually closer to 2.35:1 rather than 1.85:1, but multiple sources do confirm this is the correct ratio.
Most of the limitations to the presentation come from the source. In general it holds up surprisingly well, and damage isn’t altogether that bad: bits of debris and some scratches remain, but it’s in otherwise excellent condition. The opening presents moments where the image seems to jitter a bit, but the old MGM DVD also does the same so I have to assume it’s a source issue.
Detail is rather strong, though not overly so. Textures are a bit limited admittedly, and depth isn’t all that impressive, but the transfer itself is very clean, retaining the film’s grain structure, which looks to have been nicely rendered here, though a bit thick. At the very least it remains looking natural. Colours look saturated well enough, though rarely pop, and black levels can be fairly deep, but I felt details could be crushed out during darker moments.
It could probably be better but I’m not going to complain: this film is near-forgotten, so the fact it’s getting any sort of Blu-ray release is probably a miracle. But I’m happy to say that quite a bit of effort was put into this and it does look quite good in the end. Far better than the previous MGM DVD (and now in widescreen), we get a far more filmic looking presentation.
Arrow supplies a lossless PCM stereo surround track. The previous MGM DVD actually featured a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, though in essence it really worked primarily as a Dolby Surround track, with the surrounds working together.
As it stands it sounds about as good as I would expect it to. Dialogue can be a bit flat, while action scenes seem to be lacking that real kick, but the volume levels are still adequately handled and fidelity is decent. The film’s music sounds pretty good, though there is an odd effect in the opening: at one point, just as the opening credits come to an end, the oh-so-80’s opening track, which does spread to all of the speakers, suddenly collapses to the center speaker before fading out. After this, though, the action, and the film’s score, then spreads back out to the other speakers. Nothing like this occurs at any other point and the MGM DVD doesn’t do this. Otherwise I didn’t detect any difference in the mix between that DVD and this Blu-ray, though I would say the general quality is a bit sharper.
At the end of the day, though, it’s an effective enough track, just lacking that punch I guess I would have hoped for from an action film.
Admittedly the film is a guilty pleasure of mine (though I shouldn’t really say that as I don’t feel at all guilty about liking it), from its odd Bond/Ninja mashing to some very questionable choices (that “tribe” Kosugi runs across in the last act of the film) but it doesn’t surprise me the film hasn’t received too much love in the past. The fact MGM even bothered putting out on a pressed DVD (not a “burn-on-demand” like other Kosugi titles such as Enter the Ninja and Pray for Death) for it way back in the day still surprises me (though it was basically featureless and in full-screen, so it’s not like a lot of effort went into it). But here is something I never thought I’d actually see: a full-on Blu-ray release from Arrow, and not only does it receive a rather decent transfer, it also actually presents some special features. What the…?
Though granted it’s not a lavish special edition, but Arrow did go to the effort to add some new interviews, starting with part 2 of an interview with “martial artist” (not “actor” as he points out—he knows his limitations) Sho Kosugi. This 18-minute segment, which picks up from where the one on Arrow’s Pray for Death left off, feature Kosugi talking about this film and then his career afterwards. It’s interesting hearing about the story behind this movie and why it’s such an odd film: producers wanted to aim for a broader audience so they wanted to tone down the ninja aspect, which is why it feels more like a Bond film, at least in spirit. He talks about Gordon Hessler, who he considered a good friend (they even worked on another script that never went into production), working with the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and being cast in Ninja Assassin. He also promises he will have a new film coming out, probably in 2017, and explains how he stays in shape. I loved both of these interviews (something he says he rarely does, so I guess Arrow et al are lucky here), which are both fun and energetic.
There’s then a quick interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani, who, for 3-minutes, simply talks about how he came to be chosen to do the score (it looks like this is just a piece of another longer interview) and then we get a 7-minute interview with Chris Poggiali, who gives a quick overview of the American Ninja genre (which includes five American Ninja films) that came about in the 80s.
Like with their Pray for Death Blu-ray Arrow again includes a trailer gallery for some of Kosugi’s films, including Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Pray for Death, and Rage of Honor. The booklet includes an essay on the film and the genre by Derek Botelho, and like Pray for Death, we get another excerpt from his book, Yin-Yang Code: The Drums of Tenkai-Bo. I believe this booklet will only be included in first printings but I think it’s worth getting for it. And, as usual with Arrow releases, the reversible sleeve features the film’s original poster art.
So, yes, not a loaded special edition, but again I’m impressed Arrow even put in the effort of including anything, and luckily what we do get is actually pretty good.
Arrow puts together a rather loving edition for this film, which I figured was pretty much doomed to the bargain bins for all of eternity. They manage to give it a rather impressive looking presentation and have included some great features. Highly recommended for fans.