Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Challenge


  Now here's a movie that makes collecting VHS worthwhile. The cheapest most available copy of this movie is $40 on ebay. Not including shipping. Some heathen went ahead and uploaded a VHS-rip to Youtube a while ago, but there's something about owning movies like this that just automatically make you better than people who don't. Not really. I kid, but it's certainly really cool. I always seem to have on hand, an armada of cool movies most people I know haven't seen. Introducing someone to something they'll like is always a great feeling. Whether it's food, a movie, a band, a book, even a video game. It's an awesome feeling. In part, it's why I have this blog. To introduce people to movies I think they'll like. I think you guys will like this one. Enter: The Challenge.

  I actually bought this from a friend of mine. He runs a store here in Pennsylvania called Jay and Brian's Excellent Video Store. One of the coolest places to go if you dig movies, period. Now as far as I know, this movie isn't even available on DVD, so the tape itself is pricey as I pointed out above. They happened to have a copy for $25. A veritable steal. Trust me when I say, it was totally worth it. The movie is about an out-of-luck ex-boxer named Rick (Scott Glenn) who's offered a ton of cash by a Japanese man and his sister to covertly bring a valuable sword back to Japan for them. Rick agrees, and unknowingly ends up in the middle of an age old feud between two bitter brothers. A feud that seems destined to end in bloodshed!

  Yay!

  I love old ninja movies, old samurai movies, old Scott Glenn, young Scott Glenn, ninjas in general... samurais in general... samurai swords... swords, swords plus Scott Glenn... Scott Glenn with sword vs samurai with sword? Perfect. Okay okay, I'll stop. Yet if any of that sounded remotely appealing, you should probably watch this movie. Scott Glenn is a typical cocky American fighter. He comes across like a poor man's David Carradine in just about everything, yet for some damn reason I like Scott Glenn better. Like... by far. So watching him learn the ways of the samurai and go through some crazy shit was really fun. His performance really carries most of this movie. Not gonna lie.

  The first two thirds was almost straight drama, a few chase scenes here and there. Nothing much to speak of in terms of spectacle or action. Yet the drama is tense and suspenseful. It's directed with laser pointed efficiency by director John Frankenheimer. He does a masterful job here. Alas, Rick is consistently pulled back and forth between both brothers. One a simple sensei with a dojo and a philosophy couched in the old ways, and the other a billionaire businessman with a compound fit for a G.I.Joe villain. It should be fairly obvious which one is the villain. Yet I found myself at times mentally putting myself into Rick's shoes. What does he care about either side?

  The sensei is aloof and devoid of any sort mentor-like warmth... and the businessman, although his methods are ruthless... he's willing to give Rick a huge chunk of change to deliver the sword to him. From this perspective... it's no contest. Rick ends up seeing that the meager sensei is an honest and hospitable person. He ends up devoting himself to learn from the sensei, and in due time becomes a trusted student. The arc is nicely handled, even if we have seen it a billion times. Also, a movie like this simply would not be complete without a romance subplot. It might've been leaner without it, but they used it to decent effect to give the plot a kick in the butt when it needed it.

  If you've seen The Hunted with Christopher Lambert, this will seem a little too familiar. Fortunately though, The Challenge scratches the itch that The Hunted presented. The Hunted might have had a tighter pace and a little more action sprinkled throughout, but it felt fairly basic. I can't explain how The Challenge feels any different through the first two thirds of the movie... but it has charisma, and it has Scott Glenn. They both feel a little basic I guess, but The Challenge was clearly building up all this tension and drama for a hell of a climax. The Hunted's climax felt par for course, but The Challenge went straight up Delta Force on me.

  Rick and his newfound sensei storm the enemy's fortress to rescue a damsel in distress and settle the brotherly feud once and for all. It's so awesome! The snappy editing shines through, highlighting the action scenes in a way we just don't get anymore. This movie was made with the right people, in the right era, and in the right way. The drama, tension, and charisma all bubble to the top in the climax. The movie ends with a bang and one of the best sword fights I've seen in long time. It's interesting to watch Rick fight in the movie, because clearly he's adopted the skills and ideals of the samurai, yet unlike so many other movies in the same vein, Rick is still a cocky American fighter. He throws punches in a sword fight, and uses whatever he has around him when he's cornered like he's in a bar fight. It's great.

  The movie itself is a most excellent find, I'm glad I bought it and I'm glad I saw it. It was worth the money I paid for it, and I readily suggest it to anyone looking for a good east meets west movie with Scott Glenn, swords, and a badass climax.

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