Now available in North America, for the first time since its glorious VHS days, John Frankenheimer’s The Challenge , an above average action flick, is out on Blu Ray (this week) from Kino Lorber Classics.
While being set up by a wealthy Japanese businessman while bringing back an antique sword from the United States, a washed-up and greedy American boxer is mixed up between two rival feuds in Kyoto, Japan.
Fresh from his terrific supporting role in Urban Cowboy, character-actor Scott Glenn was finally getting a shot at a starring role in this action drama. Learning the craft of swordsmanship by none other than Toshiro Mifune as the head of the clan, Glenn’s character has to deal with family tradition, honor, generational conflicts and the way of the samurai. What elevates this film from other routine action films from the early 1980s is the reverence for Japanese culture in general, its traditions and the juxtaposition between traditional and modern weapons. Expertly handled by Frankenheimer, the film has some great set pieces for solid action and a big score by Jerry Goldsmith. Note the martial art choreographer is none other than Steven Seagal, still an unknown at the time.
- For variations on the same subject involving a gaijin (foreigner) with criminal gangs in Japan you can look for the terrific The Yakuza by Sydney Pollack or the enjoyable (but flawed) Black Rain by Ridley Scott.