The Films (3.5/5 - Pray for Death, 4/5 - Rage of Honor)
Sho Kosugi was a grand master of the martial arts who moved to the U.S. in the late 1960ís. Although he appeared in a few bit parts in the 70ís in films like the Godfather Part II, Bruce Lee Has Risen from the Grave, and the Bad News Bears Go to Japan his big break would in the 1980ís when he would star in a series of 3 unrelated films for Cannon Films in which he would play a variety of ninja roles. After his big break with Cannon he would make 3 more ninja films, two of which, Pray for Death and Rage of Honor from Transworld Entertainment are being released this month by Arrow Video.
Pray for Death sees Kosugi playing a Japanese businessman named Akira Saito. Akiraís wife convinces him that it would be a good idea to leave the familyís Japanese home, and move to America in search of better opportunities. The pair end up in a pretty bad Houston neighborhood renting a home that will also work for their restaurant business. Their home however has a big problem, it already doubles as the drop off point for a local gang of thieves. Before the Saitoís moved in the gang had left a bunch of important jewels in the home including the Van Atta necklace, which has quite some significant value. The gang begins to terrorize the family, unaware that Akira is actually secretly a powerful mythical ninja. When they end up killing his wife, Akira goes to get his revenge on the gang using his ninja power.
Rage of Honor was made 2 years later and in this one Kosugi plays a cop named Shiro. He is dedicated to his partner Ray, and his job on the drug squad. One night when Shiro decides to take time off to take his girlfriend on a date, Ray sneaks into the compound of an insane drug kingpin, Havlock. Rayís attempt to investigate the compound is unsuccessful, and he gets caught, tortured, and killed. In true 80ís vigilante action spirit Shiro goes off to get revenge. He ends up quitting the force, and following Havlock around the world to get even.
Pray for Death utilizes the Death Wish/Vigilante formula that was quite popular in the 80ís. In Pray for Death Kosugiís character attempts to restrain himself for much of the films running time with only a few minor action scenes before things go nuts for a pretty awesome third act. Rage of Honor was made 2 years later, and is much better paced. It retains the vigilante formula seeing as Kosugiís character in this film decides to seek revenge and leaves the police to do so. The fact that the settings shift pretty frequently in this one, and the film also utilizes action more and better than the prior film makes this one quite a bit more fun then Pray for Death.
Both films share similar negative attributes, clichť action movie plots, questionable acting and in the case of Rage of Honor a very limited soundtrack. However, both films excel when they let loose with the ninja violence which was personally choreographed by Kosugi for both films.
Pray for Death and Rage of Honor were both directed by genre journeyman Gordon Hessler who began his career as a director with 1969ís Oblong Box. He would do a few more horror films, a Sinbad film (Golden Voyage of Sinbad), and even direct the infamous Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. In the 80ís he would work with Kosugi prior to these films on the Lee Van Cleef starring TV series the Master. Hessler though not doing anything particularly stylish with either of the two films, manages to have a pretty good eye for action cinema having not worked in the genre prior to these 2 films.
Audio/Video (3.5/5 - Pray for Death, 3.5/5 - Rage of Honor)
Arrow Video has done their typical fantastic work restoring these 2 Kosugi/Hessler films. Pray for Death is presented in a 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Colors look quite solid here, detail is excellent throughout, and black levels are nice and deep. There are moments of softness that are inherent in the film itself, and also some of the unrated sequences are taking from an alternate and lesser source than the majority of the film and those scenes are darker and less detailed. There is a nice organic grain structure at play here.
Rage of Honor is presented with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer with credits in a 2:35:1 ratio, and the remainder of the film framed at 1:85:1. Rage of Honor is quite a nice upgrade from prior DVD editions with excellent detail throughout, stable and naturalistic colors, and solid blacks. There is again some softness that surfaces throughout the presentation, but overall things here look quite good.
Both films have LPCM 2.0 tracks in English with optional English subtitles included. Both films sound quite good with dialogue and score coming through nicely, and nothing found to complain about.
Extras (3.5/5 - Pray for Death, 3/5 - Rage of Honor)
Sho Kosugi has not done many interviews throughout his career. Arrow Video helps to correct that by doing a longform career interview stretched out across the two Blu-rayís. The first part of the interview is included on Pray for Death with the latter half on Rage of Honor. This was a real treat to long term fans of the ninja actor who have wanted more background on the man himself. The Pray for Death Blu-ray also includes a VHS sourced interview from 1985. Both films included booklets of liner notes, and a Sho Kosugi trailer gallery.
Though not without issues, both Pray for Death and Rage of Honor are fun slices of 80ís action cinema with a lead actor who really knows how to choreograph an action scene. The Blu-rayís look and sound quite good, and come with the ultimate extra an interview with Kosugi himself. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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