• Challenge, The

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: February 16, 2016
    Director: John Frankenheimer
    Cast: Scott Glenn, Toshiro Mifune, Donna Kei Benz, Clyde Kusatsu
    Year: 1982
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    The Movie:

    It's 1945. Kyoto, Japan. In a time-honored ceremony, twin swords known as Equals are being passed down from patriarch to eldest son, Toru (ToshirĂ´ Mifune). But before the ritual can conclude, spiteful younger brother Hideo (Atsuo Nakamura) forcefully steals one of the swords, paralyzing his young nephew in the process. Grandfather Yoshida is killed, little Toshio will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but Hideo will not hold claim to the sword; injured during the war, he is helpless to stop it from being bartered away to an American for cigarettes.

    Thirty-seven years later, Toshio arrives in Los Angeles with his sister, Akiko, having tracked the missing sword to the City of Angels and desperate to return it to its rightful owner. With the knowledge that Hideo, now a ferociously wealthy businessman, is tracking his every move, Toshio looks for a suitable decoy to smuggle the sword back into Japan. He finds his mark in Rick Murphy (Scott Glenn), a rough-and-tumble Bud-drinking amateur boxer with a bitchin' Johnny Ramone haircut. Problem is, Murphy's not too into it, so Toshio shows him the money...500 dollars a day to escort the blade on an overseas flight. Customs proves to be a breeze with the sword "cleverly" hidden in a bag of golf clubs, and Murphy finds himself in the Land of the Rising Sun with a decent chunk of money and directions to give to an airport taxi driver, all according to Toshio's plan.

    Or it would be all according to plan, except for the fact that Murphy and Toshio are quickly kidnapped at gunpoint by Hideo's henchmen, led by the foul-mouthed Ando (Calvin Jung). Toshio fails to give up the location of the real sword, choosing instead to mock Ando for being on the same flight from America with it, and receives the gift of having pieces of his face removed in payment. With the torture proving ineffective, Toshio is killed and dumped into the river in a fabulously cartoonish murder scene, and Murphy is taken to Hideo's elaborate compound to be milked for information. Realizing that he's going to meet the same fate as Toshio when he can't give up the goods, Murphy makes good on a clumsy escape, getting himself seriously injured in the process. Regaining consciousness in the company of Akiko at Toru (now Sensei) Yoshida's school, he witnesses the return of the sword; and as he heals, learns about the honour that surrounds it and settles into martial arts training under Sensei Yoshida. But despite his connection to the school, Murphy still has a selfish streak; and when Ando approaches the new student with the offer of serious cash to steal the sword for Hideo, Murphy has to decide how much his new friendship is worth. With this much money, a decades-old grudge, and a kick-ass sword on the line, there's no way that THE CHALLENGE should end in anything less than an epic, outrageous battle... and it (spoiler) doesn't.

    As a child of the 80's, THE CHALLENGE has got all of the right stuff in all of the right places; a bunch of guys who don't like each other who know martial arts (the ones that don't have guns), swords, a guy vomiting eels, rad haircuts, a cool, gritty vibe, and over-the-top violence that would fit perfectly into a Cannon ninja flick. Scott Glenn, who will always be the badass from Urban Cowboy, is still a badass, dripping attitude in just about every scene while rocking perfectly un-coiffed hair and hillbilly abs. The rest of the cast fares equally as well if not better, with Carl Jung stealing scenes left and right as the profanity-laden greasy thug, and ToshirĂ´ Mifune and Atsuo Nakamura oozing old school menace on both sides of the spectrum. They've both still got it in the martial arts department as well, swinging swords and fists of fury like seasoned professionals.

    Frankenheimer, who really does nothing for me for the most part, is on the ball here, moving the film along at a rapid pace for the majority of the running time, only letting it get bogged down in the middle for a bit... pretty much every time there's a sentimental moment... before ramping it up again for the wild and woolly finale. Between that and the editing, THE CHALLENGE doesn't overstay it's 110-minute welcome, going out with the same bang it came in on. Oddly managing to straddle the line between gritty 70's flicks and 80's action extravaganzas, this one borrows heavily from both, with no disappointment.


    Kino brings THE CHALLENGE to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that is pretty much par for the course with Kino releases, in that there's plenty of detail and grain to be found, but also a few instances of dirt, damage, and other debris. Blacks are largely good, however, and colours are nicely represented without any strobing or other issues, though some scenes do come across as a bit soft. There's also a quick instance of missing frames in one scene (Glenn sitting down in the bar) that resulted in a bit of confusion... but just for a second. Despite its flaws, though, the picture is perfectly serviceable and an enjoyable watch.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (English) track is comparable to the video transfer, though it's certainly fared better than the last couple of Kino titles I've watched. Though there are a few scenes where the audio is slightly muffled, and others where it's a tad harsh, the dialogue is never hard to understand and is balanced well in the rest of the soundtrack. It's rather flat overall, but it's adequate for a stereo track.

    There are no subtitles on the disc, save for the ones that are part of the transfer and pop up when characters are speaking Japanese, and no extras to be found on the disc, unless you count a chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    It's not a perfect film, but THE CHALLENGE is a fun, 80's flick with a lot of action and some great performances from the cast.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      My brother went to college with Cal Jung so it was pretty cool when we were watching the vhs 30+ years ago.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Very cool! He was great.