Honor and Glory (1993)

PLOT: A team of sisters, one an FBI agent, the other a television news reporter, attempts to bring down an insane kickboxing bank executive before he can acquire a nuclear arms trigger. Wait, is this a bio-pic about disgraced former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis?

Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Herb Borkland
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Donna Jason, John Miller, Chuck Jeffreys, Robin Shou, Gerald Klein, Leo Rocca, Richard Yuen, Yip Yim Hing

The rich, white man might be the most overused villain archetype in the history of action movies. I won’t bore anyone with a laundry list of past examples, but trust me that it’s as redundant and uncomfortably long as a gag on Family Guy. For 1993’s Honor and Glory, Godfrey Ho assembled a cast of principals with which he’d double-dip later in the year for his American masterpiece, Undefeatable. As you’ll recall from our coverage of that film, Cynthia Rothrock was teamed with an unreasonably sweaty John Miller, but Honor and Glory finds them on opposite sides of the law. For my money, the result of this villain casting has become the stick by which all other rich white man villain roles should be measured.

Not everyone shares our enthusiasm for rich, white, male villains, though. Hotshot television reporter Joyce Pride (Jason) has staked her career on digging up sleaze and truth, and she’s just turned her sights on local bank executive Jason Slade (Miller). His shady business practices and alleged physical intimidation of investigators and regulators have made him a very controversial topic in the news media.

He’s a martial arts practitioner and a raging dickhead, but Slade still feels the need to employ an army of bodyguards headed by Jake Armstrong (Jeffreys) a well-dressed kung fu and boxing expert. Jake is constantly attached at his boss’s hip to assure that pesky, scandal-seeking reporters and photographers are put in their place. You know, the place where people in the news media get beat up for asking questions and cameras are smashed on sight (China, and occasionally, the Michelle Bachmann campaign trail). Jake has never really pondered the implications of Slade’s business activities but a recent flurry of media inquiries and assassination attempts has him rethinking the ethical value of his gig.

What’s a maligned financial figure to do when regulators are knocking at the door, assassins are around every corner, and a driven reporter is sitting on video testimony detailing the fraud you committed to the tune of $1 billion? First, you clear your calendar and cancel your prayer breakfast with ex-President Ronald Reagan. Then blow off some steam by angrily practice kung fu weapon forms on your back patio. But you want to stay productive, so you acquire a stolen activator to a nuclear weapon from an Arab businessman in a deal arranged by a white street pimp named Silk (Klein). Makes sense, right?

The latter point has drawn the attention of federal agencies, and Joyce’s FBI agent sister, Tracy (Rothrock) has come back from an assignment in Hong Kong to sniff out the stolen and extremely volatile goods. For most, black-market nuclear espionage would be enough on your plate but Tracy also uses her time at home to play peacemaker between her younger sister and their semi-retired workaholic covert agent father. Joyce resents her Pops for sending her to live with her mother while Tracy resided with her father following their parents’ separation. In itself, it’s not such a terrible thing unless you conclude that the living situation led her to pursue a career in a dying journalism industry, while Tracy probably got to learn about cool shit like waterboarding and handgun recoil management.

The film juggles its loose ends all the way to the finish line (no easy task) and while you won’t be left scratching your head, you might be left palming your face. This is a Godfrey Ho movie, after all. Things come to a head in a warehouse of all places, and you might be equally surprised to find that the climax is comprised of three different climactic fights intercut together! Ho breaks out all the stops: cardboard boxes, confounding cargo nets, and Jason Slade in a tracksuit drinking a Heineken while also handling a pair of Chinese meditation balls.

Understandably, Cynthia Rothrock gets top billing but this is more of an ensemble piece with emphases on the Joyce Pride and Jason Slade character arcs. As the chippy news reporter, Donna Jason does an admirable job and both her acting and fighting skills are more than competent. Also along for the ride as visiting Interpol agent Dragon Lee is Robin Shou but his scattered inclusion feels like he might have just been killing time before a red-eye flight. Ho juggles the characters as best he can, but it often takes away from the best elements of his movie: the action, and the villain.

John Miller really only had two big film roles in an otherwise brief career, but he should be thanking his lucky stars for the silver platter handed to him in Honor and Glory. He’s equipped with some of the best lines ever written for a martial arts villain. After Silk expresses his displeasure at Slade’s inclusion of an outside expert for their nuclear trigger deal, Slade coolly replies: “Do you know an atomic trigger from a Bulgarian dildo? Because I don't.” Pressed both internally and externally to step down from his post during his company’s scandal, he repeatedly screams: “only death can retire Jason Slade!” If you thought Warbeck from Expect No Mercy had the market cornered on megalomaniacal monologues in martial arts b-movies, think again. Slade reminds a second-guessing business associate that: “I have arrived at the top of the world. No man has control of more money. No man can fight me and live. No woman can share my bed and not be mine for life. I am like a god! I piss on you, from a great height.” Seriously, who writes this stuff? Oh right, “Herb Borkland.” Definitely a real person. No matter the creative source, Miller hits the role out of the park and it’s a welcomed change from his unbearably wholesome performance in Undefeatable.

Is it possible to discuss a movie featuring Chuck Jeffreys without mentioning his similarities in cadence and line delivery to Eddie Murphy? Well, shit -- I kind of just undermined myself so I guess not. With the Murphy factor turned down to a tawdry 4, Jeffreys is engaging as usual, and despite not getting a properly climactic fight, he still brings terrific athleticism to his action scenes. Director Godfrey Ho even hints at some martial artist romance between the Jake and Joyce characters in a scene where they lock chopsticks while battling over a lunch of green beans. HOT.

Similarly to Undefeatable, the fight choreography is above-average for an American martial arts film. Nothing here is as goofy and unhinged as that film’s sweaty basement fight climax, but the action moves at a good clip and everyone gets an opportunity to show their skills. For an obvious low-budget film, Ho makes decent use of different fighting locations and talent, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that the climax in Honor and Glory is a bit too abrupt and way too clean. I blame my inflated expectations on the protracted eye-trauma carnage of Undeatable, but I would guess that Slade’s comeuppance is fitting when you consider that most white-collar crimes are forgiven after nothing more than hefty fines and early retirement.

While it doesn’t reach the same levels of camp and absurdity that audiences saw in Undefeatable, Honor and Glory makes a damn fine companion piece. You get a bit less Rothrock (bad), but a lot more Chuck Jeffreys (good) and villainous John Miller (incredible). It’s a bit of a shame that Godfrey Ho is better known for his cut-and-paste ninja shenanigans than (somewhat) original films like this, because he had the capacity to create an enjoyable action romp. Give it a watch, or risk having your “testicles peeled like grapes.”

Stuck in Save purgatory on Netflix, but pick your format poison (VHS or DVD) on Amazon and EBay.

5.5 / 7


Fist of Further Reading: Comeuppance Reviews

Comeuppance Reviews

Brett and Ty, the guys at Comeuppance Reviews, stick almost exclusively to direct-to-video action movies, a net obviously wide enough to include a ton of martial arts film. They’re pioneers of sorts, having coined the term “punchfighter” to tidily describe “movies about underground bare-knuckle fighting that spectators bet on.” They use a star system (0-4) and their reviews tend to vary in length, which may be directly proportionate to how much enthusiasm (or lack thereof) they have for the subject matter. You can always count on some great one-liners and oddball selections, including a lot of out-of-print stuff; you might get a PM Entertainment flick one week and an old 1970s William Smith actioner the next.

Jump-Off Post: Night of the Kickfighters review


Rage and Honor (1992)

PLOT: An Australian cop and a public school teacher team up to bring down an amazing mullet with a ruthless criminal mastermind. Yes, his misdeeds are, in fact, secondary to the crime against nature that is his hair.

Director: Terence H. Winkless
Writer: Terence H. Winkless
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Brian Thompson, Terri Treas, Stephen Davies, Patrick Malone, Peter Cunningham, Kathy Long, Roger Yuan

Despite fast getaways with Corey Haim and treks through jungles with Loren Avedon, none of the team-ups in Cynthia Rothrock’s films are as consistently fulfilling as those with Richard Norton. Armed with a chemistry perhaps born out of the collective experience of cutting their teeth as bad-ass gweilos in 1980s Hong Kong films, they’ve enjoyed at least 10 on-screen collaborations, more than a half-dozen of which have been released Stateside. The 1992 Terence H. Winkless film Rage and Honor is their first proper team-up, having left Keith Cooke and his Native American biker character behind in the universe of the China O’Brien franchise. No doubt, before peeling away in their car, they threw beer bottles all over the ground as a single tear rolled down Cooke’s face.

This is not a film in which the punny title contains nouns which are also the surnames of the main characters, but Rothrock does play a public school teacher, so I’d have to guess that she’s the “Rage” in this equation. As Kris Fairchild, she channels said rage in the most productive manner possible as a martial arts guru who gives regular lectures about “the art of martial science.” One of the guests for her latest demonstration of applied concepts is an Australian cop named Preston Michaels (Norton). As an observational guest of the local police department, he’s under strict orders not to blow his cover by doing any actual police work.

That arrangement lasts all of about five minutes and Michaels finds himself in hot water after seeing some crooked cops deal drugs and trying to bust them for it. The woman in charge, Rita (Treas), shoots one of the bumbling lawmen and plans to pin it on Michaels, but she overlooks one critical rule: you shouldn’t kill cops if there’s a high-school AV-nerd skate punk on the roof filming the entire thing with a Hi-8 camera. OK, fine. Sorry, you fucking nerds -- TAPING.

The nosy videographer just happens to be one of Fairchild’s students, and after taking him to a hospital, Michaels goes to her dojo for help. Before getting his ass kicked by the other crooked cop, the student apparently left the tape in the hands of a homeless friend who lives in an alley … because where else would you leave something that important? For Michaels, finding the tape means exoneration for the murder for which he’s now being sought by the authorities. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones looking for it.

Desperate for assistance, Rita has reported back to her full-time peen and the criminal mastermind behind the drug-running operation, Conrad Drago (Thompson). He believes that killing Michaels -- the first-hand witness -- is more important than finding the tape. That’s arguable, but whatever he might lack in judgement, he makes up for in turtlenecks and long, ratty, glorious mullet hair. Despite the festive vibes given off by his mop, Drago harbors a dark and terrible secret. Yes, I know what it is. No, I will not tell you. It is simply too dark and terrible for this review.

Throughout most of its 90-minute runtime, Rage and Honor feels more like a loosely connected web of weird moments and wacky characters than a cohesive film. There’s definitely a plot here, but some of the motivations and events are so half-baked that it seems obvious the writers were just trying to move our heroes from one fight scene to the next. I don’t necessarily have an issue with that strategy, especially because of the can-do, kitchen-sink energy they use to do it. One scene finds Roger Yuan and Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham dressed to the nines and shaking down a sex worker for money, while another finds Kathy Long as one of several Amazonian glam-rock female assassins trying to kill Michaels. You get drugs, splosions, and even character actor Stephen Davies as a stockbroker-turned-junkie leading our heroes through the criminal underworld.

However, if you’re going to skimp on plot and logic for the purpose of ramping up your action quotient, those scenes need to be stellar. Outside of one good scene where Michaels and Fairfield are forced to fight each other by a ruthless gang of Vanity 6 rejects, the fight scenes are pretty straight-forward by DTV action standards. The fighters’ forms on their strikes are good and the selling is reasonable for the most part, but the fights are marked by a stilted feel that prevents any one from really sticking out from the pack. There is one kill that deserves special mention, where a character’s finger trigger is manipulated via pressure points and the end result is a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Pretty cool stuff, but my favorite action sequence in the film wasn’t a fight or a kill for that matter. During the back-end, Peter Cunningham’s character gets a hold of the incriminating tape and runs for the fucking end zone as Michaels gives chase. It wasn’t anything spectacular per se, but there’s something hilarious and sort of dangerous about pursuits where both characters are in ill-suited footware, like cowboy boots and dress shoes. I am a simple man.

In terms of characters, Rage and Honor is a bit unusual in that the teacher displays greater street smarts than the cop, ignoring the fact that Michaels is from Australia and very likely puts beets on his hamburgers. This gave the story a fish-out-of-water element but it was run into the ground by having every other character that Michaels meets make a crack about kangaroos or boomerangs. Just perform a terrible imitation of his funny accent and be done with it.

With Brian Thompson’s portrayal of Drago, we’re treated to one of the more awe-inspiring villain introductions in martial arts b-movies. After holding his palm over a lit candle, he struts across his tiny apartment and smashes to pieces a block of ice roughly the size of an adult sea turtle. All while listening to opera. You could almost hear him thinking aloud, “Yes, all of this is terribly impractical but smashing blocks of ice is very cinematic and oh, by the way, I’m really classy and rich as fuck.” Thompson tows the line between intellectual pontificator and crazy-eyed psycho but his behavior isn’t nearly as unhinged and maniacal as his hair. I’m going out on a limb here: it’s the most ridiculous mullet in cinema history, and by ridiculous, I mean amazing.

This was a mixed bag. The positive components included the chemistry between Norton and Rothrock, a fun performance by Brian Thompson, and a seemingly endless parade of random b-movie martial artists in small roles. However, the story still manages to drag for stretches and the action is often overedited and shot from poor viewing angles. So what nudges Rage and Honor towards above-average territory for me? Hmm...let me think on it...

Amazon, EBay, Netflix.

4 / 7
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