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 hooker 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