The Challenge (Movie)
The Challenge is a 1982 American action film directed by John Frankenheimer and written by John Sayles, Richard Maxwell, and Marc Norman. The film stars Scott Glenn and Toshirō Mifune, and features several aikido-based action scenes choreographed by Steven Seagal, prior to the start of his own film career.
A katana, one of a pair known as "The Equals", was an heirloom of the Yoshida family, passed down through the generations before being lost during World War II. It was finally tracked down and recovered in California by Toshio and Akiko. Hoping to return its rightful owner, their father Toru, Toshio hires down-on-his luck prize fighter Rick Murphy to smuggle the sword back to Japan.
Upon their arrival, Murphy and Toshio are captured by Hideo's thugs. Murphy learns that the sword is a fake and himself a decoy, intended to ward off potential thieves. Toshio is murdered and Murphy is faced with the prospect of being killed by Toru's brother, a well-connected kuromaku (or "black curtain" in English, a fixer who works behind the scenes for Yakuza) named Hideo. Murphy escapes Hideo's thugs and is rescued by Akiko before he is murdered. Murphy awakens in Akiko's family home and after a brief stay departs with his money. Hideo's thugs find Murphy and instead of murdering him they advise him to infiltrate Yoshida's martial arts school and obtain the sword. He does so, yet finds himself being drawn into the ways of Japanese etiquette and tradition to the point where he returns the sword to Toru himself after having the perfect opportunity to escape with it. Murphy then humbly asks Toru if he can be forgiven and taken back in because he wants to learn the ways of Bushido. Toru agrees, but only if Murphy follows Toru's conditions.
Murphy continues to bumble his way through life at Toru's school until, after a treacherous and almost fatal attempt by one of the higher members of the school to steal the sword, he leaves and is found in a hotel in Kyoto by Akiko, Toru's only daughter. Finding romance, they go out to see the sights and sounds of the city, including watching a Shinto ceremony. During the hub-bub of the crowded parade, Murphy and Akiko get separated and Hideo's henchmen kidnap her and deliver her to her uncle. Toru, laden with ancient weaponry, ventures out to Hideo's industrial complex where he is shot and wounded by Hideo's bodyguard Ando. Ando is slain by Hideo for this, and Murphy – who has joined him in his quest – opts to fight Hideo to defend his sensei. Murphy manages to kill Hideo and present "The Equals" to Toru.
- Scott Glenn as Rick Murphy
- Toshiro Mifune as Satoru "Toru" Yoshida
- Atsuo Nakamura as Hideo Yoshida
- Donna Kei Benz as Akiko Yoshida
- Calvin Jung as Ando
- Clyde Kusatsu as Go
- Sab Shimono as Toshio Yoshida
- Ryuji Yamashita as young Toshio
- Kiyoaki Nagai as Kubo
- Kenta Fukasaku as Jiro
- Shōgo Shimada as Shin'ichi Yoshida
- Yoshio Inaba as Kenzo the Instructor
- Seiji Miyaguchi as Old Man
- Miiko Taka as Machiko Yoshida
The film was shot entirely in Japan. The Kyoto International Conference Center was used as the location of Hideo's headquarters.
A re-edited version of the film entitled Sword of the Ninja was created for television. In this version, about ten minutes of footage are cut, some of the graphic violence of the original version is removed, and "fades" are added to make room for commercial breaks.
- Critic Dennis Schwartz gave the film a C+ grade, calling it a "pointless", "low-level Chuck Norris flick". He enjoyed Frankenheimer's directing and Mifune's performance, questioning why they chose to make such a film.
- Time Out wrote that the "elaborate combat will please fans", but that The Yakuza was a much better film in the genre.
- Janet Maslin for The New York Times was unimpressed with the film's "regrettably vicious streak" and wrote that the film had unused potential. However, she praised Toshirō Mifune's performance as adding weight to the film.
- Adam Lippe, writing for Examiner.com, had a better opinion of the film, calling it "grimy, off-putting, and just right for the moment."
On Rotten Tomatoes, The Challenge holds a rating of 50% from 16 reviews.