Friday, February 28, 2014

ENTER THE NINJA (1981) - Menahem Golan,
REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) & NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984) - Sam Firstenberg

This highly entertaining, loosely connected Cannon Films ninja trilogy will supply everything you crave in an '80s martial arts picture showcasing practitioners of feudal Japanese assassination arts. Katanas and hidden knives. Throwing stars. Assorted spikes, discs, darts, blowguns, smoke bombs, masks. Classic shinobi outerwear both in summer white and traditional ninja black. When shopping for ninjutsu, you really need look no further than these three films.

The first one, Enter the Ninja, stars old grindhouse reliable Franco Nero as a "white ninja" (both in dress and racial profile) schooled in the sacred arts. He gets involved in some kind of oil-based land grab, protecting an old Angolan War buddy in the Philippines while sleeping with his wife (Susan George from Straw Dogs). Nero isn't the most stellar martial artist, and the movie runs a little slow in the middle stretch. But the end showdown with the head baddie is hilarious, the fight with his old ninja school rival (Sho Kosugi) even better. This being the '80s and Cannon Films, the fact that Nero beheads Kosugi in the final scene doesn't preclude Kosugi from showing up in the next two films.

Revenge of the Ninja is definitely the pick of this litter. Think of it as The Empire Strikes Back of ninja flicks. Sho Kosugi plays a ninja (a different one from the first film) whose entire family is slaughtered gruesomely in Japan. He decides to hang up his sword and move to SoCal (actually Salt Lake City), open an art gallery and live a peaceful life with his six-year-old, Kane. Take a wild guess how long that dusty katana stays in its sheath.

Car chases, heroin smuggling in Japanese dolls, lots and lots of asskicking ensues. As do playground fights with a street gang that looks like The Village People and a fight between his ninja-in-training son and gang of pee-wee bullies. And, of course, there's the final ten-minute Ninja vs. Ninja showdown.

No, your eyes don't deceive. You just saw a ninja kill a man by blowing a dart into the barrel of his gun. That's how Ninja III: The Domination rolls. "Fuck all logic or physics, let's just have good time." While not quite as enjoyable as Revenge, Ninja III is definitely the most "1980s" of the three. An aerobics instructor (see what I mean?) becomes possessed by the spirit of a ninja (Kosugi again) and starts going on weird, out of body killing sprees. It's as if the writers/director said, "Let's just throw everything that's popular right now in a bag and shake it up and add ninjas." There are elements of The Exorcist, Poltergeist and Perfect (that aerobics serial killer movie with Jamie Lee Curtis). There's tons of synth-pop ballads, hot tub murders and a make-out session involving erotic use of V-8 Juice. All in all, a very fun ninja mish-mash.

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