The next feature up is the second installment in the Cannon ninja trilogy: “Revenge of the Ninja.”
“Revenge of the Ninja” was written by James R. Silke, who, along with director Sam Firstenberg, would return for the final installment in the Cannon ninja trilogy: the bizarre supernatural “Ninja III: The Domination.”
Initially, Menahem Golan intended to direct “Revenge of the Ninja” just as he did with “Enter the Ninja,” but instead gave the project to Firstenberg, who would go on direct the first two “American Ninja” movies and the infamous “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” for Cannon.
The effects on “Revenge of the Ninja,” which are a step up in quality from the previous film “Enter the Ninja,” were provided by Joe Quinlivan, who would go on to work on larger budget movies like “Face/Off,” “Tombstone,” and “Robocop 2.” He also interestingly provided effects for a movie I have previously covered, the bizarre incest drama “House of Yes.” He also returned for “Ninja III: The Domination” to close out the Cannon ninja trilogy.
The cinematography was provided once again by David Gurfinkel, one of the few returning elements in “Revenge of the Ninja” carried over from “Enter the Ninja.” Gurfinkel managed to rack up nearly 90 film credits over his career, spanning from the 1960s into the 2010s, primarily on low-budget B-movies.
The music was once again provided by the “Enter the Ninja” duo of W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder, with the notable addition of one Robert J. Walsh. Walsh went on to provide music for countless cartoon shows in the late 80s (“Jem,” “GI Joe,” “My Little Pony,” “Muppet Babies”), as well as some off-the-wall documentaries (“UFO: The Greatest Story Ever Denied”) and b-movies (“Leprechaun,” “Nightbeast,” “Zombie Nation”).
“Enter the Ninja” was one of the first films to come out of Cannon after its acquisition by the Israeli cousins Menahem Goram and Yoram Globus, who led the company into a sort of renaissance of b-pictures and knock-offs from 1980 to 1994. The names “Goram and Globus” are now instantly synonymous with their low-budget 1980s movies, many of which have become treasured cult classics (including the ninja trilogy, which began with “Enter the Ninja”).
“Revenge of the Ninja,” the second in the Cannon ninja trilogy, came two years following the success of “Enter the Ninja.” Despite having no story or character overlap, “Revenge of the Ninja” is widely regarded as a sequel in a spiritual sense, capturing the same ambiance and style of “Enter the Ninja,” and featuring a handful of returning elements in the cast and crew.
The cast of “Revenge of the Ninja” features one key returning member of the “Enter the Ninja” cast: Sho Kosugi. Whereas he played the rival ninja in “Enter,” “Revenge” places him in the sympathetic lead role, which he really thrives in. He’s also a slightly more believable ninja that Franco Nero, which is quite the understatement. Kane Kosugi and Shane Kosugi, Sho’s actual children, play his character’s young boys in the movie. Not to get too far into spoiler territory, but Kane gets a significantly greater amount of screen-time than his brother.
The story of “Revenge of the Ninja,” predictably enough, centers around a ninja who is out for revenge. The opening of the film shows Sho Kosugi’s family being murdered by a group of presumably rival ninjas, which leads him to flee to the United States with his mother and sole surviving child for the sake of their safety. A friend gives him an art gallery stateside for him to make a living, and Sho practices pacifism for years as his child begins to grow up. It is ultimately revealed that the gallery is not what it appears to be, and that the friend is not to be trusted. After some violent shenanigans, the titular ninja-related revenge kicks into high gear for an amazing shuriken-packed conclusion.
The initial theatrical and home video release of “Revenge of the Ninja” featured a number of cuts to tone down the explicit violence. However, the versions that are available now are uncut, with some of the more gore-y, blood-splattering sequences restored.
“Revenge of the Ninja” was filmed almost entirely in Salt Lake City, a very significant departure from the tropical, Philippines setting of the previous film. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t done for any artistic decision on the part of Golan and Globus: rather, they chose Salt Lake City specifically because the Utah Film Commission reportedly promised no permits, location fees or union deals for the production.
Perhaps the most memorable sequence of the film is the brutal prologue, in which Sho Kosugi’s family is slaughtered in their home. Amazingly, this sequence was apparently not initially in the script: instead, it was added in after Menahem Globus found the story to be lacking in depth after shooting began.
The fans of “Revenge of the Ninja” vary from 1980s nostalgics to die hard martial arts movie fans to those who enjoy “good-bad” flicks. It is probably the best reviewed of the Cannon ninja trilogy, which really isn’t saying much: it hold a 6.0 on IMDb and a 58% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, it is still undoubtedly a cult classic with plenty of die hard fans.
“Revenge of the Ninja” has pretty much everything you would expect from a ninja movie: awful acting across the board, ridiculous physics (catching an arrow with your teeth?), and some excellent ninja fighting action. The finale once again features a one-on-one battle to the death, but this time it occurs on city rooftops. It isn’t quite as memorable as the cockfighting ring in “Enter the Ninja,” but there is a good deal of it that occurs on a tennis court, which is pretty awesome.
One of the criticisms of “Enter the Ninja” that I have seen a lot is about the impracticality of Nero’s all-white ninja suit. In “Revenge of the Ninja,” both the good and bad ninjas wear black, which is honestly a bit confusing. It might make more sense, but it is a little too easy to lose track of who is who. I’m not going to say that a white suit is the way to go, but there are certainly ways to distinguish ninja uniforms from each other.
One of the most infamous events in “Revenge of the Ninja” occurs in the prologue, in which Sho Kosugi catches three arrows out of mid-air (the last with his teeth). This sequence almost certainly influenced a “MythBusters” episode in which the gang tested whether it was realistically possible to catch an arrow mid-flight.
One issue I had with this film is that the passage of time between the prologue and the main story seems off. It is shown that Sho’s gallery has not yet opened as the story begins to unfold, while his child is shown to be in elementary school. However, in the prologue, the surviving child is still a baby. It seemed heavily implied that Sho and his surviving family moved immediately after the events of the prologue, which leaves a good amount of time (enough for a baby to become a young child) missing. I might have just missed a detail on my initial watch, but it certainly stuck out to me. Given the prologue was added in later, it seems entirely possible to me that this was just a continuity oversight.
One thing that “Revenge of the Ninja” lacks are colorful antagonists. The rival in “Revenge” isn’t particularly memorable, and doesn’t have understandable goals, outside of wanting to be wealthy and powerful. He is also a very straight villain, and doesn’t do a whole lot of hamming it up, which is what I always want from this sort of movie.
Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable ninja movie, and is very much deserving of the cult status it has accrued. Sho Kosugi is awesome to watch, and the film is worth checking out on his merits alone for ninja movie fans. Bad movie lovers will love the awful acting, the silly plot, and the special effects, not to mention the genuinely entertaining fight scenes. As for general audiences, this is probably as good as any ninja movie for breaking someone into the genre, and it manages to keep up a steady pace better than most of its peer flicks.