Today’s feature is the third and final movie in the Cannon ninja trilogy, and is a truly bizarre one at that: “Ninja III: The Domination.”
“Ninja III” was written by James R. Silke, who returned to the series after writing the predecessor, “Revenge of the Ninja.” Likewise, director Sam Firstenberg and effects artist Joe Quinlivan of “Revenge of the Ninja” returned for “Ninja III: The Domination.”
The cinematography for “Ninja III: The Domination” was provided by Hanania Baer, who later worked on films such as “American Ninja,” “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” and “Masters of the Universe.”
The music for “Ninja III: The Domination” marks a sharp departure from the previous two films in the series. Instead of the usual martial arts movie soundtrack, “Ninja III” is infused with catchy tunes modeled after 1980s pop music. The music composition is credited to Misha Segal (“The Last Dragon”) and Udi Harpaz (“Knight Rider,” “Archer”), and the score was orchestrated by Arthur Kempel (“Mystery Men,” “Behind Enemy Lines”).
“Ninja III: The Domination” is the third installment in the Cannon ninja trilogy (after “Enter the Ninja” and “Revenge of the Ninja”), and is yet another brainchild of the Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus tandem: the two Israeli cousins who ran Cannon films throughout the 1980s. “Ninja III” is certainly the strangest of the three movies, incorporating supernatural elements such as a possession into the story.
The cast of “Ninja III” once again features Sho Kosugi, but this time in more of a supporting role. The real lead of the movie is played by Lucinda Dickey in just her third film role after appearing as an extra in “Grease 2” and starring in Cannon Films’s “Breakin'”. Outside of appearing in the infamous “Breakin'” sequel and a movie called “Bloody Pom Poms” in 1988, she has not taken any other credited acting roles. Veteran actor James Hong appears as the evil ninja which possesses Dickey’s character throughout most of the film, and has an incredibly memorable opening sequence: an assassination and battle with police on a golf course.
The story of “Ninja III: The Domination” follows an electrical worker and fitness junkie who, by happenstance, becomes possessed by the spirit of a malevolent ninja who wishes to enact revenge on the police officers who killed him. After an exorcism fails, a rival ninja is found who believes that he can free her from the evil ninja spirit.
Apparently, the arcade cabinet that appears in Dickey’s bedroom is a prototype for “Bouncer,” which was never mass produced and is now extremely rare (if not impossible) to find.
“Ninja III: The Domination” was featured on a ninja-themed episode of RedLetterMedia’s “Best of the Worst” series, alongside “Lethal Ninja” and “Ninja Warriors.” It wound up losing out to “Lethal Ninja,” but did receive one vote for “Best of the Worst” from the panel of 5.
To the credit of “Ninja III,” it certainly tried to mix up the formula from the previous two movies, and brought something new to the table without totally losing the spirit of the series. Unfortunately, the things that is brought to the table (pop music and aerobics) didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But still, the movie deserves points for the effort.
Speaking of which, “Ninja III” feels a little more like an exploitation movie than the previous two movies in the series, particularly in the sense that there is a whole lot more sexual showcasing in the shots. That said, there also seems to be significantly less violence and gore than the previous flicks, which I found kind of confusing for a movie that should be focused on ninja-related violence.
I think it is fair to say that “Ninja III” is the least beloved of the Cannon ninja trilogy, primarily because of the numerous bizarre creative decisions that deviated from the ninja movie formula people were accustomed to. It currently holds a less-than-positive 4.8 on IMDb from a few thousand voting members.
“Ninja III: The Domination” managed to gross nearly $8 million on an undisclosed (but undoubtedly small) budget, which I imagine made it at least moderately successful for Cannon. While it did not receive a sequel, Cannon continued to make ninja movies with the “American Ninja” franchise.
As far as criticisms go, there are certainly plenty to spread around. The acting and writing are predictably awful, but there are at least a few thoroughly entertaining sequences in the film, such as the golf course opening and the possessions scenes. My biggest issues with the movie are less about quality, and more about entertainment value. For instance, why isn’t there more Sho Kosugi in the movie? There just isn’t quite enough ninja action going on, and he could certainly have helped provide more of it. As it stands, Sho’s character almost seems like an afterthought given how little screen time he is given. As far as the writing goes, the love story in the movie is beyond preposterous, and the cop love interest comes off as creepy, stalkerish, and generally icky.
As far as the things I did like in this film, the sheer ridiculousness of the premise has to go way up there. Giving ninjas supernatural abilities to possess, hypnotize, and cause earthquakes (?!?) is just astounding. I also kind of love the excessively 1980s soundtrack, which all sound like songs that could come straight out of “Jem.”
Overall, “Ninja III” is a pretty entertaining movie, but is certainly the weak link of the trilogy in terms of quality. The story and the highlights make it more than watchable, but it is probably a better use of time to surf around on YouTube to find the good parts rather than sitting through the whole thing.