Today’s feature is a true cult classic, and the first installment in the infamous Cannon Group ninja trilogy: “Enter The Ninja.”
The story of “Enter the Ninja” was originated by Mike Stone, who was initially intended to play the lead in the movie. Ultimately, he acted as the film’s stunt coordinator and Franco Nero’s double after it was discovered that he wasn’t particularly good at acting. The screenplay credit is given to a man named Dick Desmond, who notably has no other writing credits.
“Enter the Ninja” was directed by one of the heads of Cannon Films, Menahem Golan. Initially, he was only slated to produce the flick, but ended up firing the original director, Emmett Alston, after only a handful of days of shooting.
The music on “Enter the Ninja” was provided by the team of W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder, who previously worked together on the holiday-themed horror movie “New Year’s Evil.” Both returned to work together again on “Revenge of the Ninja,” the second in the Cannon ninja trilogy.
The special effects for “Enter the Ninja” were provided by Ben Otico, who worked as an art director and special effects technician on a number of exploitation films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including “Women in Cages,” “Black Mamba,” and “She Devils in Chains.”
David Gurfinkel served as director of photography for the film, a fellow who would go on to work on such treasures as Sylvester Stallone’s “Over The Top,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III,” “America 3000,” and “American Samurai.” His previous credit to “Enter the Ninja” was another notorious Cannon film also helmed by Menahem Golan, the bizarre musical “The Apple.” He also returned for the second film in the ninja trilogy, 1983’s “Revenge of the Ninja.”
“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”).
Franco Nero, who is best remembered as the original Django, was brought in at the last minute to star as the film’s lead. Because of his character’s American background, all of his dialogue was ultimately dubbed over. Sho Kosugi stars as Nero’s rival (the black ninja) in his first major film role, and is one of the only elements to remain throughout the Cannon ninja trilogy. Sho was also notably a real martial artist, and not only performed his own stunts, but also filled in as an extra ninja during the movie’s opening sequence. The main bad guy of the film is played by Christopher George (“Fantasy Island”), who unfortunately died just a couple of years later in his early 50s. Susan George (“Straw Dogs”) plays Nero’s love interest and inevitable kidnapping victim in the movie. The accessory cast includes Zachi Noy, Constantine Gregory, and Michael Dudikoff in a minor background role, who would later star in a film greatly influence by “Enter The Ninja”: “American Ninja.”
The story of “Enter the Ninja” follows an American war veteran who travels to Japan to master ninjitsu. After completing his training, he decides to visit a companion from his military days in the Philippines, which winds up entangling him in a bloody local conflict with a criminal land developer.
“Enter the Ninja” was filmed almost entirely on location in the Philippines, which pitted the cast and crew against oppressive natural elements: namely the weather and a variety of exotic animals. Further, the combination of nationalities in the cast and crew meant that at least three languages were regularly used on set, creating a peculiar communication situation.
“Enter the Ninja” received its title, predictably, because of the massive popularity of the 1973 Bruce Lee move “Enter the Dragon,” which was a significant financial success.
The memorable final ninja battle of “Enter the Ninja” was filmed in an actual cock-fighting arena located in the Philippines, which provides a spectacular and symbolic backdrop for an epic one-on-one battle to the death.
The nine levels of power featured in “Enter the Ninja” are a form of kuji, which are mantras used as a sort of meditation practice. The specific ones featured in the film were written about by the American ninjutsu master Stephen K. Hayes in his book “Warrior Ways of Enlightenment.”
“Enter the Ninja” is undoubtedly a cult classic among martial arts movies, and beloved by many. That said, it is also very much a low quality movie that didn’t exactly pop up on critics’ radars. It currently holds a somewhat harsh 4.9 rating on IMDb, which doesn’t accurately represent how treasured the film. Still, it is hard to argue that the film is “good” in any conventional sense of the term.
I wasn’t able to dig up any financial details on “Enter the Ninja,” but presumably it made a significant amount of money on a rather low budget, given its popularity and the eventual sequels.
“Enter the Ninja” is certainly deserving of a lot of criticism. Why does Nero wear an entirely white ninja outfit, when the entire point of the art is stealth? It was certainly a decision made for the case of style over common sense, but it is no less preposterous for it. The film is also rife with continuity errors, awful acting, and the (of course) distracting dubbing over Franco Nero’s lines. Even the casting of Franco Nero to begin with was a baffling decision made more for convenience than sensibility: he was brought in only because he was in the area, and Golan needed an actor to fill in the lead role after Stone proved to be a truly awful actor. Speaking of which, how bad must Stone have been that having an entirely dubbed-over Franco Nero was a better option?
Personally, there were a lot of things that I liked about this movie. I particularly love the primary villain death via ninja star, which ends in a sort of confused shrug that has become infamous. The final Sho/Nero fight scene in the cockfighting ring is also pretty fantastic and entertaining to watch. Even the secondary villains are fun and unique: the hook-handed enforcer is immensely entertaining, as is the excessively polite and proper Mr. Parker. For all of the issues with the film, there are a whole lot of memorable moments and characters that have stuck with me.
Overall, I think this movie is a whole lot of fun, though it may very well be the least entertaining of the Cannon ninja trilogy. I think that statement is more of a credit to the sequels than it is a discredit to “Enter the Ninja,” but I suppose that is very much up to interpretation. In any case, this is definitely worth watching for martial arts movie fans or bad movie aficionados. If multi-colored ninja battles and awful acting are up your alley, this is a flick worth checking out.