Tag Archives: ninja movies

Ninja III: The Domination

Ninja III: The Domination

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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.

ninja33The 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.

ninja35The 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.

ninja34Speaking 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.

ninja32As 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.

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Revenge of the Ninja

Revenge of the Ninja

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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.

revengeninja1The 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.

revengeninja4The 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.

revengeninja3“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.

Enter The Ninja

Enter The Ninja

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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.

entertheninja6The 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.”

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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.

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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.

entertheninja4Overall, 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.