In anticipation of our upcoming Schlock-O-Thon I thought I’d say a word or two about one of my personal favorites in our stack o’ schlock, the 1983 classic Revenge of the Ninja (the title of this post is that film's delightful tagline). The film is part of a trilogy of unrelated films (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination) produced by the notorious Cannon Films studio, which began with Enter the Ninja. The first film starred the legendary Franco Nero (Django) in the role of hero, with Sho Kosugi as the silent, villainous black-clad ninja (Nero was actually decked out in white ninja gear which really calls into question his ability to employ the trademark stealth of the ninja). Despite Nero’s status as leading man, Kosugi stole the show with his amazing display of martial arts mastery. The film became a box office success, igniting the unbelievable 80’s ninja craze, and Kosugi was subsequently cast as the hero in the second installment.
Revenge of the Ninja opens in Japan, where Kosugi is being courted by an old buddy from America to come to the U.S. and open a business (selling porcelain dolls). While he discusses the proposition with his friend, his entire family (save for his infant son and elderly mother) are murdered by a band of ninjas. Sho arrives just in time to eliminate the entire horde in a breathtakingly cheesy sword fight. Having lost his family and wishing to abandon his life as a ninja to raise his son, Sho takes the offer and moves to sunny Los Angeles. There’s a wrinkle though. His friend turns out to be another evil ninja! Worse still he’s using Sho’s porcelain dolls to smuggle heroin into the country. Needless to say, when Sho discovers this dirty secret he breaks his oath to abandon the glamorous ninja lifestyle and rejects the timeless art of negotiation as a means to solve his problem. Who would’ve seen that coming?
There were a LOT of ninja films that came out in the 80’s, many of them starring Kosugi, but this one always stood out to me as the winner. First off it’s a basic revenge story which is always appealing. We witness Kosugi’s family wiped out in the beginning of the film, so there’s an immediate viewer connection to the character . . . in other words we all want payback! Secondly, this is one of the first films out of the gate so the formula hadn’t had time to grow stale. The filmmakers were still trying all sorts of crazy ideas and seeing what worked. For example, the final duel on top of an L.A. skyscraper features everything from swordplay to flamethrowers – madness! Better still, there’s a wild van chase where Kosugi is being dragged while hanging off the back door, with his legs generating sparks! Even Indiana Jones didn’t have sparks coming off of his legs! Later ninja films would rely heavily on uninspired martial artistry and way too much boring exposition. This one is pure action from the word go . . . plus lots of 80’s-inspired music and cheese.
The film was followed by the insane final entry in the series, Ninja 3: The Domination, which also starred Kosugi and Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’). This one crossed the genres of ninjas and horror (what a match), and was a lot of fun, but wasn’t as consistently great as the second film. The assault on some unsuspecting golfers by the evil ninja though is something I will never forget, and easily wins the film a recommendation . . . as if there was any question.
In any case, while it may not be Gymkata, Revenge of the Ninja receives my highest endorsement for your consideration during our annual Schlock-O-Thon. I dare say Rob would even agree with me on this one, despite the fact he has yet to fully embrace Kurt Thomas as a legitimate 80’s action icon (there’s always hope). We have a lot of other great stuff for you to choose from of course . . . and Shark Attack 3. Truly can’t wait! Also, keep watching the blog for a VERY special announcement regarding the Schlock-O-Thon. We shortly expect to receive confirmation on some special guests we are 90% certain will be in attendance : ) You don’t want to miss it!
On a related note, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that this week (April 8 specifically) marks the 20-year anniversary of Steven Seagal's presence on the cinematic scene. Above the Law premiered on Friday, April 8, 1988! Wow! Be sure to go out and rent your favorite Seagal film (so many to choose from) this week to mark this momentous occasion! And if you would like a suggestion, you can’t go wrong with Seagal’s DTV epic Belly of the Beast (directed by the fight choreographer of A Chinese Ghost Story 1-3, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers). You have to see it to believe it. Let’s just say you’ll never look at CGI arrows the same way again!