31st Jan2016

‘The Ninja Trilogy’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

ninja-trilogy

Enter the Ninja

The film that heralded the start of the ninja craze in the West, Enter the Ninja was one of many martial arts action films made by the uber-prolific producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus after they purchased Cannon Films in the late 70s.

Directed by Golan, Enter the Ninja tells the story of Cole (Franco Nero), a Westerner who is trained in the art of ninjitsu in Japan. Finishing his training he heads the Philippines to visit his war buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney) and his newlywed wife Mary Ann (Susan George), who are the owners of farm which is under attack from unscrupulous businessman Charles Venarius (Christopher George) because – unbeknownst to the Landers – there’s a huge oil deposit under their land! Of course having Franco Nero’s ninja on their side means that the Landers can easily see off Venarius’ henchmen. That is until he hires ninja assassin Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi), another student of the ninja arts who opposed Cole’s training in Japan, to eliminate the Landers and their friend Cole.

The first film in the “Ninja Trilogy” (which in all honesty shared nothing in common besides ninjas and Sho Kosugi different roles), 1981′s Enter the Ninja set the standard by which all other ninja films would be measured – laying a blueprint for the burgeoning sub-genre that would peak only a few years later with the American Ninja franchise, again from Cannon Films.

Revenge of the Ninja

Easily the best film in The Ninja Trilogy, Revenge of the Ninja is also the brutalest. From the opening massacre of an entire family (even a small child gets a throwing star to the forehead – shown in all it’s gory glory) the action and bloodshed never lets up – this film is not afraid to shy away from the more horrific aspects of ninjas fighting, which is probably why it was so heavily cut, here and overseas, upon its original release.

Revenge of the Ninja follows Cho Osaki (Sho Kosugi), whose family – bar his mother and infant son – are slaughtered in the films opening. Devastated Cho swears off being a ninja ever again and moves to America on the behest of his friend Braden, who also sets Cho up in business selling exqusite Japanese dolls in a high-end boutique. However Braden (Arthur Roberts), and his assistant Kathy (Ashley Ferrare) are not as benevolent as Cho believes – the store, and more importantly the dolls, are actually a front for Braden’s heroin business. Oh, and did I mention Braden is also a ninja? Yes, he’s a silver demon-masked wearing ninja of the evil variety, using his ninja powers to fight a turf war with mob boss Chifano (Mario Gallo).

Caught in the middle of Braden and Chifano battle, Cho’s mother is killed by Braden and his son Kane, now six years old, is on the run from the man he thought was his father’s friend. Calling on his cop friend and fellow martial arts expert Dave (Keith Vitali), Cho breaks his vow to never don the ninja outfit ever again and makes his way to Chifano’s headquarters to stop Braden, resuce his son and end the turf war… All building into a high-action, bloody conclusion set atop the roofs of Salt Lake City.

What a difference two years makes. Whereas 1981′s Enter the Ninja felt somewhat innocent – which is also why is comes across as somewhat camp – a mear two years later Revenge of the Ninja really goes for the sleaze factor. Not only is it packed with blood and guts but director Sam Firstenberg even throws in a rape scene (ended with the bloody death of the would-be rapist may I add). It’s almost as if Cannon had to up the ante on the explotation aspects of the genre in order to keep up with the glut of low-budget expliotationers coming out of the Far East, which were spurred on by thr popularity of ninjas in the West. After all, it was thanks to Enter the Ninja that Godfrey Ho had a reputation, in the UK and USA, as a martial arts filmmaker – he could splice together a myraid of different movies to make the most violent and gory film possible and ninja fans lapped them up, even if they made absolutley no sense!

Happily, watching Revenge of the Ninja today, in this uncut form and with a superb print, is almost like watching the film for the first time. It’s worth buying The Ninja Trilogy for this version of the film alone.

Ninja III: The Domination

After the body of a sexy bouffant-haired telephone maintenance engineer – who is also and aerobics instructor on the side – is possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja, she begins systematically killing (using her new-found ninja skills of course) the officers responsible for the ninja’s death and can only be stopped by another ninja!

One of the campest, yet coolest, of the 80s ninja movies, Ninja lll: The Domination mixes the becoming played-out at the time Ninja genre with something akin to The Exorcist in a film that epitomises all that is great about 80s B-movie cinema and all that was great about Golan-Globus and Cannon Films, whose demise, in my opinion, has left a huge blot of the movie landscape. Like many movies of the 80s, Ninja III features all the cliches of the decade: 1980′s cheesy electro-pop music, dance sequences a-plenty, and enough neon to light up two major cities. Unlike the previous two films in the trilogy, Ninja III sees writer James R. Silke and director Sam Firstenberg throw every wacked-out crazy idea into this film and bizarrely it works – mainly due to the enigmatic central performance of Lucinda Dickey, who easily and believeably switches from tough telephone worker, sexy aerobics instructor, bad-ass ninja, and possessed “monster”.

Sadly Sho Kosugi, who appeared in the previous movies Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, is completely underused in Ninja lll, popping in and out of the movie for the majority of the films running time, until finally confronting and exorcising Dickey in the films climax. Of course this being Kosugi he brings the same gravitas to what amounts to merely a cameo as he does to his starring roles, which is why he’s such a legend in the genre.

One third ninja movie, one third Flashdance, one third The Exorcist, Ninja III: The Domination is 100% cheesy awesomeness!
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This new Blu-ray set from Eureak Entertainment is an essential purchase for UK fans of the trilogy – however be warned, for those that insist on owning uncut versions of The Ninja Trilogy, this new release has been trimmed slightly. Whilst the second and third films are uncut (Revenge of the Ninja really benefits from this in fact), Enter the Ninja has been shorn of some animal cruelty. A small price to pay perhaps for such a fantastic package – especially given how good the prints of all three movies are.

Bonus features on this release include two feature-length audio commentaries – for Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination featuring director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert; an introduction to Revenge of the Ninja by director Sam Firstenberg; and the original theatrical trailers for Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja. Eureka’s release also features a 28-page booklet featuring a new essay by critic and author C.J. Lines, illustrated with archival images.

The Ninja Trilogy is out now from Eureka Entertainment.

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