Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

Ninja Cho (Sho Kosugi) has some sort of never explained trouble with other other ninjas. I suppose it’s a clan thing, but the film never actually bothers to explain. Anyway, those other ninjas slaughter Cho’s family. Only Grandmother Osaki (Grace Oshita) and his baby son Kane (soon to be Kane Kosugi, alas) survive.

Cho’s friend Braden (Arthur Roberts) convinces Cho that it’s best for the surviving family to emigrate to the USA where Cho is to go into the Japanese doll exhibition business with him. A few years on, Cho and Braden are indeed in the USA and in that dubious business, Cho having kinda forsaken his ninja heritage, but not so much he isn’t teaching people – including little Kane, alas – martial arts.

What Cho doesn’t know is that his good friend Braden is secretly evil and uses their dolls to transport Heroin from Japan to the United States. And yes, this being a Cannon film, he does indeed put the dolls full of heroin on public display, and Cho doesn’t seem to realize his precious dolls just disappear after a time. What an ex-ninja! Be that as it may, Braden clearly thinks the time has come to make a move to further his career as a drug trader and get out of his connection with mafia guy Chifano (Mario Gallo) whose men suddenly turn up dead - murdered in ways only explicable through the powers of ninjitsu. Turns out Braden isn’t just secretly evil, but also secretly an evil American ninja.

Through various plot contortions, Braden develops the need to piss Cho off badly, and soon we go through a threatened and kidnapped Kane, dead grandmothers, and other reasons for Cho to get back to ninja business.

Ah, Cannon’s US ninja movies. Ridiculous, mildly offensive – seeing as this one includes dubious stereotypes about Japanese people, native Americans, Italo-Americans, and Anglo-Saxon white Americans – yet generally fun, likeable despite everything and the best of the bunch of American ninjadom. Or rather, Cannon’s ninja movies starting with Sam Firstenberg’s Revenge are, for their first effort, with Franco Nero as a pudgy white ninja fighting an evil land developer is mostly a boring mess, and while the idea of Nero as a Ninja might sound funny, the reality is mostly indifferent, if stupid.

Not surprisingly, Sho Kosugi makes for a better ninja than Nero, what with him actually possessing martial arts skills and clearly knowing how to apply them to fighting on screen. As an actor, the man – at least at this point in his career – isn’t much to write home about, but he’s decent enough at the ninja basics of looking in turns stoic and pissed off and carries himself well enough in front of the camera (compare in Cannon land to early Michael Dudikoff or Chuck Norris, and you’ll see the difference). What more could I ask from the lead in a Cannon action film?

The script is obviously a nonsensical mess, but it sets up a good share of fun action set pieces, throws in a bunch of sleazy moments of nudity, as well as the mysterious evil ninja power of hypnotizing people by waving one’s hands before their face until one’s eyes glow green, so there’s little to complain here, unless you need your US ninja movies to tell a coherent story. In that case, skip a few decades and watch Isaac Florentine’s ninja movies with Scott Adkins, which aren’t deep either, but do heavily tend towards the coherent.

Still, Revenge of the Ninja is a lot of fun, even though I could have lived without the scenes of tiny Kane Kosugi showing off his – actually impressive – martial arts skills, but that might either be my near total disinterest in little children in movies – if they do martial arts or not - or Kane’s total lack of charisma even as a tyke.

The whole thing is directed by Sam Firstenberg, Cannon’s best (which still didn’t save him nor us from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). Firstenberg was never a man for flashy or very creative direction but generally didn’t answer the slap-dash scripts he worked from (if they were actually finished when shooting started) with slap-dash direction but applied himself with technical soundness and a good eye for action direction – the art of timing and motion. Given these circumstances, it is little wonder Revenge of the Ninja is such a fun little flick.

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