NINJA III: THE DOMINATION was the top of my still-only-on-VHS list, but now Shout Factory has heroically released it on a blu-ray/dvd combo pack, to make sure it’s available on all the important formats. I recommend having the blu-ray at home to watch on the nice TV and leaving the dvd in the mini-van for the kids to watch on the way to soccer practice.
In case anyone’s not familiar, let me explain to you why you need NINJA III in your life. First of all you should know that you don’t need to see parts I and II to understand anything. It’s meant as a sequel to Cannon Films’ ENTER THE NINJA (starring Franco Nero as a white ninja) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA, but there’s no continuing story or set of characters. It’s more like an anthology series of stories where Sho Kosugi plays different ninjas. In the first one he’s the villain, the second one the hero, here he’s the wise eye-patch-wearing expert who comes from far away to help the young heroine vanquish his arch-nemesis, who is now a ghost.
Yes, this is Golan and Globus’s attempt to mimic THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST, but also with ninjas. And sex appeal. And some aerobics. The heroine is Christie, played by Lucinda Dickey, the star of BREAKIN’. We learn on the disc’s great commentary track that she was given that movie because Cannon were so happy with her performance in this. Her dance background helped her to learn the fight moves, like a small time Michelle Yeoh.
Christie is a telephone line repairwoman/aerobics instructor who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets possessed by a ninja (David Chung) who is dying from being shot full of hundreds of dollars worth of tax payer bullets. Then, like a werewolf, she has periodic blackouts where she sneaks off, gets ninja gear out of a secret ninja cave and stalks and assassinates the many cops who shot the ninja dead. (They were all just doing their jobs, but it turns out most of them are sleazeballs who get killed with two girls in a hot tub or in their underwear playing pool.)
Along the way there are numerous weird touches that could’ve only happened in the ’80s. One aspect that’s always piqued my interest is her weird utilitarian apartment, decorated with lockers, a metal bed, a payphone, a giant wooden spool, and a small playground slide. She has an arcade game (Bouncer), a yogurt maker and one of those ubiquitous Nagel prints, for some reason kept on an easel instead of attached to the wall.
You know how in ’80s movies a woman can’t walk down the street without getting accosted by thugs who call her baby and are presumably gonna gang rape her until the hero comes and stops them? In this case it’s 4 guys from the gym – people Christie could very well know by name – and Christie karates them in front of a crowd of about 25 cheering witnesses. It’s weird that none of these people try to help! She has this hairy Steve-Carell-looking cop acquaintance (Jordan Bennett) who witnesses the whole thing, and not only does not try to stop the gang rapists in any way, but also threatens to arrest her for assault! He takes her for a drive, aggressively hits on her, she tells him she hates cops, but then feels sorry for him so she brings him back to her apartment, pours V8 on her neck and has him lick it off. You know, one of those sexy tomato juice scenes.
The horror elements are very enjoyable. The video game gets haunted. A glowing sword floats around in front of her (you can see the strings now that’s in hi-def). She goes to an exorcist (James Hong), comes out with white streaks in her hair like the gal from POLTERGEIST, Ash in EVIL DEAD 2 or Nancy in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. One of the best laughs is when her apartment is getting poltergeisted – the ground shakes, the electricity shorts out, smoke comes in, objects are moving and floating around, and she decides the way to deal with it is to turn on some music and start dancing. Shut it all out and lose yourself to dance, at least until her cursed sword flies out and chops her radio in half.
But for sure the greatest thing in this movie is the opening scene, when the ninja goes to assassinate a guy on a golf course (we never find out the backstory) and it turns into an all out massacre and epic police chase. He slashes, throwing-stars and poison-darts golfers, golf course security and cops. He really pisses off one guy by crushing a golf ball with his bare hands. He takes out a police motorcycle, a police car, even a police helicopter. Total mayhem. There are plenty of Cannnon movies where the climax isn’t half as good as the opening scene of this one.
I was happy watching it on VHS, it was not a movie I needed to look pretty, I was more excited to finally be able to recommend it to a generation of people who don’t know what the fuck a VCR is. But hey, I appreciate how great it looks, and now that it’s clearer and not cropped you get a better look at that crazy apartment, which director Sam Firstenberg (AMERICAN NINJA, AMERICAN SAMURAI, BREAKIN’ 2) describes on the commentary track as “modern industrial look that will help bring out her character, that she has this masculine talent in her.” I was excited to see how he explained the V-8. He doesn’t really, but excitedly takes credit for the idea.
Firstenberg is very funny and self-deprecating on the track, laughing at the title of BREAKIN’ 2 when he mentions it. He’s joined by moderator Rob G from Icons of Fright and stunt coordinator Steven Lambert, who helps destroy some movie magic by pointing out how many stunts he did in the movie, often playing both the cop and the ninja in a duel, as well as doubling for Dickey both in and out of ninja outfit.
The funniest part of the commentary is right at the beginning when Firstenberg attempts to explain the thinking behind the premise. “There was alot of POLTERGEIST in this movie,” he says, “because the reason was that since the company decided to go with a female hero, with a female ninja, and we were looking for a way to make it believable that a woman will carry all this action and physical movement. So the decision was made right off the bat that she’s possessed by a ninja, by some kind of a ninja spirit.” In other words they thought it was more believable that somebody would be possessed by a vengeful ghost than that a woman would learn how to do martial arts. (And then they hired a woman and taught her how to do martial arts.)
There’s also a photo gallery of various poster art and behind the scenes photos and stuff. Is that really her on the cover? She looks different. There’s a funny foreign poster where it’s called TRANCERS and she’s nearly naked, looks like some kind of barbarian movie or something.
Shout Factory has been hitting it out of the park lately, picking up where home video cult movie repackagers of the past like Anchor Bay left off. They’ve been doing definitive hi-def releases of classics like THEY LIVE and THE HOWLING as well as previously hard-to-find obscurities like THE BURNING and THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. In this case the extras are good but the movie itself is all it needs. I can’t recommend NINJA III enough.
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