Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Ninjas - NINJA III: THE DOMINATION



I’m a positive person.  I try not to dwell on the losses and the setbacks.  There are good things that happen every year, hopefully more than bad, but focusing on the good gets you over the rough patches.  I have to be honest though, 2016 has been a real dickhole.  I have been punched in the gut too many to times to maintain my upbeat opinion of this year.  It cannot end fast enough for me.  So I’m focusing all my positivity on the new year.  I don’t know if it’s realistic, but I’m expecting there will be battles won, changes made, people brought together, and not so much death.  Therefore, I’m welcoming 2017 with the most heartwarming and joyous thing I can imagine: ninjas.  Not just any ninjas, 1980’s ninjas.  Not just any 1980’s ninjas, but the craziest, most balls out, most ‘80’s 1980’s ninjas around, Cannon Films’ 1984 classic, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.        

The Capsule:
A lone ninja with no name (David Chung) assassinates a yuppie scientist on a golf course.  He also kills about half of the Arizona police force.  They come at him with motorcycles, police cars, helicopters, golf carts, nothing can stop him.  Finally, after being shot several hundred times, he slips away from the cops and transfers his spirit into a telephone linewoman named Christie (Lucinda Dickey).  At first, nothing seems to change for Christie.  She aerobicizes, mercy dates the pathetic cop who’s been stalking her, and beats up a bunch of muscle heads who are harassing women.  Just a normal day.  Things get complicated when her ninja side takes over and starts rubbing out the surviving cops from the golf course.  Meanwhile, badass Yamada (Shô Kosugi) comes to town on the trail of the ninja who killed his master and threw a shuriken in his eye.  Christie’s loser cop boyfriend Secord (Jordan Bennett) becomes worried that Christie's increasingly strange behavior and zombie like appearance might be connected to all of his friends getting ninja killed.  Can Secord and Yamada figure out how to exorcise the evil spirit before it kills every single person in the movie?

There are few things as pureheartedly stupid as ninja movies.   They don’t care about plot, or drama, or realism, they just want to make you happy.  They are like puppies, in that way.  Big, dumb puppies with throwing stars and explosions.  The phenomena came about in the 1980’s as America’s answer to the Kung Fu craze of the 1970’s.  Except that ninjas are based in Japanese tradition, the main producers of ninja films, Golan and Globus, were Israelis, and the star of the first one was Franco Nero, an Italian, but other than that, completely American.   As with most Cannon films, the action was clumsy and hokey, but they made up for it with glorious excess.

The opening for this film is the stuff of legend.  The Black Ninja, who must be named because of his mood, since he never wears black, enters his secret ninja cave somewhere in Arizona.  He takes a moment to lovingly gaze at his back lit stash of swords, knives, and many, many shurikens.  Then he’s off to assassinate some hoity-toity golf loving scientist for reasons never made clear.  Sure, the Black Ninja could have just shot him with an arrow and slipped away without anyone noticing, but that is not his style.  Instead, he walks up in broad daylight, slaughters a half dozen bodyguards, the scientist, and the scientist’s girlfriend.  Probably the caddie, too.  Next, he goes after the scores of cops racing to the scene and decimates them in varied and spectacular fashion.  He punches through a car roof, leaps from a tree onto a helicopter, and throws a ninja star with his foot.  This is all in the first ten minutes.  

The message here:  if you are looking for an inconspicuous way to assassinate someone, DO NOT hire this guy.  

The police finally put enough bullets in him to put him down.  At least until the cops get close enough for him to pop back up and kill a half dozen more of them.  After a quick smoke bomb disappearance, he staggers away into the desert.  Fortunately for him, he runs into Christie and transfers his soul to her, CHILD’S PLAY style, before giving up the ghost.

Lucinda Dickey was hilariously inappropriate as a break dancer in BREAKIN’ (also from Cannon Films), and she is equally inappropriate as a ninja.  It’s not a total miscast, though.  She is athletic enough to believably pull off some basic ass kicking.  For instance, she wipes the floor with a whole gang of ‘roided out scumbags from her gym who were threatening to rape her.  Scenes like that are always welcome.  This one comes with an extra pinch of Cannon oddness since there is an entire group of bystanders watching the whole thing.  They jeer the thugs hassling Christie and cheer as she beats the crap out of them.  There is even a cop in the crowd.  Thanks for the emotional support, guys.

Once the real ninja action gets going, though, almost all of Christie’s fights are handled by a stuntman.  Since she wears the suit and mask every time the ninja takes over, it should have been an easy deception to pull off.  Cannon, however, does not give a single shit about continuity.  There is even a scene where Christie leaps—unmasked—out of a window, in slow motion.  Plenty of time to verify that, yep, it’s a dude with bushy black hair.  At least he didn’t have a mustache.  Even stranger, Christie is shown in the background driving away from the scene, and it is still the stuntman.  

Dickey’s best scenes are ones that have nothing to do with fights or stunts.  Christie is far from a feminist role model, but she does have some admirable traits.  She is bold, opinionated, and she comes off much more competently than her whiny cop boyfriend, a man who tries to woo her by stalking and then arresting her.  When she finally breaks down and brings the loser to her apartment, she is the one making all the moves.  She pours V8 juice down her chest and makes him lick it off.  Yeah, I know, her seduction technique could use a little work, but he doesn’t complain.  Not that she would care if he did.

It should also be noted that her favorite way of dealing with stress (and possession) is to launch into a FLASHDANCE style dance routine.  At least it is until the glowing floating sword that is haunting her apartment slices the hi-fi in half.  

Christie’s apartment, by the way, is possibly the best character in the movie.  It's as if the ‘80’s was compressed down to its essence and used to decorate a loft.  It has neon lights, a framed picture of Duran Duran’s Rio cover, a payphone on the wall, and a full sized video game cabinet (Bouncer).  There are also weird touches like some kind of stone Buddha head in a birdcage and a tuba hanging from the wall.  There is a creepy mannequin wearing a trench coat and motorcycle helmet lurking by the front door.  I had hoped it would become animated and attack someone, but that went unrealized.  The video game machine does play a major factor, though.  The spirit of the Black Ninja shoots a laser show from it to hypnotize Christie.  It’s good to see he’s staying up with the times.

Dickey does do a decent Linda Blair.  Her wussy boyfriend, Secord, worried about her strange behavior, persuades her to see an Asian mystic.  This is after a medical doctor pronounced her completely normal, aside from some slightly elevated extra-sensory perception (ESP is not considered unusual in Arizona, apparently).  Christie plays along and goes to see Miyashima, who is played by the great James Hong.  As soon as he has her completely restrained (standard practice for all mystic consultation), her ninja half takes over completely.  She becomes ghostly pale and does circle flips around her chains.  Miyashima immediately freaks the fuck out and does everything not to piss off the spirit.  He gets telekinetically pinned against the wall anyway.  Secord looks on with his standard reaction of mild confusion.  After the craziness dies down, Secord asks Miyashima how to get rid of the evil spirit.  He dramatically tells him, “Only a ninja can kill a ninja.”


Which begins one of the best segues ever, Yamata literally popping up from the bushes.  Shô Kosugi was in familiar territory here, having been in Cannon’s previous two ninja movies, ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (he played a ninja).  Pick any high profile ninja movie in the ‘80’s and Shô is likely to be in it.  He’s the quintessential ninja, confident, mysterious, and an excellent martial artist.  He seems too cool for this movie. Yamata is probably my favorite of his roles.  He is so dope that he wears a sword hilt for an eye patch and conceals a mini-blowgun in his empty eye socket.  That is really making the most of a disability.  


He takes it easy on the innocent non-ninja who get in the way of his revenge.  Cops are incapacitated with acupuncture (probably feeling relaxed and refreshed when they wake up).   He also takes out a couple of security guards by bonking their heads together, Three Stooges style.


Yamata also wants to curtail the Black Ninja’s from-the-grave cop murdering spree without harming Christie.  He tells Secord to bring her to the old Shaolin temple in the desert (Arizona is famous for its Shaolin temples).  He fails, of course, because he’s Secord, but Ninja Christie comes anyway.  Yamata manages to return the Black Ninja’s spirit to his body, leaving Christie unharmed, but now he has a super powered zombie ninja to deal with.  Seems like the Black Ninja would have gone with this option in the first place, what with his love of relentless killing and all.  It would have left much less time for aerobics routines, though.

In addition to this and REVENGE OF THE NINJA, director Sam Firstenberg went on to make AMERICAN NINJA, AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION, and as a change of pace, AMERICAN SAMURAI.  The demise of Cannon Films pretty much brought about the end of the ninja movie, though there has been a more recent resurgence with NINJA ASSASSIN and Isaac Florentine’s NINJA and NINJA II.  These are technically much better films with legitimately stunning fight sequences (particularly Florentine’s movies), but the goofy heart of the ninja will always be in the ‘80s.  

So this New Year’s Eve, put away the fireworks and break out the smoke bombs.  Let’s rock 2017 like a ninja.  A good ninja, not a bad one.  You get what I’m saying.



C Chaka
 

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