• Ninja Trilogy, The (Enter The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination)



    Released by: Eureka Entertainment
    Released on: January 18th, 2016.
    Director: Menahem Golan/Sam Firstenberg
    Cast: Sho Kosugi, Franco Nero, Susan George, Lucinda Dickey
    Year: 1981/1983/1984

    The Movies:

    Eureka offers up three of Cannon Films’ finest ninja movies in this new two disc set!

    ENTER THE NINJA:

    Following hot on the heels of the success of 1980's The Octagon, in which Chuck Norris takes on a clan of echoey sounding ninjas who spend a lot of time in trees, was 1981's Cannon Films' Enter The Ninja. Shot almost entirely on location in Manila, the film stars Franco Nero (Django, Hitch-Hike) as Cole, the first Westerner to finish ninja training. His ninja master even gives him a license that proclaims his ‘ninjatude' (their words, not mine). It's not all cake and champagne once Cole finishes his training though, because Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi of Revenge Of The Ninja) is pretty pissed off that Cole has been given the dubious honor of complete ninjaness, especially since Hasegawa comes from a long line of Japanese warriors and Cole is just another goofy mustachioed American (albeit one that’s played by an Italian).

    After Cole has finished his training, he heads off to the Philippines to help out his old war buddy, Frank (Alex Courtney of Zombie Death House). He and his lovely wife Mary Ann (Susan George of Straw Dogs) have been having some trouble keeping their employees working at their plantation, as a local crime lord, Charles Venarius (Christopher George of Pieces), and his thugs have been threatening them to get them to sell their plantation to him. It seems there is some oil underneath Frank's land, and Venarius will stop at nothing to get it.

    Good thing Cole has come down to visit Frank then, huh? Cole, being a ninja master, quickly shows those thugs that it doesn't pay to mess with his buddies. Venarius' number one bruiser, a fat and sweaty German man with a hook for an arm named Siegfried (Zachi Noy of Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors), learns the hard way that screwing around with ninjas isn't good for your health. But Venarius won't take no for an answer and he heads out to get his own ninja to stop Cole and Frank once and for all - Cole's old ninja school pal, Hasegawa!

    Enter The Ninja is one of the films that kick started the ninja movie craze of the 1980s. Followed by Revenge Of The Ninja and Ninja III: Domination, it was the first of the Cannon ninja movies and the first time Franco Nero would play a master of the martial arts. An odd casting choice for a ninja, Nero and his stunt double (martial arts choreographer Mike Stone, who also co-wrote the film and was originally slated for the lead role) smack, punch, kick and ninja their way through Venarius' toughs like it's no big thing and they do it with style. Clad in a shiny white ninja suit (probably to make sure he stands out against the red and black ninjas in the opening scene), Cole is a formidable hero. Keeping this in mind, it's no wonder that Frank basically gives him permission to bang his hot wife because he's no longer able to get it up for her because of his drinking problem - Cole is just that cool.

    Sho Kosugi looks great on screen, he's menacing, and tough looking and has a sinister vibe working for him that really goes a long way to legitimizing his character's presence. Despite the fact that he doesn't really do much except to show up and get his ass beat hard by Cole, it's a testament to his screen presence that he's as memorable as he is in this film.

    The final show down between Cole (obviously Stone and NOT Nero under the hood) and Hasegawa is the closest thing to a real martial arts bout that the movie contains but it's not executed too badly. Stone and Kosugi are obviously the real deal and it's painfully obvious when Stone is under the hood and when Nero is handling the chores as all Nero really does is punch people, occasionally kicking them. Add to the fact that Stone and Nero don't exactly look alike, if you pay attention it isn't too difficult to see which scenes are actor, and which ones are stunt double. The direction is simple and basic, the plot is cliché ridden and not very original, and the comic relief is terrible at best but Enter The Ninja succeeds in spite of itself by providing plenty of action and a likeable, if unbelievable, hero.

    REVENGE OF THE NINJA:

    In Revenge Of The Ninja, Sho Kosugi plays Cho Osaki, an artist living in Japan who returns to his home to find that a gang of evil ninjas has massacred his family. Only his son and his mother survived the attack and at the suggestion of his close friend and art broker, Cho moves them all off to America. The hope is to start a new life and to open an art gallery in which he can display his hand made Japanese dolls. Cho, who keeps it a secret that he used to be a ninja, seals up his sword and vows never to use his ninja powers again.

    Things seem to be going pretty smooth once Cho moves to the land of opportunity, that is until he gets involved in a drug smuggling plot that is going on right under his nose. He soon learns that he has been used as a patsy. It seems that the mafia has been using the dolls that he’s had shipped from Japan as smuggling devices for some high-grade heroin they’ve been importing into the U.S.A.

    When Cho finds out what’s going on, his son gets kidnapped and his mother is killed, sending him into action. He breaks the seal on his sword once more, only to find out that there is another ninja in town. Not only is this other ninja up to no good, but he just might be behind all of this….

    If you’re a fan of the eighties era ninja films that seemed to be coming out faster than you can shake a stick at during the genre’s boom years, then you probably saw Revenge Of The Ninja. If you didn’t, stop what you’re doing right now and go get it, because it really is one of the best. The movie has just enough setup to matter and it moves at a nice, quick pace. The violence is strong and consistently well-choreographed, letting the various players involved really strut their stuff. Realism is thrown out the door from the opening scene (we see Kosugi catch an arrow in his teeth!) but it doesn’t matter. This is a world where kids and senior citizens alike can get in on the action, kicking ass and taking names alongside the best trained assassins that the world has to offer. It’s a world that puts entertainment first and logic a very distant second and it’s a world we should all be so lucky to experience, if only for ninety minutes.

    Not surprisingly, the focus of the film is Sho Kosugi. The man is a total bad ass, never afraid to put his ninja powers to the test while at the same time, never shying away from his character’s emotional side. He may not have the range or the depth of some of cinema’s more lauded thespians but he handles the material thrown at him well enough to make it work. We buy him as a loving father, but so too do we buy him as an instrument of deadly vengeance. This movie is pretty much nonstop action with only a few scenes interrupting the fights to add some more or less unnecessary character development to the mix. The film does slow down a bit when this occurs, but never so much as to really pull you out of things at all.

    Throw in a cheesy eighties synth-rock score that would make John Carpenter weep and a whole lot of gratuitous bloodshed, even a few gratuitous nude scenes into the mix, and you’ve got one fine piece of ninja-slpoitation all wrapped up in a nice neat ninety minute package. Nostalgia or not, it’s a movie that remains as endlessly entertaining now as it was back in the eighties.

    NINJA III: THE DOMINATION:

    Last but not least, the most insane ninja movie to come out of Cannon’s eighties heyday! The movie begins in Arizona where a Japanese man (David Chung) heads into a cave to transform himself into the Black Ninja! Shortly after, this same assassin heads out to a golf course where he makes short work of an important scientist and his G-men security team. The cops show up and give chase and eventually would seem to have him cornered, until he busts out a smoke bomb and makes his escape. The Black Ninja, however, has been gravely injured – when he runs into a telephone line repairwoman and part time aerobics instructor named Christie (Lucinda Dickey) doing her thing, he somehow possesses her, gives her his sword and from there has the uncanny ability to take her over at will.

    As luck would have it, Christie’s cop boyfriend Billy (Jordan Bennett) was one of the police officers involved in tracking down the Black Ninja, and the spirit of that ninja, now in control of Christie’s hot body, isn’t one to let bygones be bygones. Soon enough, lasers are coming out of video game machines, V8 juice is being used in disturbingly sexy ways, James Hong is trying to give Christie an exorcism and a good guy ninja named Yamada (Sho Kosugi looking pretty dope with an eye patch) makes it his mission to take out the dreaded Black Ninja no matter the cost.

    Combining elements of possession horror pictures like The Exorcist, eighties dance movies like Flashdance and of course the earlier Cannon Films ninja movies, Ninja III: The Domination is, in a word, insane. Once again directed by Sam Firstenberg, it’s a fast paced picture that gleefully goes for an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach, doing its damndest to exploit as many different popular genres and trends of its day as it can in ninety minutes and doing a damn good job of it. Sex! Lasers! Video Games! Exorcism! James Hong! Dancing! Aerobics! Golf! Cops! Ninjas! Smoke Bombs! Spandex! Hot tubs! All this and more come into play, and of course, what would this one be without the obligatory eighties staple, the synthesizer score? We get that too, and it’s fucking beautiful.

    As far as the cast goes, they’re all giving 100%. Sho Kosugi is pretty great here, zipping about in the shadows a lot and, while he’s a good guy this time around, he’s definitely not to be trifled with. If his eye patch didn’t convince you of that, his skills with a sword certainly will. James Hong is underused, but any time James Hong shows up in a movie, especially one as nuts as this picture, it’s a cause for celebration. Jordan Bennett is hairy but likeable enough but the real star here, and this will come as a surprise to no one, is Lucinda Dickey. 1984 was a busy year for her, as she not only made this movie but also managed to star in Breakin’ and of course, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (also directed by Firstenberg) where her dancing skills were honestly put to better use than they are in this picture. That said, she’s definitely got her own eighties era foxy thing going on. She looks good, she commits to the role not matter how ridiculous it might be, and she actually handles herself well in the film’s genuinely impressive action sequences.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Enter The Ninja and Revenge Of The Ninja are presented on one 50GB disc with Ninja III on its own separate disc (also a 50GB disc). The first two films are framed at 1.85.1 and the third at 1.78.1 and each has been given an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. The transfers are clean, colorful and nicely detailed, free of any compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Any print damage that pops into the frame is minimal and texture is strong here too. We also get nice, strong black levels and a fair bit of depth to the picture as well.

    Each film is presented in LPCM 2.0 with optional closed captioning provided in English only. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Clarity is solid. These sound like the mid-tier eighties action films that they are. Dialogue is quite clear and nicely balanced, it comes across with good presence and a fair bit of depth to it. The scores occasionally sounds a little bit thin but the sound effects used throughout the movies have good punch.

    The only extra for Enter The Ninja is a theatrical trailer.

    Revenge Of The Ninja gets a trailer as well as a brief video introduction from Firstenberg, and an audio commentary by Director Sam Firstenberg who is joined by Stunt Coordinator Steven Lambert. The pair delivers a genuinely engaging look back at what went into getting this movie made. This is a reasonably scene specific walk through of the movie, with discussion ranging from why the movie was shot in Utah of all places to what it was like coordinating a lot of the fight scenes, some of which were pretty intricate, with Kosugi. There’s lots of talk towards the end about the difficulties involved in staging the film’s big finish and along the way plenty of interesting stories about working with Golan and Globus, who did what in front of and behind the camera and a fair bit more. If you’re a fan of the movie, this commentary really is a nice treat.

    The sole extra for Ninja III: The Domination is a commentary from Firstenberg and Lambert. Like the track on the first disc, this is an interesting discussion of the film. They talk about shooting this basically right after Revenge Of The Ninja to cash in on the success of the first two movies and how Cannon wanted something different. Firstenberg talks about how Poltergeist was actually a big inspiration for the film, going with a female lead, how certain specific shots were put together and edited, the complexity of some of the stunts seen on camera, the possession element of the movie and the symbolism of the sword featured in the film. There is, of course, quite a bit more covered here. It’s an active track, an informative track, and quite an enjoyable listen. No trailer is included.

    Each disc includes static menus and chapter selection. Although test discs were provided for review purposes, final retail product should include a 28-page booklet containing an essay by C.J. Lines that is accompanied by a collection of archival images.

    The Final Word:

    Eureka’s Blu-ray release of the Cannon Films Ninja Trilogy does a fine job of collecting three of Cannon’s most iconic films in one handy-dandy set. Those who own the US releases probably don’t need to double dip but for UK readers who dig these movies? Yeah, this is absolutely a no-brainer.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!