Film Review (DVD/Bluray): The Ninja Trilogy


Dual Format RRP| £39.95| Release Date| 18 January 2016

Certificate| 18 Run Time| 99 / 91 / 92 min.| Martial Arts / Action / Crime

Year| 1981 / 1983 / 1984. Country: USA. Language| ENGLISH. Subtitles| ENGLISH SDH (Optional)

RATING (Overall Boxset:)★★★★☆

Since their heyday in the 1980s, The Cannon Studio back catalog has now grown into a retro, guilty pleasure for a certain generation who grew up perusing the VHS racks in corner shops. For that is where Cannon’s particular brand of C-grade low budget films largely ended up being consumed. The creation of the Israeli duo Menaham Golen and Yorum Globus, Cannon Films barged into Hollywood in the 80s set on world domination, backed by huge egos and uncontrolled spending. But it didn’t quite work out. They were sneered at by critics and concerned parents for sleaze like American Ninja and the infamously titled Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, yet somehow the odd well-regarded piece of arthouse or genre fare would emerge, like John Cassavetes’s Love Streams. Eventually the studio imploded after a string of box office failures and wild investments, but today the Cannon filmography has achieved immortality via fans devoted to so-bad-its-good cinema.

In the pantheon of Cannon Films, it is fair to say that the 1980s Ninja Trilogy does not sit at the end of the spectrum where their more offbeat, arty fare like Barfly reside. Quite the opposite, the Ninja series are instead a set of unconnected (except for the fact that the iconic Sho Kosugi stars in all three films), and thoroughly crazed action films which helped spearhead a craze for the iconic martial-arts assassins that spiralled throughout the decade and beyond. Disreputable in many ways due to poor production values, atrocious scripting (Cannon dialogue as spoken often sounds like it has gone through Google translate twice), packed with actors well past their prime or without any noticeable talent, and dodgy sexual politics, the Ninja films can still be enjoyed largely in two ways now that Eureka and Masters of Cinema have restored and re-released them in a swanky new bluray set. 

Firstly they, like many other Cannon films, stand as ‘so bad its good’ guilty pleasures, to be enjoyed after a beer or five either on your own or with friends at one of the many films clubs and repertory cinemas that continue to celebrate these cinematic relics. But they also transmit an infectious sense of fun; to watch them is to see the eagerness of Cannon’smovie-obsessed owners to throw everything at the screen to see if it stuck, to collide genres no matter how awkwardly, and to get the picture finished no matter what the limits of money and talent. Whatever their flaws, and they had many, Menaham Golen and Yorum Globus loved movies, and The Ninja Trilogy is the result of that.

Enter the Ninja
Director: Menahem Golan 1981 , USA

Runtime: 99, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Colour: Colour, Certificate: 18, Subtitles: English SDH

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Enter the Ninja stars Django himself -Franco Nero – as Cole, a westerner trained in the secret fighting styles of the Ninja who comes into conflict with land-grabbing oil barons and a dangerous assassin (Sho Kosugi, the best martial artist in the film, who appears in different roles in the two follow ups). The film has a rough, low-budget feel and tonally is all over the place, while Nero is an unconvincing martial artist and looks distinctly past his prime (in fact, most Cannon Film casts tended to look second-rate or that they’d been brought out of deep freeze, something the Studio became known for).  The dubbing makes for an even weirder experience, when allied to ear-curling dialogue. At times it looks like the filmmakers are going to seriously explore Japanese culture and the cultural history of Ninjitsu. But then you start seeing shurikens flying around with ‘zooop/whooosh’ sound effects and you are reminded that this really is a Cannon film. The martial arts showdown between Nero and Kosugi is quite entertaining, even if there is no way real Ninjas- or any martial artist for that matter- would fight using so many superfluous and crazy moves. This was actually directed, and not well, by Cannon co-founder Menahem Golan.

Revenge Of The Ninja

Director:  Sam Firstenberg 1983 , USA

Runtime: 93, Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Colour: Colour, Certificate: 18, Subtitles: English SDH

RATING: ★★★★☆

Actually the best of the three Ninja movies, displaying greater technical sheen, more action and better pacing than its predecessor (maybe a result of MGM getting involved), this film sees assassins slaughter the family of Ninja (and doll collector!) Cho Osaki (Sho Kosugi) in the opening few minutes, prompting him to flee for modern America to build a new life for himself and his son, Kane. But soon Cho crosses paths with ruthless drug trafficker Braden, who is also a skilled evil Ninja, (and who somehow concealed this from Cho despite being his friend for over a decade). The Mafia are involved too, in a grand scheme aiming to use Cho’s newly-established art gallery to smuggle heroin in concert with the corrupt Braden.

It hardly avoids the flaws of the first film, and many of the other Cannon films besides, but Revenge of the Ninja has a lot going for it too. Sho Kosugi might not be the most emotive of leading men (and what’s with that eyeliner and mascara?) but he is a pretty good martial artist and stunt performer, at one point – assuming this was a largely self-performed stunt- leaping on and into a moving van full of thugs before getting into a brawl in the cramped interior, only to then be dragged hanging from the loose rear door across the tarmac.  There are plenty of bizarre flourishes and ‘WTF’ moments too, the end battle where the evil Ninja out of nowhere suddenly deploys hollow fibreglass Ninja decoys, and the cackling villain trying to kill the love interest by overheating her in a jacuzzi, being merely two highlights.

Ninja III: The Domination

Director: Sam Firstenberg 1984 , USA

Runtime: 92, Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, Colour: Colour, Certificate 18, English SDH.

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Aerobics meets Ninjitsu in this truly wacky, but not unenjoyable, instalment in the franchise, as instructor Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey) is possessed by the spirit of an evil Ninja, and driven to seek out his enemies and deal out brutal Ninja vengeance. The only way to exorcise this evil spirit is through combat with another Ninja, AKA Sho Kosugi as Yamada. The film opens with Ninjas on a golf course, a truly jarring image.

Disc and extras review:

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Not as packed with as many extras as some Eureka discs- Enter the Ninja is presented barebones. Cannon films were never produced with a great deal of attention on cinematographic quality, so despite the Eureka team cleaning up the sound and vision to high definition bluray quality the films are not visual masterpieces.

Extras include:

  • High-definition presentations of all three films.
  • Commentaries, interviews and trailers: though no commentary track exists for Enter the Ninja, director Sam Firstenberg contributes to films II and III along with stunt coordinator Steve Lambert.
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired
  • Booklet featuring new writing and archival imagery-always a highlight of the Eureka range.






Label| Eureka




Dual Format Cat. No.| EKA70204

Dual Format Barcode| 5060000702040

Dual Format RRP| £39.95

Release Date| 18 January 2016

Certificate| 18

Run Time| 99 / 91 / 92 min.

OAR| 1.85:1 / 1.78:1 (NINJA III: THE DOMINATION)

Picture| Colour

Genre| Martial Arts / Action / Crime

Year| 1981 / 1983 / 1984

Country| USA

Language| ENGLISH

Subtitles| ENGLISH SDH (Optional)

Film Review (DVD/Bluray): The Ninja Trilogy
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