Ninjas, eh? They used to be everywhere in low-to-medium budget action flicks. A craze for these stealthy warriors was pretty huge in the 1980s and it arguably started with the first film in this duo. Not long after taking over Cannon, cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus set about turning their production arm into one of the most recognised of the decade.
Enter the Ninja is a moderately daft action film that follows Franco Nero as the handsomely moustachioed Cole, a restless warrior. Having just completed his ninja training, Cole responds to a request for help from an old army buddy, Frank. Some years before Frank had saved his friend’s life and so Cole’s loyalty leaves him no option other than to find out what’s going on. Upon arrival at Frank’s ranch in the Philippines, Cole meets his wife Mary-Ann and discovers the rich, psychotic businessman Venarius is trying to make Frank an offer for his land that he can’t refuse. Frank’s not the man he once was and it will take all of Cole’s skills, ability and facial hair to protect Frank and Mary-Ann, especially when Venarius brings in Cole’s ninja rival, Hasegawa (Kosugi).
For the follow-up Revenge of the Ninja Nero would not return and so the main thing that links the two films is Kosugi, this time playing a totally different role. Instead of a villain, Kosugi is the hero, Osaki. After his family is nearly entirely killed in Japan by ninjas, Osaki finally takes his friend Braden’s advice, relocating with his son and mother to Salt Lake City. But Braden isn’t really Osaki’s friend because he’s using the latter’s new art gallery as a drug smuggling front. Oh, and Braden’s a ninja too, using his skills to take out the local mafia competition.
Of the two films, Enter the Ninja is the arguably better movie. Despite a healthy dose of cheese throughout, its relatively straightforward Bond-goes-East meets revenge thriller vibe is successful enough. Revenge is objectively not a great film, but its frequent fights, amusing metal-faced ninja villain, a dignified Kosugi and a po-faced tone despite the utter nonsense taking place makes it an easy film to enjoy. Umbrella Entertainment’s one disc release is difficult to recommend when you can pick up a UK release that comes with extras and also includes the final part of the trilogy, Ninja III: The Domination. That film’s ‘aerobic instructor gets possessed by the evil spirit of a ninja to seek revenge’ plot makes Revenge seem timid in comparison. Still, based on the films alone which combine well-choreographed action with a campy quality, we can recommend them without hesitation.
ENTER THE NINJA / REVENGE OF THE NINJA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTORS: MENAHEM GOLAN, SAM FIRSTENBERG / SCREENPLAY: DICK DESMOND, JAMES SILKE / STARRING: FRANCO NERO, SUSAN GEORGE, SHO KOSUGI, KEITH VITALI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW