(US - 1981)
Directed by Menahem Golan. Written by Dick Desmond. Cast: Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George, Alex Courtney, Will Hare, Zachi Noy, Constantin de Goguel, Dale Ishimoto, Ken Metcalfe, Joonee Gamboa, Leo Martinez, Jim Gaines, Michael Dudikoff. (R, 100 mins)
The mainstreaming of the ninja in American movies is something that must rank high on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus' list of accomplishments as the heads of Cannon. Ninjas appeared in American films prior to Cannon's interest in them, most notably 1980's THE OCTAGON, a minor drive-in hit for Chuck Norris, but with the release of 1981's ENTER THE NINJA, ninjas became a ubiquitous pop culture fixture throughout the decade, and proved a very lucrative genre on video and cable. In 1981, the Golan-Globus incarnation of Cannon was still finding its footing and it would be another couple of years before they started to hit their stride as the "contract signed on a cocktail napkin" madmen that cult movie fans find so endearing today. ENTER THE NINJA became a surprise hit when it arrived in theaters in October 1981 but in retrospect, it feels more Roger Corman or Cirio H. Santiago in execution than it does Golan-Globus. This is mostly because it was shot in Manila and uses some familiar locations seen in Filipino action films, not to mention a supporting role for American expat and Santiago regular Ken Metcalfe, who also worked as the film's location manager. While it certainly has higher production values than a Santiago joint, it also appears to be completely looped in post-production, with Italian star Franco Nero's thick accent distractingly dubbed over by what sounds like an American voice actor whose specialty is the narration of workplace instructional videos. Even for viewers who might be unfamiliar with Nero, the dubbing is obvious, as the voice doesn't fit the veteran actor at all. The decision to dub him has remained the primary complaint that fans have about ENTER THE NINJA, and as the actor has become a beloved cult movie icon over the decades, it seems even more egregiously boneheaded now. Nero, 40 when ENTER THE NINJA was made, wasn't an unknown actor--he'd experienced huge success at home starting with DJANGO and was in constant employment between Europe and Hollywood since the mid-1960s--and by this point in his career, headlining a hit movie and having his voice replaced was insulting, to put it mildly.
(US - 1983)
Directed by Sam Firstenberg. Written by James R. Silke. Cast: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Arthur Roberts, Mario Gallo, Ashley Ferrare, Kane Kosugi, Grace Oshita, John LaMotta, Professor Toru Tanaka, Oscar Rowland, Steven Lambert. (R, 90 mins)
Sho Kosugi made such an impression as Hasegawa, the evil "black ninja" in ENTER THE NINJA that he was promoted to star and hero for the sequel-of-sorts, REVENGE OF THE NINJA. The second of a trilogy of films that aren't really direct sequels and can be enjoyed without having seen the others (though why would you deprive yourself of that?), REVENGE OF THE NINJA definitely exhibits more of a vintage '80s Cannon vibe than its predecessor. You can see the Cannon formula coming together now that Golan & Globus were gaining momentum as Hollywood players. Directing duties were assigned to Polish-born, Israeli-raised Sam Firstenberg, a former Golan assistant who attended film school in the US in the early 1970s. After graduating, Firstenberg moved back and forth between Hollywood and Tel Aviv, handling second-unit duties on a number of Israeli Golan productions in the '70s. Firstenberg would settle in America for good when he came to work for his old bosses once more after Golan & Globus set up shop in Hollywood. Though he was an efficient journeyman director who could handle any job he was assigned, including 1984's BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, Golan quickly realized with REVENGE OF THE NINJA that Firstenberg was a natural with action movies. Soon, Firstenberg became Cannon's go-to guy for ninja mayhem, directing 1984's NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, 1985's AMERICAN NINJA, and 1987's AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION. On Kino's new Blu-ray edition of REVENGE OF THE NINJA, the humble and immensely likable director is quick to thank the stunt coordinators and the editors for their work in helping put together the action sequences and rightly so, but there's no denying that Cannon's ninja movies were operating on a different level once Golan unleashed Firstenberg on them.
fight. Eventually, all parties converge inside Chifano's office building for an orgy of shuriken-hurling ninja carnage, with a final battle between Cho and Braden that's one for the ages, complete with Braden's clown car of a duffel bag somehow containing a robotic decoy ninja arm and a complete dummy ninja in an attempt to fool Cho.
troublemakers in a park and just nonchalantly leaving when it's over. Or a pink-sweatered Kane taking care of some bullies. Or Cho's stealthy ninja-star belt buckle. There's a throwdown between Cho and some Chifano strongarms that turns into an insane van chase, and the final 20 or so minutes inside the skyscraper ranks among the finest set pieces ever seen in a Cannon film, culminating in some SANJURO-level gushing splatter when Cho finally kills Braden. Several of the film's more violent moments were trimmed after the film was originally given an X rating by the MPAA, and that edited, R-rated version is what hit theaters and VHS back in the day. When the film appeared on cable in the mid '80s, it was the uncut, uncensored version, which was eventually released on DVD and remains intact on the new Blu-ray. REVENGE OF THE NINJA was an even bigger hit in theaters than its predecessor. Opening on the slow weekend of September 16, 1983, when the only other new movies in theaters were THE FINAL OPTION and STRANGE INVADERS, neither of which cracked the top ten, REVENGE landed in third place on just 432 screens, with a per screen average of nearly $5000. Small numbers by today's standards, but that weekend's top movie was MR. MOM in its ninth week, on 1300 screens with a $3000 per screen average. It stayed in the top five for two more weeks, and was in the top ten for a month. Though MGM handled the distribution, REVENGE OF THE NINJA was one of the most successful projects undertaken by Golan & Globus and was instrumental in getting the momentum going for Cannon over the next few years.