Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ENTER THE NINJA

Back in the late 1970s, martial arts champion Mike Stone thought he might like to get into the movies. To that end, he wrote a screenplay as a vehicle for himself, one that would showcase his fighting skills. Eventually, that script fell into the hands of Cannon Films moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The enterprising cousins saw the potential in Stone's story, and bought it - but decided that Stone lacked the International box office name recognition that would help ensure the film's success, so they cast another actor in the lead. That actor was Franco Nero and the film was ENTER THE NINJA (1981).

The movie begins as American vet Cole (Nero, DJANGO) completes his training at a Japanese dojo devoted to maintaining the traditions of ninjitsu. Caucasian Cole is at the top of his class, which really pisses off his ill-tempered Nipponese classmate, Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi, 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA, NINJA ASSASSIN). Upon his graduation, Cole travels to the Philippines, where his old Army buddy Frank (Alex Courtney) is trying to run a cocoanut plantation. Unfortunately, Frank's being pressured to sell his land by a vicious band of thugs in the employ of a corrupt developer named Venarius (Christopher George, THE EXTERMINATOR, THE RAT PATROL), and has become a pathetic alcoholic. Frank's wife Mary Ann (Susan George, STRAW DOGS, VENOM) is trying to keep things together, but she can't do it alone... so, like every good Western cowboy hero, Cole sticks around to help out. After Cole kicks the asses of Venarius' hired goons a few times, the businessman calls in the big gun: the evil "black ninja" Hasegawa , and the two old rivals face off in a duel to the death....

Directed by Menaham Golan, ENTER THE NINJA is, by all subjective criteria, an awful film. The story is a mishmash of refried B-Western tropes, the photography and editing are sloppy, and the movie just plain looks - and feels - cheap. Nero (sporting a bushy porn 'stache) is dubbed throughout, and is all-too-obviously doubled in all of the fight scenes by Mike Stone. Kosugi's thickly-accented dialogue is nigh-incomprehensible. The usually reliable Christopher George camps it up dreadfully as the effete heavy, and Golan's direction is bland and listless. 

But, all that said, ENTER THE NINJA is goofy fun, especially during the over-the-top fight scenes. 

It was a tremendous commercial success in drive-ins, on 80s pay cable, and as a popular VHS perennial. It kick-started the entire "ninja" craze of the 80s, made a star (for a few years, anyway) of Sho Kosugi, and made millions of teenage boys buy "authentic" ninja uniforms and throwing stars from kung fu magazines. What it didn't do, unfortunately, was make a movie star out of Mike Stone.

Inexplicably missing on DVD until now, this highly-influential martial arts potboiler is finally seeing a MOD release from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The disc features a very nice, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and perfectly adequate 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono audio. The (apparently remastered) source print is nearly pristine, with virtually no distracting specks or other defects. Picture quality is sharp & clear, with stable colors and strong blacks. The only extra is the amusing original theatrical trailer.

I've had ENTER THE NINJA on my "Most Wanted DVDs" list forever, and am thrilled that MGM finally made the title available on MOD disc. It's a terrible flick, but I have to admit that I love it - and I know a lot of other action buffs of my generation love it, too. Even better, the disc looks good. Now, if only they'd release NINJA III: THE DOMINATION...


BUYEnter The Ninja