Revenge of the Ninja (1983) (part 1 of 3)
Stick around until the end of the recap for a special video of highlights from Revenge of the Ninja!
It’s funny to think how deeply connected Cannon Pictures was to the ninja film genre. Their first really big action hit was a flick called Enter the Ninja, released in 1981. It starred Franco Nero of all people as the heroic ninja, and Sho Kosugi, the star of today’s film, as the main villain. They would later hit pay dirt with the American Ninja films, and they continued to milk that franchise all the way to the end.
Today, however, we’re looking at the loose sequel Revenge of the Ninja, which is a true favorite of mine, second only to the glorious American Ninja 2. Sho Kosugi plays a former ninja who’s sworn off violence, only to be pulled back into it when his business partner turns out to be using him to smuggle drugs. When his son (played by Sho’s real life son Kane) is kidnapped, he springs into action, and good lord, is this ever a fun, violent, hilariously sleazy ride!
The acting isn’t much to write home about, the script is practically nonexistent, and what little plot there is serves merely as an excuse to get us from one action scene to the next. Still, it’s an amazingly stupid, briskly-told tale that goes down easy.
I give it 10 out of 10 throwing stars. Let’s check it out.
1. We begin in Japan. The opening credits unfold over a pleasant, placid home, where a family relaxes. Needless to say, the pleasant setting isn’t going to last long, as a team of black-clad ninjas stealthily descends upon the home.
2. While we’re here, is there a good reason ninjas interested in stealth always wear red headbands that make them stick out like sore thumbs? Granted, it’s nowhere near as bad as some other ninja films from the period, where you have guys in sparkly gold ninja outfits with headbands adorned with the word “NINJA”, but still.
3. A woman holding a baby notices the ninja death squad taking aim. She gasps, prompting a truly epic massacre. The entire family is killed: men, women, and children alike, except for the baby, of course (because this is Cannon we’re talking about here, not Troma). The woman hides the baby in the shrubbery, before stupidly running back out just in time to take an arrow to the chest.
4. Two men are about to come upon this brutal scene: Cho (whose family we’ve just seen killed) and Braden (Arthur Roberts), his business partner. The ninjas run and hide while Braden tries to convince Cho to start a business with him, selling his art in the states. Cho refuses at first, saying he must stay here to protect his land.
5. Suddenly, he stops short as he comes across the scene of the massacre. He passes each body, and just as he comes to our baby-hiding lady, ninjas attack. Sho Kosugi does what he does best here, kicking ass and looking good doing it, and this nice bit of martial arts action is highlighted by his catching not one, not two, but three arrows. Making it even cooler is that he catches the third one in his teeth! Let’s see Chuck Norris do that without taking at least one or two errant arrows to the chest.
6. Roberts also gets in on some of the action, killing a few ninjas himself. Cho takes out the rest of the death squad after they do that “Let’s surround the hero and then attack him one at a time” routine, and I can honestly say this beats Steven Seagal’s debut by a mile and a half.
7. Later, Cho’s mother (Grace Oshita) comes across the scene, and in a little twist that I just love, she turns out to be more of a gung ho “Let’s rip their heads off and shit down their necks” type than even Cho! Yes, it’s Kickass Granny from Hell. Go ahead, tell her that her house has old person stink, she dares you.
8. Cho finds the crying baby, and decides he’ll go to America with Braden, after all. Yeah, I’d say that’s a wise move. Granny Kickass tells Cho she doesn’t trust Braden, and we get a huge close up of Braden, and the music swells a bit. Hmm, I guess the composer and DP agree with her.
9. After his mother tells him he can’t run from his past, we cut to America, where it appears he has indeed run from his past. The script has also run from his past, because we’ll never find out who the ninjas were, why they killed his family, or who thought New Coke was such a good idea in the first place.
10. It’s six years later, and Cho’s baby has grown up to be Kane (his name in the film, as well as in real life). Coming out of school with his grandmother, he’s accosted by bullies. Being the son of a super deadly ninja dude, he of course is skilled in martial arts, and ends up beating the shit out of all of them. Rather than being horrified and shocked by this, Granny seems to approve. See what I meant earlier?
11. This is pretty damn hilarious, given that… Well, you don’t really need me to tell you why it’s a little ridiculous to have a six year old boy beating the hell out of kids twice his size. Luckily, this will become something of a recurring theme.
12. Cho stops the fight and scolds Kane, but Granny Kickass says Cho must teach his son the ways of the ninja. Evidently, the family business is ass kicking. Good as anything, I guess. Though I’d bet the workman’s comp insurance premiums must be through the roof.
13. Later, Cho shows Kane a doll. This is apparently the artwork that he and Braden will be selling. It’s a nice enough piece, but the real meat of the scene is Cho explaining that he’s given up fighting. To prove this, he brings out his sword which is “sealed forever” with a bit of rope that makes me think the prop department took things way too literally here.
14. He warns Kane that he is only to use his ninja skills for practice, in order to honor the tradition. Kane agrees, and a demonstration ensues with Kane swinging a small sword. Yes, let’s give the six year old a sword. Good move, Cho.
15. The demo is observed by Kathy (Ashley Ferrare), our female lead. Well, as much as an actress billed seventh in the credits behind Granny Kickass can be considered a “lead”. Kane is sent off to baseball practice, and Kathy reports the dolls have cleared customs. She says Braden will be by later to look at them. While a bland dialogue scene might slow down the average action film, it’s helped immensely when the performers are as bad and stilted as the ones we’re watching here. Bottom line, Kathy has been learning martial arts from Cho and has developed a crush on him.
16. Well, “crush” isn’t exactly the word to use when it inspires a line from Cho like “If you want to work out, you forgot your pants.” This is more like a horny chick looking for love. Wooden, stilted, yet still proficient in martial arts love.
17. A sparring match ensues between Cho and Kathy, and this being the classy sort of film it is, we get plenty of peeks at Kathy’s ass during the fight. One other note: it looks like Cho is wearing mascara here, which could be a clue as to why he rebuffs Kathy’s advances.
18. Later, Braden shows up with a woman at the soon to be opened art gallery, while Kathy and Cho set up things. I guess the electricity still hasn’t been switched on, since the room is dimly lit. The acting here is amazingly stiff, as Arthur Roberts seems hell bent on putting zero inflection into any of his dialogue. Braden and Cho trade compliments/ass kissing, and at this point, I have to believe that even coma patients will be able to guess how this is going to end.
19. The unnamed woman looks at a ninja doll in the exhibit, and we get some basic background from Cho on the subject. Kathy observes this woodenly, and for some reason, the scene ends with the unnamed woman cutting herself on the doll’s sword. Yeah, I don’t know why either.
20. Later, Kane is in the exhibit room, and the kid manages to knock over one of the dolls, breaking it. He reacts with the same expression he always reacts with (staring, mouth drops open) and it turns out the doll is full of white powder. Kathy shows up and scolds him a bit, before sending him out of the room.
21. Kathy goes to Braden’s office, and we’re treated to more wooden acting as she reports the broken doll. It turns out the dolls are being used to smuggle heroin. Braden gets… Well, you can’t really call it angry, given the wooden line reading. In fact, any emotion you could attribute to the actors here would have to be in sarcastic quotes. They both seem to have been carved from the finest timber in the Pacific Northwest.
22. Braden notes that using the gallery as a front is becoming too risky (so, one six year old and a broken doll are enough to make this guy jittery?), and he tells Kathy to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He also mentions the guy buying the heroin, a man named Caifano.
23. Later, Braden pulls up to a large skyscraper, and is sent up to meet with Caifano. We see the man in his suite, getting a massage from one of his guys. Caifano is telling his nephew Gino that he looks at himself in the mirror too much. “It’s not normal!” So says the mafia boss who would rather be rubbed down by a greasy middle-aged guy with a receding hairline than an attractive woman. Not sure this guy should be throwing rocks right now, given the glass house he’s living in.
24. Braden enters, and demands his money up front. Caifano argues with him, and a “Japanese connection” is mentioned. Braden threatens to go someplace else for his money. The meeting ends with Braden telling Caifano he’s making a mistake.
25. Hilariously, the scene cuts in the middle of Braden’s sentence. He says, “You don’t even know me yet,” as he opens a box to reveal ninja stuff. I’ll take a wild guess and say that the “Japanese connection” is just the excuse Braden uses for dressing up like a ninja. Though, given the lack of exposition, any guess would be a wild one.
26. His ninja outfit is pretty basic, though the topper is a silver face mask that ably disguises the stunt double they use whenever Braden goes into action.