1.18.2016

Fearless Tiger (1991)

PLOT: When his brother overdoses on a new designer drug called nirvana, a fresh MBA graduate must choose between the stable pursuits of marriage and a burgeoning family business, or traveling to Hong Kong to fight drug dealers.

Director: Ron Hulme
Writer: Steven Maunder, Jalal Merhi, Ron Hulme
Cast: Jalal Merhi, Sonny Onoo, Lazar Rockwood, Bill Pickells, Bolo Yeung, Glen Kwann, Lawrence Mayles, Monika Schnarre




PLOT THICKENER

Martial artist. Producer. Director. Fight choreographer. Jeweler. Disembodied floating head. These are just some of the roles that Jalal Merhi has occupied in his career. By his own admission, he wasn’t much of an actor but did quite well as a producer and director with Film One Productions, the company he founded in part by selling his jewelry business. I’ve always found Merhi to be a bit enigmatic given how many hats he wears and pies in which he puts his fingers during his film productions. With all this hat-wearing and pie-fingering, you’d assume he wouldn’t even have time to act in his own films, but time and time again he appears alongside at least one reasonably big name from the martial arts movie world. If there’s a movie out there in which he performed, but *didn’t* produce, direct, or distribute it, I haven’t seen it. (Or smelled it, despite Merhi’s penchant for innovative scratch-and-sniff VHS boxes).


His debut film, 1991’s Fearless Tiger (aka Black Pearls), was the film that began this strange pattern. Merhi, at this juncture, was an unknown commodity, cinematically speaking. So, with just a couple of scenes in what I’d assume was no more than a day’s work, Bolo Yeung automatically became the “name” star that drove rentals and purchases of the film in the direct-to-video market. He plays a sage “master on mountain” who is completely divorced from the core plot and couldn’t be less critical to the resolution of the central conflict; his near-top billing status is every bit as strategic as it is disingenuous. Yet Bolo was the martial artist who broke the door down for others to do Film One gigs, because Merhi spent the next two decades working out of Toronto with everyone from Cynthia Rothrock and Lorenzo Lamas to Loren Avedon and Billy Blanks. (How fellow Canadian Jeff Wincott escaped the 1990s without working with Merhi, we’ll never know).

Lyle Camille (Merhi) is on top of the world, and not in that “studying polar bear mating habits in the Arctic” sort of way. A lot of graduates fresh out of business school might bum around Europe for the next six months, but Lyle has more practical plans. He’s sitting on an executive offer from his father, Sam (Farr), to run the family business and is also just months away from marrying his artist sweetheart, Ashley (Schnarre). But when his party-boy brother, Lance, overdoses on a hip, new drug called nirvana (think snortable paprika), everything changes.


The executive position at the family business? "Take this job and shove it." The prospective wife and creative soulmate? "Somebody that I used to know." The rest of the track listing for Lyle Camille’s epic mixtape of songs in response to hypothetical questions about his life is unknown. All we do know is that he dodges most of the typical benchmarks for adulthood so he can train at an elite dojo in Hong Kong to elevate his kung fu skills -- he recently lost in a tournament to a stout bald dude named Boh (Kwann) --  and eventually confront a gang called the Black Pearls that’s making and dealing the drug that killed Lance.

Despite his very personal stake in the Pearls’ demise, Lyle is completely unaware that the Pearls’ leader, Saalamar (Rockwood) has recently struck a deal with the shady Jerome (Mayles) to start a North American operation. Before they can do that, though, Saalamar’s chemists must transcribe the highly complex chemical formula behind nirvana to computer disk. This is a lengthy process for which Saalamar would very much like his science nerds to hurry the fuck up, even though he’s totally ignorant of Lyle’s arrival in Hong Kong on an urgent rampage for revenge. In this endeavor, Lyle joins forces with a tournament buddy, Peng (Onoo) who just happens to be the Hong Kong cop investigating a string of drug murders, but has come up empty so far.


My first brush with this movie was a television airing some time in the mid-1990s during TNT’s Saturday Nitro umbrella series of obscure action films. Between the strange acting -- Merhi is green, Mayles is hilariously intense, and Rockwood is downright bizarre -- and prevailing pattern of characters feeling around in the dark until bumping into each other for convenient conflicts, I was intrigued and entertained but under no illusion that this was a good film. With the central conflict of a man who chooses the dangerous and uncertain life of adventure over marriage and a favorable position in his family’s business, the film is oddly autobiographical in reflecting Merhi’s own trajectory. When he sold off all his assets to make a movie and start a production company, was there a girlfriend at home who made funky art and was also taller than him? Did he have a screw-up brother? Is he a real-life computer programmer, per his character writing a crude program on an Apple IIe to mock his adversaries with a cartoon character defiantly showing his bare ass? Just when you think you’ve got all of the answers, Merhi changes the questions.

In the annals of slimy and odd-looking chopsocky villains, Saalamar (at one point referred to as “the Mongolian Prince”) wouldn’t even be identifiable to most b-movie fans, let alone a favorite. Yet, I have this strange fondness for him that I can’t quite articulate and I feel warrants closer inspection. Maybe it’s the ridiculous ADR that makes him sound like a hardass despite his feeble, grandfatherly frame. Perhaps it’s his authority over a dojo of fearsome monks despite no obvious fighting skills, or his command of a lab full of drug chemists despite no understanding of science. Or his classic character-actor face that suggests equal parts Billy Drago, Kermit the Frog, and the hair of 1970s Peter Frampton. And let’s not forget those headbands! You put anyone other than Yugoslav-Canadian actor Lazar Rockwood (Beyond the 7th Door) in this role and they’re an afterthought. With his weird facial ticks and screen presence, it’s a performance demanding of attention and I daresay, celebration.


If you want a movie that has fast-paced, creative action choreography you should really go watch a Yuen Woo-ping film. But if you’re in the mood for something with sleepy tournament fighting, a guy getting choked unconscious with a toilet seat, and a clumsy fight in the back of a garbage truck, Fearless Tiger has you covered. While there are some great martial artists in the film -- sport karate champ Richard Plowden among them -- the most prominent one, Yeung, doesn’t do any actual fighting and the choreography is otherwise bland and unfulfilling, like artificial butter on white bread or tofu on a rice cracker. In fact, the movie’s best (i.e. most amusing) action scene isn’t really an action scene at all -- it’s the most hilariously random aerobic-martial-arts dance party you’ve ever seen. It’s amazing, I loved it, and this scene alone added a whole point to my final score. Unfortunately, this replaced the whole point I deducted for the garbage truck fight. Sometimes breaking even is the best you can do.

VERDICT

Despite the lack of polish, major co-stars with consistent screentime, or creative fight scenes, I have a strange admiration for Fearless Tiger above all of Jalal Merhi’s other films. The plot is far-fetched with shaky character motivations, the supporting cast is a mix of oddball character actors and total non-actors, and the film continues the proud action b-movie tradition of a protagonist with an unexplained accent that differs sharply from everyone around him. While obviously lifting from blueprints set by better films, Merhi’s debut is a kooky but entertaining mess-mash of ‘splosions, kung fu, and cringe-worthy dialogue.

AVAILABILITY

Grab a DVD or VHS on Amazon or eBay.

3.5 / 7


12.18.2015

Chinatown Connection (1990)

PLOT: Two cops try to figure out who’s behind a lethal supply of poisoned cocaine. Hijinks ensue because they're ethnically different or something.

Director: Jean Paul Oulette
Writer: Jean Paul Oulette
Cast: Lee Majors II, Yung Henry Yu (as Bruce Ly), Fitz Houston, Deron McBee






PLOT THICKENER
In the world of action cinema, Art Camacho casts a long and impressive shadow. A student of Eric Lee, Camacho rose the ranks from actor to action choreographer and finally got his chance in the director’s chair for legendary studio PM Entertainment. His is a legitimately cool story. Seriously! Have a read and get inspired. Before he could run his own set or show Ja Rule how to fight convincingly, though, he had to play bit parts in films like 1990’s Chinatown Connection.

Warren Houston (Lee Majors II) is a cop on the edge of unemployment after he destroys a church during a tense hostage situation. His dickhead lieutenant pisses all over the cocaine cache he recovered and the innocent hostages he saved in the incident, and puts him on a hot case with a new partner. The case? Figure out who’s behind the toxic street product causing a rash of cocaine-induced deaths. The partner? A detective named Chan (Yu) who runs an anger-management martial arts course for cops -- the brooding Estes (Camacho) is his latest student -- and prefers punches and kicks over using his firearm. Houston initially refuses, but learns in time that Chan’s relaxed veneer is a cover for honed street smarts, vicious fighting ability, and a probable love of baking.


Sometimes we trashy action fans sit around and wonder why certain films never made the format jump to DVD. This film is a perfect example for why that is: like other films similar in scope, size, and execution, it’s not good and rife with missteps. This film was originally slated for Ninjavember coverage, but I had to drop it off entirely because the sole ninja invades Houston’s home at night only to attack his furniture and personal belongings without engaging the target in combat. The rest of the film’s “ninjas” are just brawny dudes in balaclavas and t-shirts with the sleeves cut off. I mean, what the fuck is that? There are occasional flourishes -- a crackling line of dialogue, a decent supporting character performance, and Deron McBee (Malibu!) among them -- but this is the sort of film that merely exists and doesn’t make a serious effort to engage you on any meaningful level. Come to think of it, Chinatown Connection is a lot like my uncle Dave. Year in and year out, the guy just shows up to the holiday party, eats all the shrimp, and leaves without much more than a “hey, how’s it going?”


Many of my friends have quipped at one time or another that for them, cheese is “like crack.” Between the heart palpitations, loss of appetite, and aggressive behavior, a nice smoked gouda or baked brie certainly yields similar effects as the popular cocaine offshoot. In depicting a factory in which coke is smuggled in actual 10-pound wax cheese wheels, no film has ever laid this comparison bare quite so blatantly. It was a clever way to rework a tired action movie cliche that spoke deeply to me as a recovering cheese-lover. I assumed that Oulette’s French roots might have factored into this choice, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered he was born in Boston, a city known more for its clam chowder than its clam cheese (if there is such a thing). That’s what I get for being vaguely racist.


Playing the treacherous Tony North is Fitz Houston, an actor, minister, flugelhornist, and owner of one of the great multifaceted IMDb biographies in history. For me, he’s also the best performer in the film. From a physical standpoint, Houston is a cross between Predator-era Carl Weathers (e.g. muscles and great polo shirts) and former pro wrestler Norman Smiley (e.g. unfortunate pattern baldness with mustache). This great look is trumped only by his ability to destroy wooden boards strategically placed on end tables. While one might think this would make him an ace for action scenes, he’s fond of low kicks to the shins, a tendency unbefitting of a man of his stature. Houston brings attitude to his line delivery and charisma to his interactions with the other actors, and this really distinguishes him from the rest of the cast, most of whom act like they’re placing orders for sandwiches at a corner deli.


VERDICT
Maybe it was the garden salad without dressing I ate for dinner, but the taste this movie left in my mouth was dull as dishwater. (Ever tasted dishwater? Shit is GROSS). The action scenes are marked by clunky choreography, the story is half-baked, and most of the actors seem to have left their powers of inflection at home. This may have been a case where my expectations were inflated by a trailer that portended something fun and trashy but turned out to be much too talky. Recommended only for Art Camacho completists, and viewers for whom the East-meets-West reluctant partner dynamic never gets old.

AVAILABILITY
A tough get. I watched this on VHS, so finding a used copy on Amazon or eBay is your best bet.

2.5 / 7

11.28.2015

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

PLOT: A utilities worker and part-time aerobics instructor encounters a dying ninja and is entrusted with his sword. However, the weapon is a conduit through which the ninja’s evil spirit takes possession of her body and mind. Based on what I can only assume was a true story.

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: James R. Silke
Cast: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi, Jordan Bennett, James Hong, David Chung




PLOT THICKENER
In a modern-day film climate saturated with sequels, prequels, and reboots of nearly every genre flavor, it’s easy to forget that the sequel trend really began its upward trajectory in the late 1970s and early 1980s (scroll down to the third chart here for the grisly evidence). Action and adventure films were (and continue to be) the genres least resistant to retreads, and low-budget franchises were no more insulated from the phenomenon than their big-budget brethren. Fortunately, the “ninja trilogy” films from the Golan-Globus era of Cannon Films handled this in the best way possible, by keeping a few recognizable elements (e.g. the ninja archetype and Sho Kosugi) and turning over the characters, stories, and settings. The results throughout this trilogy were stylistically distinct, tonally all over the map, and as Ninja III: The Domination proves, full of ridiculous fun.


Christie (Dickey, of Breakin’ fame) is your typical all-American girl. Like many women in their 20s, she works as a utility repair person by day and teaches aerobics classes by night. She loves dance pop music, arcade games, and denim. Her dislikes include killing people, guys with hairy backs, and V8 drinks. However, after a chance encounter out in a field with a dying ninja (Chung) who recently killed  a scientist and his wife, several security workers, and dozens of local police, Christie becomes possessed by his spirit after taking his sword as a gift (we know this because of the strong gusts of wind). Very rapidly, her life begins to change.


After giving a statement to police, Christie returns to civilian life but is harassed by a detective named Billy (Bennett) for a date. Initially resistant, she’s repulsed by his piggish quips and unhealthy fondness for soft drinks and coffee. Later, though, she notices him taking her aerobics class and she begins to warm up to him, despite his luxurious coat of back hair. Their first date includes an awkward but nutritious V8 bodyshot (blech) and Billy spends the night (we can reasonably infer sex or at least some heavy petting). With Billy fast asleep, Christie unconsciously commits the first in a series revenge killings against his various partners on the police force; many of them were involved in the fatal shooting of the ninja. Over time, fog gathers, swords glow, heads roll, arcade cabinets shoot laser beams, and Billy is helpless to save his new squeeze from the evil overtaking her. A mysterious martial artist from Japan, Yamada (Kosugi), may be the only person who can save Christie from a terrible fate (e.g. jail, death, or Billy’s back hair).


Following the wild action of Revenge of the Ninja, one might reasonably expect that Cannon Films would ratchet up the action quotient, especially with Sho Kosugi back in the fold as both a main actor and fight choreographer. However, the action is mainly relegated to the film’s opening, which plays out like a Grand Theft Auto crime spree on a golf course, and its conclusion, which finds Yamada first chasing Christie around a dilapidated house before battling the Black Ninja that had been inhabiting her. Peppered throughout are the requisite vengeful stalk-and-kill scenes, and one scene at a police funeral that properly sells Christie’s full transformation into the Black Ninja. The choreography isn’t super complex, but each action scene brings the same level of energy, creativity, and solid stuntwork you’d expect from the Firstenberg/Kosugi pairing.


Perhaps the filmmakers felt that because they’d set the action bar so high with Revenge… they were liberated to try something different with the ninja construct and go in more of a hybridized direction. With allusions to prior ninja movies, horror tropes, and even Dickey’s involvement with the Breakin’ franchise, Ninja III might be the most “Cannon” of Cannon Films’ 1980s output, and this special blend is one of the big reasons its popularity persists three decades later. Many will dock it points for its dated visual effects and inconsistent cohesion to the possession plot-line (when Christie pours V8 down her cleavage and has the hots for a dude with terrible back-hair, is it *the ninja spirit* doing these things?) but doing so misses the point. At its core, Ninja III is and was a celebration of everything that was fun and ridiculous about 1980s genre film.

VERDICT
This film packs so much weird fun. With the exception of its insane book-ends, Ninja III is a little light on quality action but it’s an easy thing to overlook against the backdrop of a ridiculous plot, wacky effects, and several Deloreans’ worth of 1980s film tropes. Tonally, it’s a strange concluding chapter in Cannon Films’ unofficial ninja trilogy, but I love it with the emotional warmth normally reserved for a cute dog or a Boglin still in the box. Recommended.

AVAILABILITY
Netflix, Amazon and eBay can all get you sorted, but Shout! Factory’s release is the edition worth targeting.

5.5 / 7


11.25.2015

Ninja Phantom Heroes (1987)

PLOT: Fighters which turn into Ninjas just by crossing their arms, a marriage which people do not approve and Chinese businessmen who stand around laughing and plotting something sinister, yet nothing sinister happens. Confused? I know I am!

Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Duncean Bauer
Cast: Jeff Houston, John Wilford, Christine Wells, Glenn Carson, George Dickson.




PLOT THICKENER
There was a time in the 1980s and early '90s where ninja flicks were popular. We were exposed to cheesy but wonderfully choreographed pieces, and every time you watched one of these films you were hoping Sho Kosugi would be the lead actor. Ninja Phantom Heroes is not one of those films.

WARNING: I do not know any of the character's names, besides that of side characters who do not feature in the film for more than a couple of minutes. I guess Godfrey Ho thought it was a great idea and "innovative" to not give the characters actual names. Apologies for the confusion that is about to happen...I am still confused.


There are all kinds of craptacular masterpieces out there, and I can tolerate a lot of them, but this -- it REALLY tried my patience. When a film doesn't include the character's names, leaves no explanation for why they are doing anything, and not a single scene connects to one another, it makes you question if the film is going to get better-- this doesn't. Firstly, two caucasian martial artists meet in Asia to discuss -- OK, you know what? I'm not actually sure what -- because IT WASN'T MAKING SENSE! Then we skip to a Chinese couple who are arguing about going horse riding. And yes, they do go horse riding. Jump to another scene, Asian businessmen standing around in tuxedos and laughing really obnoxiously, and they are trying to plot something, but I don't even think *they* know what. And inserted in between were random cut-aways of ninjas training. For what? I am still not sure. Are you lost yet? I was lost at the 55-minute mark.


While sitting at that 55-minute mark, I contemplated the events that led me up to choosing this film. I was full of hope for schlock but so-bad-it's-good schlock. After having it on pause and venting out my frustration by swearing at my TV, I decided to keep going. The highlight of the film was seeing the two caucasian martial artists fighting in some random forest (not sure how they got there by the way). This part gave me hope because out of the blue they started fighting the so-called bad guy, who looked like the love child of Dolph Lundgren and Matthias Hues. And just as they started fighting, they crossed their arms and all of a sudden were dressed as ninjas! WHERE THE HELL DID THIS COME FROM? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? EXPLAIN THIS TO ME! GIVE ME A DAMN SUBTITLE ON THE SCREEN, OR HAVE A CHEESY VOICE OVER, I DON'T CARE BUT PLEASE START TO MAKE SENSE...sorry I don't mean to yell but GOD DAMN! The choreography is average at best, but it has definitely been sped up, which does not translate well on screen. If anything it looks like a Benny Hill re-run.


Then we jump back to the Asian couple, (oh, by the way, they got married, didn't see a wedding, but it freakin' happened! Apparently they think they were only married because the husband was after his new wife's money -- why? IT'S NEVER EXPLAINED? How the hell did we get to this part? I don't know...I am so close to crying in a corner while in a strait-jacket all because it's so hard to explain this damn film.  Then we have a cut-away scene to random guys in uniforms -- I'm going to take a stab at it, and say FBI or something similar. Either way, they are discussing a certain character -- not sure who -- but this character managed to kill two million people. Yes, TWO FREAKIN' MILLION. It's not explained how or why. They then continue on discussing how it will cause chaos if they don't step in.

OK, stop right there a second. They think if they don't stop him now it will turn into chaos? The guy has killed two million people already, and only now is it chaotic? You would think these guys would have stepped in at least in the one hundred thousand mark.I guess that isn't chaotic enough.

By this point, we are reaching the climax of the film. And still nothing makes sense. Do the three plot lines come together in the final moments, finally giving the film the tiniest of redeeming qualities? No, they do not. People are hit by cars in one scene, and in another the ninjas fight near a cliff and what an underwhelming fight it is. Then it just ends. Not a single thing is tied up. And do I care? No, I don't care because at this point I am dialling my phone and telling the men in white coats to come and give me a lobotomy.


If you know Godfrey Ho you would know by now he is a director known for a couple of things. He directs ninja films...A LOT of ninja films, he works under pseudonyms such as Bruce Lambert, and lastly a lot of his films are old stock footage which he pastes together with the hope they all blend together nicely. I have a sneaky suspicion that this is one of THOSE films.

VERDICT
Godfrey Ho has a deep passion for ninjas and everything martial arts, and it's a real shame that he hasn't translated that passion on screen effectively very often. His films definitely do have a following out there, because a lot of people like the fact that he uses different stock footage to create a unique film, and you gotta give him that -- his films sure are unique.

I had hopes that this film would be fun, schlocky and make me laugh. Unfortunately it did none of those things. For anyone who has a specific martial art boxset  called 100 Greatest Martial Arts Classics by Mill Creek Entertainment, this will not be under Ninja Phantom Heroes but instead be under the name of Ninja Empire - another Godfrey Ho film which it often gets confused with. So for the people who own that boxset, for your own sanity do NOT turn on the film Ninja Empire.

AVAILABILITY
Does it even matter? 

1/7



11.24.2015

Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

PLOT: After the majority of his family is murdered by ninjas, a Japanese ninjutsu master relocates to the United States with his young son, and partners with his American friend to start an art gallery. How will this single dad raise his son while trying to juggle dating, American tax codes, betrayal, and a pretentious art scene?

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: James R. Silke
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Arthur Roberts, Kane Kosugi, Ashley Ferrare, Keith Vitali, Mario Gallo, Virgil Frye


PLOT THICKENER
There are a lot different angles a film can use to approach the ninja archetype. In many Western films, the non-ninja characters are clueless and dumbfounded by what they previously considered to be the stuff of foreign legend. In other cases, the ninja is a superhuman alter ego shrouded in secrecy. For the majority of films though -- especially in the 1980s -- I’d submit that the ninja is used as a disposable henchman (e.g. action movie window dressing). Save for its brutal opening scene, Sam Firstenberg’s 1983 film Revenge of the Ninja instead treats the ninja as a sort of weekend athletic hobby like indoor climbing or squash. (e.g. “Bob, I had no idea you were a ninja. Want to join my co-ed intramural league?”) It’s hard to argue with this casual approach since the results are so awesome and ridiculous.


Cho Osaki (Kosugi) has been fending off ninjas for most of his life in Japan, and the latest encounter finds him arriving home just moments too late. His entire family has been slaughtered by ninja assholes, with the exception of his mother and his infant son. His American friend, Braden (Roberts) convinces him to escape the chaos of Japan and emigrate to the United States for a new start. Cho obliges, and a few years later we see the humble beginnings of the Japanese art gallery -- creepy miniature dolls, above all -- that he runs with the backing of Braden and his assistant, Kathy (Ferrare).

Cho’s son, Kane (Kane Kosugi) is struggling to adapt to the American way of life as a kid. He has occasional skirmishes with older neighborhood boys, who he thoroughly destroys in fights because he’s good at martial arts and using fistfuls of dirt to blind them. Cho admonishes his son for inviting the conflict but simultaneously teaches him appreciation for the traditions of ninjutsu. When Kane’s emerging skill is combined with his age-appropriate curiosity and a bit of clumsiness, he makes a powdery discovery in the art gallery that totally unravels the Osakis’ peaceful life in their adopted homeland. Before you know it, people are catching shurikens to the dome in broad daylight, captives are being boiled alive in hot tubs, and the Italian mafia is reinforcing unfortunate ethnic stereotypes every fifteen minutes. If Cho is going to survive a fresh round of chaos, he may need to resurrect his ninja past and accept help from his sparring partner, Dave (Vitali). Dave’s a nice guy.


This film succeeds where others have waffled or failed outright in the most important element of the ninja movie: wild, unhinged action. From the brutal opening to the gushing conclusion, the action scenes here are creative, strange, and spectacular. It features solid sword-fight choreography, one of the best rooftop climax fights in the history of action cinema, and my favorite interior moving vehicle fight this side of The Raid 2. Ninjas throw fire, disappear in smoke, and flip effortlessly between buildings. Kane Kosugi and Ashley Ferrare have a scuffle that I didn’t totally hate, and even the octogenarian grandma gets some time to shine. When the shot selection is iffy or the hand-to-hand choreography is less than crisp, there’s still an element of energy and fun in every frame. Of the three originals in the Cannon Films “ninja trilogy," this features the best action scenes, by far.


This film was also the blueprint for future Kosugi works that lay waste to the family structure of whichever character he happened to be playing. In 1985’s Pray for Death, his character’s family is tormented and one family member is killed. In 1987’s Rage of Honor, his character’s friend is killed. Notice a consistent theme? Getting involved with Sho Kosugi on screen in any familiar or friendly capacity could get you seriously fucked up. Gordon Hessler -- director of the two aforementioned films -- seemed to especially enjoy putting Kosugi’s characters through the emotional wringer, and we’re forced to wonder why. If Kosugi ate the last donut in catering, I get it. If he won Hessler’s last twenty bucks in a poker game, I can see the need for some form of retribution. But if the thought process was “how else are we going to generate audience sympathy for this average actor with amazing hair who speaks stiff English other than to slaughter the people he loves the most?” that’s a seriously lazy and cold-hearted approach to character development.

Other than the occasional beer before liquor or undercooked pork, I’m not one for risky behavior, but I’ll go out on a limb here: the makers of the classic 1985 boxing game Punch-Out!! stole Braden’s stilted cackles for the Bald Bull character’s victory taunt. Don’t believe me? Check out this brief side-by-side comparison.


Still not convinced? The NSA has some sophisticated audio analysis and visualization software that I’m sure would reveal a match. Tweet at them. (Or maybe don’t -- I’m pretty sure you get put on a “list”). In all seriousness, the juxtaposition is a pretty close call. Close enough to keep me up late at night for days until I finally woke up sweating like Billy Blanks with a eureka moment that will probably be the only lasting observation of anything I’ll ever write.

VERDICT
For me, Revenge of the Ninja is the measuring stick by which all other Western ninja films are evaluated. Some folks swear by the first two American Ninja films for nostalgic reasons, I have a strange fondness for Pray for Death, and others might prefer the technical polish of recent Adkins-Florentine collaborations -- Kane Kosugi’s involvement with the latter provides a compelling link to his father’s work -- but this film ticks nearly all the boxes on the cult action film checklist (e.g. gore, wacky plot, despicable villain, action, drugs, nudity, etc.) A must-see and should-probably-own.

AVAILABILITY
Amazon, YouTube, Netflix, eBay.

6 / 7

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