Enter the Ninja
U.S.A. 1981
Directed by Menahem Golen.


Some white guy thinks he's a Ninja. And lo, the American Ninja craze is launched.

I can't remember the last time I had so much fun watching such a bad movie. Enter the Ninja is perfect fodder for the now defunct Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show. But you don't need Mike and the 'bots for this one -- it's too easy to do it yourself. No doubt about it, this is a great party film. And it is really, really terrible.

The audience came to see ninjas, and I can appreciate a film which delivers on its promises. The first nineteen minutes of the film is wall-to-wall ninja. No one even appears on the screen unless they're wearing the face mask and pajamas. No one speaks -- it is simply chasing and fighting. Who's the good guy? Who's the bad guy? Well, the world of Ninja works much like the world of the cowboy western as it turns out. The good guy is in the white pajamas, the bad guy in black. The extras just rush around in red, which is probably good for the dry cleaning since they bleed all over those costumes throughout. When its time to off the masks we learn that the white ninja is white all the way through, an American military man named Cole (Francis Nero) who is out to master the deadly ninja arts. The Ninja master grants him the title of Ninja after he passes all of his tests, over the protests of the evil black ninja, Hasekawa -- who is not all black, but rather played by ninja extraordinaire Sho Kosugi.

Cole decides to travel from there to the Phillipines to meet an old friend. "I won't stay for long," he says, "I like to keep moving." He's like the Incredible Hulk -- The Ninja Years. He arrives in Manila only to find his old marine chum Frank (Alex Courtney), who looks like Art Garfunkle but sounds like Charlton Heston. These aren't his only problems, it turns out Frank is being harassed by the locals into selling his property, and its driving him to drink. Oh, yes, and he's married to an all-eighties woman (Susan George) in tight blue jeans and knotted-up button-down shirt, but he's completely impotent. And he likes to watch cock fights, the psychological implications of which I do not wish to imagine.

So it's up to Cole to save the day. After all, whenever he has some old colonialist friends whose plantation is running into trouble from the locals, he's ready to help. Frank explains that they pay the workers who live on their plantation, and anyway its all these uneducated fools really know how to do. Frank is doing a good thing for Manila by living there, don't you see? The man putting the squeeze on Frank is a short fat man with a hook for a hand and a limp. Cole uses his honorable ninja skills to beat the crap out of the crippled fat man for his drunken friend. He also finds time to protect the locals and shag Frank's wife. What a man.

But hook is just a henchman to the powerful and evil Mr. Venarious (Christopher George), who overdoes it on the campy quirks that hollywood screenwriters dictate that all villains must possess. He likes to refer to everyone as 'Mr.', the whole organization wears white suits, and he has a large swimming pool in his office in which he directs a group of synchronized swimmers. He decides they must get a ninja to kill a ninja, and he pouts to his assistant, Mr. Parker, "I want a Ninja!" Mr. Parker travels to Japan and naturally picks up good ol' Hasekawa, who stirs up a lot of trouble in Manila before the inevitable ninja showdown between the white and black ninjas.

What is really suprising about this movie, given the influence it had on the entire American martial arts film scene, is how really, awfully terrible it is. Francis Nero is about the least ninja-like white guy I have ever seen (well, maybe Lee Van Cleef is, but certainly Nero is second). Maybe it's his bushy mustache. Or maybe it's the fact that he does not appear to possess even the slightest amount of martial arts skill. The panicked look on his face while he practices with his nunchakus is perhaps the most obvious moment to illustrate this (and for my money, one of the most amusing scenes of the film), but it's blindingly obvious in the way he punches people, the way he kicks, even the way he thinks he is being stealthy. Sho Kosugi looked pretty decent, but up against Nero who wouldn't? Kosugi also actually doubled for Nero sometimes during the film -- one of the advantages of having your actors wear full body pajamas -- you can put anyone you please into them.

But say what you will about Enter the Ninja, it was a phenomenon -- it made Sho Kosugi a star and ninja a household word. Soon, everyone wanted their own ninja, just like Mr. Venarius. The ninja craze was on, leading to dozens more ninja films and even a TV series starring Lee Van Cleef as a ninja, which was thankfully cancelled after thirteen episodes. Sho Kosugi rode the ninja wave into about a half dozen movies, including a number of sequels, such as Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination, each at least an improvement over this film. But when the ninja fad died, as all fads must, Kosugi went to television. He landed a late night host spot on "Sho Kosugi Theater," and thence drifted into obscurity. Starting in 1996, he had a two year run on an exciting series which combined a healthy workout with learning the art of the invisible warrior. The show was called Ninjaerobics, but sadly, it never really took off. And so the master ninja Sho Kosugi remains in obscurity while thousands of Americans practice their Tai Bo instead.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on May 04, 2004.


Comments

When I first saw Enter the Ninja I was amazed. I had been interested in ninjitsu since I was only 11 years old and to see a film about this was unbelievable at the time. So I always wished to have a copy of it on video and would pay up to $100.But luckily I copied it from T.V. and now I have an ex rental copy. I hope to see a DVD version in our shops soon. Enter the Ninja was rather silly and there was also a some bloody nasty scenes in it. The white ladys husband was killed by Sho Kosugi.That was the sadist part of the film.But over all it was enjoyable for us old ninja fans..

Posted by: Ching at May 1, 2005 06:13 AM

When I first saw Enter the Ninja I was amazed. I had been interested in ninjitsu since I was only 11 years old and to see a film about this was unbelievable at the time. So I always wished to have a copy of it on video and would pay up to $100.But luckily I copied it from T.V. and now I have an ex rental copy. I hope to see a DVD version in our shops soon. Enter the Ninja was rather silly and there was also a some bloody nasty scenes in it. The white ladys husband was killed by Sho Kosugi.That was the sadist part of the film.But over all it was enjoyable for us old ninja fans..
Posted by Ching at May 1, 2005 06:13 AM

Posted by: C.G.Ching at May 2, 2005 06:43 AM
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