Great Bad Movies: "Ninja III: The Domination" (1984)
"Ninja III: The Domination" (1984)
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi, Jordan Bennett
Run time: 92 minutes
I recently watched Mark Hartley's engrossing documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - which detailed the unlikely rise and eventual fall of the now-legendary B-Movie studio founded by producers Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus. Cannon rose to prominence in the '80s thanks to a string of modestly budgeted box office action hits starring Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, but during that time they also released dozens of lesser-known films in virtually every movie genre - many of which went on to become perennial video-store favorites and eventually, cult classics. Electric Boogaloo is a film that deserves its very own review but until I find the time to write one, I'll simply say Electric Boogaloo rocks and you should all see it!
Electric Boogaloo was obviously loaded with clips from the vast Cannon back catalog, bringing back memories of some films I hadn't seen since the studios mid-'80s "golden age" when I was in high school. This inspired me to start re-visiting some of the Cannon classics of my youth, which brings us to today's feature presentation --- Ninja III: The Domination, a truly bizarre genre mashup that has to be seen to be believed. Only Cannon could've possibly green-lighted a movie which throws martial-arts and demonic-possession into a blender, adds a pinch of scantily-clad aerobics ala Flashdance, and then hits "PUREE!" The results may be short on logic but Ninja III is tons of fun to watch, in a "this is so '80s it hurts" sort of way.
So ...What About "Ninja" I and II?
Ninja III: The Domination was the final film in what's known as Cannon's "Ninja trilogy." The first film in the series was 1981's Enter the Ninja, directed by Menahem Golan and starring Franco Nero. Director Sam Firstenberg came on board with the sequel, 1983's Revenge of the Ninja. It must be noted that despite the "III" in Domination's title, it has no connection to the previous two films. In fact, none of the Ninja trio are related to one another, aside from the casting of martial artist Sho Kosugi in all three (playing a different character each time) and the word "Ninja" in each title. In other words, this isn't the Dark Knight saga. Viewership of the other Ninja films is not necessary in order to follow and enjoy the events of "III."
Ninja III opens with an epic action sequence that takes up the first ten minutes of the movie. A mysterious, sinister looking Ninja warrior sneaks up on a bunch of rich Yuppie looking guys on a golf course - in broad daylight, mind you. All of the Ninja's targets are sporting obnoxious pastel shirts and have their sweaters loosely tied around their shoulders...so whoever they are, you know they've got this coming to 'em! The Ninja proceeds to utterly kick all of their asses in a very impressive display of martial-arts acrobatics and good old fashioned gory violence. A squadron of police eventually arrive to take on the Ninja, who kills what seems like half of the L.A.P.D. before the cops finally pump enough ammunition into him to drop a buffalo. This Ninja is obviously one tough mother, though, because he still manages to run off into the hills despite being full of lead. It is at this point that he encounters our heroine Christie (Lucinda Dickey, of Cannon's Breakin' series), a perky young phone company lineman (line-woman? line-person?) who's up on a telephone pole when she sees the mortally wounded ninja crawling across the sand towards her. She makes the mistake of coming down from her perch to ask him "Hey, are you OK?" - and that's when the Ninja locks eyes with her, hands her his sword, and passes some sort of mysterious energy from his body into hers before he finally drops dead.
A confused Christie gives her statement to the police and catches the eye of young officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) in the process. (It must be noted, by the way, that no explanation for the Ninja's opening rampage is ever given. The cops tell Christie that he "killed a scientist and his bodyguards," but then the movie never mentions who that scientist is - or why the Ninja targeted him in the first place - again. The smitten cop follows Christie to her part time gig teaching aerobics classes (because hey, Flashdance!), where he witnesses her kicking ass on some would-be muggers in an alley afterwards.... ninja-style. The plot thickens as some of the police officers involved in the Ninja shooting start turning up dead. Could Christie possibly be possessed by the spirit of the so-called "Black Ninja," using her body to gain vengeance from beyond the grave? Woooooo....
Lucinda Dickey - from Aerobics to Ass Kicking
Christie and Billy's budding romance is interrupted by an unintentionally hilarious sequence set in Christie's apartment, in which the Ninja's cursed sword (surrounded by thick smoke, bright flashing lights and appropriately hellish/demonic sound effects straight out of a Motley Crue video) floats by itself out of her closet and forces itself into her hand, while Billy sleeps through the whole thing in a haze of V8-fueled, post-coital bliss. Finally convinced that something must be wrong with her, Billy and Christie pay a visit to a Japanese exorcist (yes, really) to try and get the "black ninja's" spirit out of Christie's body. Unfortunately, they are told that he has "grown too strong." Thankfully, it's time for Yamada (Sho Kosugi) to make the scene. This mysterious one eyed warrior - who apparently has a past with the "Black Ninja," though once again nothing is never fully explained - arrives in Southern California from Japan thanks to a call from some monks who, I dunno, sensed a disturbance in the Force or something. According to Yamada, the only way to truly destroy a Ninja is with ... another Ninja! Well, duh. Thus, Yamada must lure the Black Ninja's spirit out of Christie's body and back into his own in order to put him down for good. A trap is laid at a conveniently located Japanese temple outside of the city, where the now-fully-possessed Christie and Yamada beat the crap out of each other for a while until he finally manages to get that evil Ninja's soul back into his corpse where it belongs. This of course leads to the FINAL showdown between Yamada and the now re-animated undead Black Ninja...which goes on for another good ten or fifteen minutes of back flipping, sword clanging, smoke bomb tossing, roundhouse kicking and every other trick in the Ninja book... while Christie and Officer Billy stand on the sidelines clinging to each other in terror. Will the heroic Yamada finally send the Black Ninja back to Hell or is Christie doomed to a double life as an aerobics instructor/phone repair person by day, assassin by night? You'll just have to watch the movie to find out for yourself.
Summin' It Up...
In spite of its ridiculous story and numerous plot holes, Ninja III: The Domination was still a stone cold retro '80s hoot. Lucinda Dickey is cute and charming and the film makes the most of her athletic abilities. She may not be much of an actress, but she still comes across more naturally than co-star Kosugi, who displays the acting range of a plank of wood -- unless he's beating the crap out of somebody. Of course, you don't watch a Ninja movie for the acting or the story -- you watch it for the action, and the wall to wall violence in Ninja III is appropriately thrilling and fun to watch. I still rank Revenge of the Ninja above this one by just a hair, Ninja III is worth a look as well, if only just to see how crazy the Cannon Films idea factory got during their too-cool '80s height. They really don't make 'em like this anymore!
© 2015 Keith Abt