He's the ultimate killer. She's the perfect weapon.
About a month ago, our esteemed colleagues at the Lost Video Archive came up with the idea of holding a Week of Hong - a retrospective set of reviews from guest bloggers, all reviewing films that star in some way the excellent character actor James Hong. I discovered the Week of Hong only moments after I posted my review for Jeff Speakman's The Perfect Weapon, which had a decent role for Hong in it as the lead bad guy, and was eager to jump aboard with another Hong film review. After scanning his vast IMDB filmography and deciding against doing Missing in Action (having watched it only a couple of months prior) I settled on Ninja III: The Domination, a film that I have had on VHS for a long time and been meaning to watch, having enjoyed previous Cannon ninja films Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja.
A Ninja with a bad moustache (David Chung) emerges from a secret cave with a stash of weapons and proceeds to lay waste to a VIP playing around on a golf course and his protective guards (the reason for this is never explained, from what I could tell). It's a fantastic opening act of darts shot into gun barrels (exploding the gun), shurikens to the hand, cop cars flying into rivers and helicopters crashing into mountains. It takes ten cops to finally subdue the Ninja, who pulls a Ninja-vanish act with a smoke bomb. Wounded and trying to elude the cops, he catches the attention of Telephone repair-woman Christie (Lucinda Dickey) who he insists (in Japanese) that she take his sword. As soon as she touches it, she feels the spirit of the Ninja and has flashbacks of each of the cops that gunned down the Black Ninja.
Returning to work she becomes a person of interest to officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), assigned to the case of the mysterious Ninja deaths, and a potential love interest as well. There's no boobage in the movie, but there is implied boobage. Every night, Christie is awakened by strange, supernatural goings-on in her apartment (usually involving smoke coming out of an appliance, and the magic sword gifted to her by the Ninja floating in the air) that overcome her. Dressed in Ninja clothes, Christie will dispatch cops that subdued the Black Ninja one by one, and not know what happened to her when she awakes the next morning, covered in bruises and losing track of time. She is gradually overcome entirely by the Black Ninja; who will be able to save her from its clutches?
This is what I like to refer to as a slice of fried movie gold. There is nothing I didn't enjoy about this film. On the pure entertainment level, I think Ninja III is the most fun out of the three quasi-related Ninja films - the other two being Enter the Ninja with Franco Nero, and Revenge of the Ninja with Keith Vitali - all staring Sho Kosugi as a ninja, but as a different character in each. Bless Cannon Films for their dedication to the Ninja sub-genre of trash action film. There is so much 80's nostalgia to love in this film. I think my favourite scene that epitomises this is Christie, in her aerobics lycra gear and pair of Nike trainers, playing an arcade machine - with a trackball! - and listening to the generic power-pop, synth-heavy music of the time. It's only a quick camera pan but it could easily be the poster for this film. The music is a highlight, ranging from the aforementioned synth-pop to some suitable effective scoring for the Ninja scenes.
This is the Week of Hong, so where does James fit in here? Unfortunately what we ended up with here is very little Hong indeed. I can't really classify this as a bait-and-switch as Hong doesn't have top billing. I knew from the beginning that his involvement in the film would be as a secondary character, but I didn't quite think it would be tertiary character level. Hong shows up at about the 50 minute mark as Japanese spiritualist-for-hire Miyashima (complete with Fu-Manchu moustache and beard) a character that Billy takes Christie to to find out what force has taken hold of her.
While he's not in it for very long - ten minutes at the absolute most - Miyashima has a vital role in bringing the demonic spirit of the Black Ninja to the surface through Christie for all to see. Chained to the wall, Miyashima make Christie smoke some sort of pipe before chanting and calling the spirit forth who possesses Christie's body. The power of the Black Ninja is too great and he breaks free from the chains, barking in Japanese at Miyashima who begs for forgiveness, then screaming "I am a Ninja!". The spirit is eventually calmed and a tired, emotionally wrecked Miyashima tells Billy "There is one thing... only a Ninja can defeat a Ninja." Cue: Sho Kosugi!
Sho Kosugi is awesome in this. His eyepatch is magnificent and he uses it as a storage place for poisoned darts. The film really takes a sharp turn when he shows up at the half-way mark, ominously hanging around at crime scenes left in the wake of the Black Ninja attacks, planning his retrieval of the Ninja's corpse to perform a ceremony to stuff his spirt back into the body that it belongs. He provides the best action in the film without doubt, demonstrating the excellent skills he showed in previous Cannon Ninja films. Sho kicks a cop into a bin and throws belt-mounted shurkien at some others. He's got a bit of physical comedy in him as well, convincing two morgue workers to walk up to him then clunking the heads together, knocking them out! He does it with such a dry expression to make it funny.
This really is Lucinda Dickey's film, and for the third act a great portion of Kosugi's as well. It's a shame that she didn't do much more than this film and two Breakin' films, as she could have become quite the action starlet. She's easy on the eyes and can perform some decent movie-grade martial arts. I don't think she had a stunt double for the role either. She's no Cynthia Rothrock, that is a trained martial artist doing films - she is actually a dancer from the Solid Gold TV series who was picked up for a dancing role in Breakin'. The most dancing she does in Ninja III is during her aerobics training session. Her plight and to some degree her appearance remind me a lot of Sarah Connor in the first Terminator film, and Kassandra ("with a K") from Warlock. All three films feature a typical, young American girl who get's caught up in someone else's mess and has to grow as a person to survive it.
The final act is a sensational climax of cheesy Ninja action, with the now un-possessed Christie as an observer to a glorious battle between Sho Kosugi and the Black Ninja back in his original bullet-ridden body. There's plenty of reverse-jumps, backflips, sword clashes, Ninja-vanish smoke bombs and some early computer-graphic flying spirits and fireballs during the fight in a derelict building and into the desert. Kosugi, near defeat, loses his sword but Christie comes to the rescue and impales the Black Ninja with his own magic sword, who deals with his imminent death by spinning into the ground like a drill! Hilarious stuff.
Very little Hong, but a very good example of 80's Cannon action that embodies everything we love here at Explosive Action. Desperately needs a remastered DVD release so that it can join it's two prequels in Ninja Glory. They only way you will find this is VHS or grey market DVD, but I suggest VHS for that authentic 80's Ninja ambience. The US tape is the only uncut edition I think, with the UK (and probably Australian) tapes having some of the Ninja-ness censored.
Week of Hong Contributors:
From the Depths of DVD Hell - Big Trouble In Little China and Balls of Fury
Temple of Schlock - Hot Connections
Explosive Action - Ninja III: The Domination
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear - Classic TV with James Hong
The VHS I have is pretty wobbly and the print isn't the best. I don't think there is a really decent print of the film in circulation. Like I mentioned in the review, Ninja III badly needs a remastered DVD release. Runtime 94 minutes.
Used VHS from eBay.