Often considered the catalyst for a glut of ninja movies in the 1980s, Menahem Golan’s Enter the Ninja is a campy actioner from 1981. It features a story by Hawaiian martial artist Mike Stone and a screenplay by Dick Desmond. Stone was to star, but his lack of acting experience held him off and he was consigned to stunt work.
It is hard to imagine that a lack of acting skill would keep anyone from starring in Enter the Ninja, as this isn’t exactly a thespian showcase. It’s a film full of nudges and winks, with puerile musical cues emanating from the wonky W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder score and a whole lot of over-the-top violence.
Franco Nero inexplicably stars as Cole, a Westerner training in the fine art of ninjutsu in Japan. He gains the approval of his master and pisses off Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi). When his training ends, he heads to the Philippines to visit war buddy Frank (Alex Courtney) and his comely wife Mary Ann (Susan George). It turns out that his friends are in trouble.
A CEO named Charles (Christopher George) is trying to get his mitts on their property and he’s started a campaign of harassment that includes thugs and tomfoolery. He sends the nefarious Hook (Zachi Noy) to tangle with the good guys, but he doesn’t count on Cole and his mad ninja skills. Eventually, Charles and Co. hire Hasegawa to handle his rival as only he can.
It doesn’t take long for Enter the Ninja to expose itself as a slice of divine camp. And Nero’s hero is kind of a jerk. Despite taking a nine-pronged vow, he meets Mary Ann by snatching her breast and kicking her in the hindquarters. While she does pull a rifle on him because she doesn’t know who the hell he is, it’s hard to imagine his pawing conduct as the stuff of a skilled and harmonious ninja.
It stands to reason that Nero ends the movie with a wink because his portrayal of Cole is cheeky as hell. Cole may fight for the less fortunate, but he also has sex with his friend’s wife. George’s character gets over the whole boob-grab episode and the hirsute Cole slips between the sheets when it turns out Frank has been having a little trouble with his katana.
Beyond giving the old yumi to his buddy’s wife, Cole take pleasure in dispatching his foes. This is furthered by the complacent way he suggests ninjas only “kill for defensive purposes.” Indeed, the entire movie treats violence with side-splitting glibness. One scene finds Cole tearing Hook’s arm off to the sounds of a sad trombone.
Enter the Ninja has some of the style and flavour of a 1970s exploitation flick, only it feels primed for the 1980s. It features a classic West-meets-and-defeats-East setup and emphasizes it with the idea that the moustachioed Cole is better than the Japanese at bloody well everything. He dispatches legions of multi-coloured ninjas in the process, further asserting his power over every man, woman and child.
Apparently Chuck Norris was up for the role of Cole, but he turned it down because he didn’t want to spend too much time covered up by a mask. Whether or not this tidbit is true is irrelevant because Nero absolutely wrecks shop no matter what he’s wearing.
Some scenarios call for a cowboy hat, while the climax sticks Nero in his white shinobi shōzoku. He also wears the latter gear for the opening scene, although it’s hard to imagine it plays much of a part in concealing him when he’s wandering through the grasslands. Other ninjas in the movie wear a variety of red or black costumes.
Without a doubt, Enter the Ninja is entertaining. While some have suggested that this is a blemished guilty pleasure, there is an inherent anarchy that suggests the ridiculous fun is intentional. This film would lead to two sequels, but Nero would never again don the white-on-white. It’s too bad. He’s a hell of a ninja.