Review: ENTER THE NINJA (1981)

ENTERTHENINJA3Sometimes you really do have to go there to come back. In the case of 1981’s ENTER THE NINJA, the journey home is as much about male virility as it is anything else. Directed by The Cannon Group’s Menahem Golan and made out of a Mike Stone concept morphed through a Dick Desmond screenplay, this little number is credited with kicking off the ninja movie craze.

Drawn against the action movies of today, ENTER THE NINJA seems a charming throwback. Drawn against the material of the time, ENTER THE NINJA was bound to oil the dreams of teenagers longing to chuck shuriken, flip through the trees and shove the business end of a sword into the business end of a bad guy.

Franco Nero is the ninja in question, Cole. When we meet him, he’s completed his ninja training in Japan and goes to the Philippines to help a war buddy (Alex Courtney) with some misfortune. It turns out that said buddy has not only married up, with Mary-Ann Landers (Susan George) sans advice column as his caring but discontented wife, but he’s inherited an enemy in an evil developer (Christopher George) who wants at his land.

ENTER THE NINJA concerns itself with the salvo of fighters and thugs and goofs George’s character throws at the good guys, but there’s subtext. Courtney’s character, a louse named Frank, has given himself to drink and has problems rising to the occasion. This sets up a stimulating contradiction between buddies and tries to say something about masculinity in the core of all this ninja honour stuff.

A highlight is, of course, Sho Kosugi. He’s the “bad” ninja. We meet him when he objects to Cole learning the craft in the first place. Kosugi’s character is interested in protecting his own honour, which presents a unique opportunity to dovetail into what Frank endures later on. Both men have their proverbial turfs touched by Cole, the hero, and both take their corresponding fates with the credit required.

Now, the subtext may be a bit much. But Golan’s insistence on administering machismo isn’t hard to miss. There’s lots of shots of shirtless Cole, training his ass off in the front yard while Mary-Ann rambles by on her way to town. And there’s lots of grunting and the usual requisite physical combat, done capably with a roster of stuntmen and practical effects. It’s all very violent and very good.

As a whole, there’s a lot to like about ENTER THE NINJA. From the deadpan magnificence of Mr. Parker (Constantine Gregory) to the diabolically campy Hook (Zachi Noy), it’s clear Golan and Co. aren’t taking much seriously in this sonnet to ninja élan. And honestly, the movie ends with Nero winking – literally winking – at the camera. If that’s not a fukiya planted firmly in cheek, nothing is.

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