The second outing in Cannon Films’ so-called “Ninja Trilogy,” 1983’s REVENGE OF THE NINJA follows Menahem Golan’s 1981 ENTER THE NINJA by being one of the best ninja movies of all time. That’s no small feat, but this Sam Firstenberg picture does just about everything well. It achieves all the obligatory camp for a 1980s actioner, plus it blisters with amazing action choreography, stellar stunt work and a kid kicking ass.
Like ENTER THE NINJA, REVENGE THE NINJA seems a charming throwback when cast against the movies of today. There’s a candour and confidence to the proceedings, even as the action and tone sets up something more. This is, in large part, a movie about the inexorable viciousness of the ninja lifestyle.
Sho Kosugi, who was one of the bad guys in ENTER THE NINJA, stars as Cho. He is, as you might imagine, a ninja. He lives in Japan, but a friend named Braden (Arthur Roberts) wants him to come to America because Asian art is so totally in. Cho grudgingly accepts the move after his family, with the exception of his son Kane and mother (Grace Oshita), is massacred.
The promise of a diplomatic life in America is shattered when young Kane, played by Kosugi’s son in his acting debut, encounters local bullies. To make matters worse, someone’s been selling heroin from inside the dolls of Cho’s art gallery. This leads to mob warfare, which in turn leads to the stipulation of Ninja Violence™ to defend honour, Kane and the pretty and pantsless Cathy (Ashley Ferrare).
The first thing that strikes you about REVENGE OF THE NINJA is how merciless it is. Nobody is spared the initial attack on Cho’s home, especially the kid who gets a shuriken to the face. The ninjas are callous and that sets the tone. There’s no telling what vicious act will take place, no telling who will be the next victim. Nothing is sacred, not even the women and children.
That’s what gives the fights with Kane extra tension. When bad guys take him on and he stabs out at them, something could go horribly wrong any minute. There’s no assurance that Cho will get out of this American life intact, particularly as the dominoes start to fall around him. And his mother, who knows how to use ninja equipment like a boss, isn’t immune.
REVENGE OF THE NINJA features a whole lot of good stuff for people who love 1980s action movies, but it’s also incredibly proficient about what it does. The closing fight is a masterclass in Ninja Trickery™, while a van chase sequence requires more than a few repeat viewings. Even the dudes in the park dress for the occasion, complete with a flashy cowboy whose sunglasses come and go. It’s all part of the insane, enchanting tempo of this tremendous martial arts movie.