When you think “international blockbuster,” I don’t think Revenge of the Ninja is quite what you had in mind. Another product of the awful-wonderful Cannon Pictures – who went on to such cheesy action classics as Missing in Action and American Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja is technically a sequel to the original Enter the Ninja, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the first film save that ninjas are involved. Cannon liked ninjas a lot. And for this one, at least, they got the greatest ninja in movie history to star. No Franco Nero cluttering up the screen here! It’s all Sho Kosugi from start to finish… and if that’s wrong, then people, I do NOT want to be right.
Kosugi plays the titular ninja, one of many in a film that pretty much wants to shovel them at us as fast as it can. When a bunch of them burn down his house and murder his family, he jumps into action: using questionable fight choreography and lots of silly props to cut an unholy swatch of bloody ninja revenge through his enemies. Oh yeah, and that’s just in the first ten minutes! The rest of the movie involves his effort to put his past behind him, as he moves to America and tries to teach his young son the ways of peace. Fat chance. When the boy stumbles into a Mafia drug cartel, the silly ninja toys got to come out again as horrible people are killed in equally horrible ways.
It’s basically a constant button-pushing fest, as various skeezy bad guys get put in their place by Kosugi’s one-man shuriken delivery system. Strictly speaking, it’s awful:, hampered by a very low budget and less-than-stellar direction from Sam Firstenberg. At times, it plays like someone messing around with their home video camera in the year, complete with homemade ninja costumes and dinner theater acting.
What makes it worthwhile is its painful sense of earnestness, pushing it into the “great bad” category instead of just the “bad” category. The action scenes are undertaken with a great deal of enthusiasm, and some of the gags, I confess, are rather clever. Kosgui was born to do this, of course, and he has great fun with a role that could have fallen flat in someone else’s hands. The rest of the cast makes up for their comparative lack of talent by throwing themselves full-bore into the “drama.”
That invests Revenge of the Ninja with the precise cheesy thrill it needs, combining the adolescent fixation of an inherently goofy mythic figure with the cheerful violence of good exploitatio . The script is full of faux-sage sayings and fortune-cookie wisdom, liberally sprinkled between all the karate chops and gunshots. Beneath it lies Cannon’s typical cocktail of right-wing fantasy, sneering at the notion of not fighting back and taking particular glee in punishing the wicked. Fans should realize that it’s all part of the fun; time has rendered its political message quite ridiculous, and the enthusiasm with which it pursues that agenda makes it all a hoot.
The best part is the nostalgic throwback qualities that Revenge of the Ninja provides. It couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a product of the 1980s. It’s almost quaint in its outlook, but its misplaced energy is all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without a sense of humor, but its inadvertent silliness makes it hard to resist for the right type. As we’ve seen, 1983 was hardly a banner year for genre programming. We take our pleasures where we can find them, and Revenge of the Ninja delivers more than its share… inadvertently or otherwise.