Saturday Nite Feature ’83

I saw this opening weekend, the cinematic ninja renaissance of the 80’s in full bloom as represented by Sho Kosugi, Japan’s answer to the question of Chuck Norris via the Israeli query to Dino DeLaurentis, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who cluttered the shells of movie theaters with such disparate product as MISSING IN ACTION; THE APPLE; MONA LISA; NEW YEAR’S EVIL; THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON; POWASQATSI; and of course, BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Through their distribution outfit, Cannon Films, they pretty much unleashed every Charles Bronson film of his worst decade as well as the aforementioned Mr. Norris. It’s amazing how many Cannon Films I saw in general release and why not? They were expertly filling the exploitation gap left barren by Roger Corman’s New World shift to cable and video. REVENGE OF THE NINJA is the loose sequel (read: unconnected) to their surprise 1982 hit, ENTER THE NINJA. Kosugi stars as the titular ninja whose family save for a young boy is wiped out by a competing ninja clan. Throw Italian gangsters and a blond femme fatale into the wok and you have the basic recipe for a ludicrous, wonderful bowl of action soup.

True, this has some of the most inept acting and scenes in any film of the era, but by God, it moves faster than a shuriken with a surprising level of gore and violence, not to mention some genuinely nifty ninja manuevers. Even in the theater we were hooting with derision yet enjoyment. How can you not love a film where a blonde karate fighter takes on a six year-old mini-ninja? Or where the caucasian villain is able to manifest a faux-ninja dummy during the course of a pitched rooftop battle? Or better still, how about the bloody grandma sword fight replete with her literally vanishing in a puff of a smoke bomb — in fact, everybody vanishes behind a smoke bomb cloud in these films. Despite his wooden thespic skills, Kosugi is an ace fighter and the limp staging by director Sam Firstenberg is redeemed by the almost kinetic choreography and Itto Ogami-esque blood spraying. Revisiting the film, I didn’t think I would be able to make my nostalgia last through more than the opening scene, yet damn if the non-stop action and comedy didn’t keep me glued to the screen in an idiot’s delight; I laughed all the way through, applauding each outrageous kill or action beat, and savoring the synth-score once available on Varese Sarabande records. Totally REVENGE OF THE NINJA indeed!

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11 Responses to “Saturday Nite Feature ’83”

  1. YES. One of my favorite childhood formative movies, from BRADEN to that fight in the park to the AWESOME DRUM SCORE which will stick (and has stuck) in your head for 27 years… to that INCREDIBLE rooftop finale, which is equal parts kinetic and HILARIOUS (love how the ninjas come equipped with FULL SIZED papier mache mockups of each other)…

    In your rewatch, did you notice how the nominal “white lead” is a total nonentity? I think his name is Keith Vitali, a martial arts master in his own right, and funny, in all my childhood viewings and even a recent rewatch, the guy has never registered whatsoever… such is Kosugi’s authority, and the awesomeness of BRADEN.

    Props also on immortalizing that blood spurt shot; For some reason that climactic spew was cut out of some post-90s VHS copies, but the DVD restores it from my 1984 HBO memories. Also love that gangster guy from RAGING BULL who plays Kaifano… and that star through the eye in the fountain (actually a pretty striking image for a workmanlike Cannon troop like Firstenberg.)

    Of course, ENTER and NINJA III are both equally hilarious, but for vastly different reasons.

    Great movie.

    • christian Says:

      Keith Vitaii is so stoic as to be invisible, but he’s merciless in his ninjadom. And he also has a great fight scene in Jackie Chan’s MEALS ON WHEELS (1985).

      I didn’t know about the cuts but it’s happened before. The Netflix version is an excellent uncut print. Viva MGM. The star in the eye is a “striking” image as are the other kill-porn moments, such as the obligatory floor spikes in the face trick.

      And the poster must have sold a million tickets alone.

      • Thanks for the Netflix heads up on this guilty pleasure. I have fond memories of spending many a Saturday afternoon as a kid watching this in my best friend’s rec room along with ENTER THE NINJA and NINJA III. Man, someone needs to bring back the ninja film and not that crap Wachowski bros.’ abomination. Loves me some Sho Kosugi!

        • Yeah, this has rekindled a love for my old days of Kung Fu Theatre or whatever nom de plume the local stations called their Saturday martial arts fest. I still have some on vhs replete with Fred Rated ads…

  2. Wow — thanks for writing up this one. I’d never seen it but just watched it on Netflix. Never a dull moment in this puppy.

    Odd to see Hanania Baer credited for “additional cinematography”. He scaled the heights of BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO before becoming a frequent collaborator with Henry Jaglom.

  3. lauraBaura Says:

    well, sir, you had me running to a dictionary jes so’s i could keep up with you on this one. nice job.

  4. Alright, so over a month late to the comments here, but so what? I love this movie, and was so pleased to see it, as well as many more ninja classics on Netflix. And while someone mentioned that Ninja Assassin wasn’t worthy above, I have to disagree: Kosugi plays the villian in that with gusto, and his age adds to his menace in agreeable ways. And its a ninja-movie, for goodness sake. If not cheesy, then what? The Cannon oeuvre of Sho Kosugi is a must watch. Also of note: Enter the Ninja (NOT on Netflix…yet) starred Django himself, Franco Nero. And Django is on Netflix, so…get on that ASAP.

    • christian Says:

      Better late than never!

      Kosugi was in NINJA ASSASSIN? Damn, I have to check that out now.

      ENTER THE NINJA is just as fun as REVENGE, with plenty o’ 80’s gore. And Franco Fucking Nero! And ninjas who literally vanish behind a smoke bomb!

  5. Few know this, but that’s Mr. Nero’s full name. (Sounds better in Italian)

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