Enter the Ninja, the 1981 karate flick from legendary producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, is just about the quintessential movie from The Cannon Group, Golan-Globus’s company. Cannon is synonymous with shitty cinema, alongside other giants as Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, American International Pictures, and Dino De Laurentiis. Like these examples, not everything Cannon made was shit, but enough was for the reputation to be deserved.
Directed by Golan himself, Enter the Ninja tells the tale of Cole, an American who has just completed his studies in Japan to become a real, honest-to-goodness ninja. Ninja are quite the anachronism these days, but that doesn’t stop there being a whole dojo full of these guys.
Cole is played by Franco Nero, an Italian actor who just happened to be around when Enter the Ninja had been filming and Golan needed a new lead. The way the internet tells it, so it must be true, is the movie had been filming with martial artist Mike Stone in the lead role. The movie was his brainchild, and he got a story credit alongside screenwriter Dick Desmond. Stone even choreographed the fights. But, so the tale goes, he couldn’t act. Enter Franco Nero, who could act, but couldn’t speak English without an Italian accent, or fight like Stone. No matter. That’s small stuff. Golan’s solution was to dub Nero’s voice with that of Marc Smith, and retain Stone as Nero’s stunt double. That’s how movies are made, folks.
Back in the plot, Cole has an invitation to visit his best friend’s plantation in the Philippines, and it’s there he heads after graduation. It wasn’t the best of partings, as another ninja at the school, Hasegawa (martial artist Sho Kosugi), didn’t seem to appreciate a white guy becoming a ninja.
After arriving in the Philippines, Cole discovers that his friend and old war buddy, Frank (Alec Courtney), has turned into a drunk, and been married the last two years to Mary-Ann (Susan George). The reason Frank is loaded all the time is because another American, criminal businessman Charles Vesarius (Christopher George), is trying to ruin Frank’s plantation so he can snatch up the land and dig oil wells.
Vesarius has his thugs run off the plantation’s workers and kick the tar out of anyone who didn’t listen. They harass Frank and Mary-Ann, as well. Cole’s arrival, then, is timely. He goes about kicking ass as soon as he can, and the stakes escalate, leading to the type of conclusion viewers familiar with action flicks can expect.
What we have, then, are too well-off foreigners fighting over a patch of land in the Philippines. There really isn’t much sympathy a viewer could develop for one side or the other, were it not for all the beatings. Frank seems to be a nice guy, and his workers like him, but what do we really know about the happenings at the Frank place? All we can go by is what’s on the screen, and that makes it clear that Vesarius is a psychopath, and it’s a good thing Frank has a ninja on his side.
But, wait! Wasn’t there another ninja mentioned earlier? Yes, there was.
Hasegawa reenters the film as an assassin hired by Vesarius. Hasegawa goes about his tasks with glee, laughing maniacally as he slashes innocents and lights their huts afire. And I had thought ninja were supposed to be silent and unseen. Thus, we have a double finale. Cole has to deal with both Vesarius and Hasegawa. Did I call this flick shitty? Because it sounds pretty awesome, right? Good news. It’s both.
Enter the Ninja is a piece of shit and a rollicking action flick. The lead could only act in quotation marks, and the fight scenes, although choreographed by professionals, weren’t all that great. But, there were a lot of them. There’s ass-kicking in this flick from start to finish. Since there are ninjas, there is also extensive use of those clichéd ninja outfits that cinema has popularized. And it’s obligatory while a character is costumed thusly to creep around like a ninja is supposed to. These guys never just walk anywhere. They have to sneak about and hug the walls. It’s kind of funny.
The soundtrack is above par for shitty cinema, but I think that’s because the movie was made just before synthesizers saw extensive use, when one guy in downtown L.A. could score an entire shitty movie in a weekend. The soundtrack for this film was done by W. Michael Rinder and Laurin Rinder, and features copious amounts of real drums and horns. In one classic scene, there’s even a ‘wah-wah-wahhhhhh’ to let viewers know something funny just happened. It was right after one of the characters just had a bloody hook thrown after him. Hilarious.
Enter the Ninja is required viewing for the shitty movie fan. It’s inept and highly entertaining in equal measure. It goes way up the Watchability Index into number 18, right between Battle Beyond the Stars and Trancers. Check it out.