What a gloriously stupid movie. It came close — oh, so close — to unseating Road House at the top of the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index. I had to think hard about it. In the end, Patrick Swayze and company held station, but if I was pressed to give one concrete reason why Road House is a better watch than Revenge of the Ninja, I doubt I could do so. For arguments’ sake, Road House is a better watch than Revenge of the Ninja because the film stock is better. How’s that? Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll come to my senses and send this down the list. For now, however, it’s on the podium.
From 1983, Revenge of the Ninja is The Cannon Group’s follow-up to Enter the Ninja. That flick, somehow, ended up being a success for Cannon and their producing pair of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan. Golan-Globus never turned down a buck, so it was inevitable that they would make another ninja flick.
Directing duties were handled by Sam Firstenberg (who directed many, many Cannon films), from a screenplay by James R. Silke. Revenge stars martial artist Sho Kosugi as Cho Osaki, a ninja in modern-day Japan. Kosugi played the rival of the main ninja in Enter the Ninja. In this flick, he’s the hero, and playing a completely different character. That’s why this isn’t a sequel so much as a spiritual successor.
Cho and his entire family are an anachronism in the 20th century, carrying on a tradition of ninja-ism over centuries. The family must have made some enemies along the way, because a group of ninjas shows up at the family homestead and slaughters everyone but Cho, his infant son, Kane, and Grandmother (Grace Oshita).
Grandmother’s character is special. This doesn’t have anything to do with Oshita’s performance. Rather, her voice was dubbed (so was Kosugi’s). The voice actor tried giving Grandmother a Japanese accent, but what came out was more of a cross between a Mexican accent and a female Bela Lugosi. That’s some shittiness.
Cho’s business partner, Braden (Arthur Roberts), convinces Cho to leave Japan and come to the states, where the two establish a lucrative gallery specializing in Japanese folk art. Braden, however, is not what he seems. It turns out he, too, is a ninja. He plans to use the art gallery as a front to smuggle drugs from Japan into the States. As if all that isn’t enough, Braden was responsible for the slaughter of Cho’s family, as a way to get Cho to agree to come to the States. That’s rather extreme but, hey, it’s a shitty movie. Stupid and violent plans are what shitty movie bad guys do.
Many years pass. Kane is now six years old, and played by Kosugi’s real-life son, also named Kane. Being the son of a martial artist, Kane has some moves. The first time we see him on screen, he gets into a fight with a group of bullies, who look to be about four years older than Kane. No matter. He whoops the shit out of them. It’s an extraordinary scene, made absurd by how small Kane is. He looked like he weighed about as much as a Christmas ham, yet there he was beating up on kids whose voices are getting ready to drop. It was completely unbelievable, and wonderful. This little dustup has nothing to do with the plot, however.
The gallery is doing well. Cho even has a dojo in the back. He’s still grieving over his dead wife, so doesn’t respond to the come-hither attentions of Cathy (Ashley Ferrare), Braden’s personal assistant. Ferrare doesn’t have much in her IMDb profile, and it’s easy to see why. She’s a block of wood. She’s also just right for the movie. A blonde bombshell with a lick of talent would have only improved this movie, and that’s not what we want.
Cathy also has a secret. She’s privy to Braden’s shenanigans, and one of her tasks is to make sure Cho doesn’t find out the gallery is a front.
Everything is going swimmingly, but then Braden gets greedy. He decides to rip off his mafia partners. They are led by mob boss Caifano, played by Mario Gallo in his last role. And what a sendoff. Gallo was a lifetime bit player in Hollywood, but his rascally performance was one of the many things about this flick that I loved.
Mainly, though, it was the action that grabbed me. I was prepared for a slog, but the moment Cho catches an arrow with his teeth early on, I was all in.
The action goes on and on and on. Firstenberg and company laid it on thick, I think because they didn’t want anyone paying attention to the plot. Braden’s plans and motivations exist solely to drive the action, which is why those actions don’t make much sense. That doesn’t really matter when the result is lots and lots of ass-kicking.
Cho kicks ass in warehouses, on the street, inside of moving vans, in hallways, on rooftops, and more. Sequences of ass-kicking stretch on beyond any normal action flick’s tolerances, and it makes up for the rest of the film being bottom-feeding dreck.
Everyone gets in on it, too. Kane steps up his game and takes on some adults, while Grandmother has to protect the dojo in one scene. There’s even a cop in this flick that knows karate. From beginning to end this movie is ass-kicking. There’s also ’80s-era racism and unintentional slapstick. The swift pace, endless action, and total disregard for quality combine to make this a very entertaining shitty movie. There’s a new number two, and it’s Revenge of the Ninja.