Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Strong Enough For A Ninja But Made For A Woman

Why the ninja craze of the early-to-mid '80s faded out is still completely puzzling to me. I mean, like, puzzling in the way that crop circles and the disappearance of the settlers of Roanoke, Virgina are puzzling. Then again, I was honestly shocked when The Master (also known as Master Ninja) only lasted thirteen episodes in 1984 before being cancelled by NBC. Why the hell would people not watch ninjas on TV for free - especially in 1984, for crying out loud, when absolutely nothing else was on! Would people also not bother to eat free doughnuts delivered right to their couch? Apparently they fucking would! Sure, The Master wasn't that great, but damn - it was on TV! For the really hot ninja action, everyone knows you had to go out to the movies - for the likes of Ninja III: The Domination (1984), the conclusion of the Ninja trilogy.

As a trilogy, the Ninja films were unrelated to each other - with the only constant being actor Sho Kosugi, who played a different role in each one. And while Enter the Ninja (1981) and Revenge of the Ninja (1983) were straight-forward action films with crime elements, Domination brought the series to a supernatural conclusion. Domination 's lengthy, action-packed opening follows a ninja assassin as he makes an early morning attack on a group of men at a private golf course. This attack quickly turns into a full-blown massacre as nine-irons are a pale match against ninja stars and the unknown assassin leaves a trail of bloody bodies out on the green as the local law shows up by foot, car, and helicopter to give this ninja a taste of police hospitality. While ninjas are supposed to be all about stealth, taking on the world seems to be this ninja's style. He's the Sarah Palin of ninjas - he's going maverick! And that approach kind of/sort of works until the police unload about 80,000 rounds of ammo into him. Still, this dude proves his awesome ninja cred by continuing to elude the police by burrowing his bullet-riddled body under the ground under the cover of a smoke bomb. That's advanced ninja technique right there!

This resourceful - but soon-to-be-dead - martial arts master gets lucky by coming across Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a young telephone repair worker on a pole out in the middle of nowhere. Christie is unmistakably modeled after Jennifer Beals' character of 'Alex' in Flashdance (1983). Whereas Alex had a blue-collar day job as a welder while being a dancer at night, Christie performs what is generally considered "man's work" for the telephone company and is an aerobics instructor on the side. When Christine goes to offer the wounded ninja some assistance (FYI: never approach a wounded ninja), he hypnotizes her and gives her his sword before dropping dead. At the police station, she's informed that this ninja had assassinated a "very important scientist" (by the way, most movies would've made a whole subplot about who this scientist was - what project he was working on, and who hired the ninja to kill him - but Domination drops the matter completely after just that one line) and on her way out, Officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) takes the opportunity to hit on her ("Rough day, huh?"). At first, he gets turned down but like a determined stalker, he refuses to take 'no' for an answer and soon he's attending her aerobics class. What Secord doesn't know, however, is that there's another man in Christie's life - the ninja who's possessing her soul. This fitness queen is about to find out that you haven't had a real workout until you've been possessed by a ninja!

Christie eventually allows Secord to visit her apartment and what a first visit it is as she showers as he waits for her and then comes out dressed only in a towel. But if you think that's moving fast, once she gets changed, Christie straddles Secord on her couch and pours a can of V-8 down her chest because nothing says sex like a can of 100% vegetable juice! Christie's a health nut and she doesn't believe in being bashful about it. Thanks to this bold move, not only is Secord saved the embarrassment of later slapping his head and saying "I coulda had a V-8!" but he goes on to have a passionate relationship with Christie. Still, the ninja sharing her soul is busy making Christie hunt down the cops that killed him with these scenes of Christie cornering her prey carrying an element of '80s slasher movie-style kills - the best of them being Christie's triple-kill hot tub massacre of a cop and his two lady friends.

Eventually Sho Kosugio enters the picture as Yamanda, a fellow ninja looking to drive the evil ninja out of Christie (a flashback lets us know that Yamanda's got an old score to settle) but not before the ninja assassin uses Christie to launch another free-for-all brawl with the law - and not before veteran character actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China) is called upon to diagnose Christie's condition and gets more than he bargained for, leading to a scene of Christie strapped with a harness around her waist (a common precaution in dealing with the possessed, apparently - safety first!) and literally spinning head over heels over and over in a ninja-induced fit so extreme that Christie may later want to incorporate this move into her aerobic routine. It's a moment so silly, it belongs in a Zucker Brother's film.

With scenes like the above, the horror elements of Christie's possession go unfulfilled - even though one scene references Poltergeist (1982), with Christie getting sucked into a closet full of light. But saying no to Domination is like saying no to a sundae. A ninja sundae, at that. Director Sam Firstenberg was the go-to guy for '80s ninja action with this, Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja (1985), and American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987). But this entertaining genre mismash of ninja action, supernatural thriller, and light romance is the best of the bunch. I give it four out of four ninja stars.


CRwM said...

Your review makes me want to see this again even though I just know there's no way it could ever live up to the impressions of awesomeness that it imprinted on my young brain more than 20 years ago.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks CRwM! You might be right that Domination won't live up to your memories but it might come a lot closer than you think! I know that I wasn't let down, at least - if nothing else, the opening twelve minutes are pure gold!

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I've been passing this masterpiece over all these years!
high-larious writeup... now I'm gonna have to corral my friends and watch it.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah Knob, this kind of demands a group viewing - hope you get a kick out of it!

Arbogast said...

Lucinda Dickey = hot.

Jeff Allard said...

"Lucinda Dickey = hot."

Quoted for truth!

Unknown said...

Great write-up! I remember loving this film when I was a kid, esp. the opening massacre on the golf course. I'm curious to see it again after all these years.

And whatever happened to Lucinda Dickey? It's high time some made BREAKIN' 3!!

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks, J.D. - and I agree, a Breakin' 3 needs to be made! By the way, how cool of a streak did director Sam Firstenberg have in the '80s with Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III, Breakin' 2, and American Ninja all back-to-back? I call that a great run!

Unknown said...

Heh! Yeah, that was a pretty good streak of films. I used to love REVENGE OF THE NINJA! A buddy of mine and I practically wore out his VHS copy of the film.

Matt-suzaka said...

I've never seen Ninja III, but I love Enter the Ninja and watch it quite often...nothing says Ninja quite like a chest full of Franco Nero pubic hairs.

I also loved The Master when I was a little matter how many spaghetti westerns I see, Lee Van Cleef is always the guy from The Master!

I'm so down to check out Ninja III: Damnation, sounds like it would be right up my alley...and besides Ninjas being dope as fuck, lady Ninjas are even better!