Film Review: Master Ninja II (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, George Lazenby, Crystal Bernard

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to serve you.” – nervous waitress

Well, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t just give us one Master Ninja, they had to give us two. They were actually going to do a third one in a later season but it got cut from the production schedule.

Like the previous “film” in this series, this is just two television episodes of the short-lived show The Master, edited together into feature length and sold as a movie.

As these things go, it is horribly paced and doesn’t work all that well. In fact, this has poorer execution than the first chapter in the series.

I think the first film worked better because it was the start of the series and it helped setup everything. It was a jumbled mess of a thing but it seemed more coherent than this one and it also had Demi Moore in it, just before she reached superstardom.

This one has Crystal Bernard and even adds George Lazenby, a former James Bond, to the mix but it’s pretty uninteresting and very mundane.

The high point of the film is the big action climax at the end but that’s still pretty damn mediocre. This show did pull off some solid stunts though, so there’s that. But when your big action sequence is punctuated by a van smashing through a dainty gate in slow motion, you might need to go back to the drawing board and up the octane.

The Master isn’t a great show but it plays better as single episodes, as opposed to trying to convince audiences with short attention spans that these are actual movies.

But hey, There’s some motocross in this one!

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and The Master TV series.

Film Review: Master Ninja I (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, Demi Moore, Claude Akins, Clu Gulager

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, I won’t leave this bar through the window.” – Max Keller

This isn’t really a movie but it was treated as such when it was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is actually just two episodes of the television show The Master edited into a feature length format and presented as a film to the VHS market circa 1984. The show bombed and only lasted thirteen episodes.

This film version of episoides 1 and 2 doesn’t have a good flow to it. Usually when episodes are diced up and made into “movies” like this, the result is always pretty piss poor.

The thing is, I vaguely remember seeing the show when I was a kid and I kind of liked it. I was five when this came out though and I probably didn’t actually see it till I was like seven or eight but I thought it was sort of cool for the time.

Really though, it’s not a good show by any stretch of the imagination. It works if you are into televised ’80s action cheese. It certainly isn’t horrible but it’s shoddily produced with glaring flaws but it’s got Lee Van Cleef and Sho Kosugi in it, so it’s overflowing in manliness points.

It’d be easy to hate on this, especially in this butchered up format but I’m someone that loves ’80s ninja shit and that’s exactly what this is, even if it’s highly diluted for general audiences. It’s no Revenge of the Ninja or American Ninja but it still firmly represents the ’80s ninja craze with gusto.

The stunts are pretty good in a lot of scenes though.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja II and The Master TV series.

Film Review: Rage of Honor (1987)

Release Date: February 27th, 1987
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Robert Short, Wallace C. Bennett
Music by: Stelvio Cipriani
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Richard Wiley, Ulises Dumont, Gerry Gibson

Transworld Entertainment, 98 Minutes

Review:

When I was a kid, I thought Sho Kosugi was the baddest man alive. Maybe he was but I’ve never seen him take a punch from Mike Tyson. Regardless, he was the quintessential ninja actor of the 1980s, which is a big friggin’ deal as ninjas are friggin’ the best thing ever and the 1980s was like the friggin’ best decade ever!

Granted, I was eight when this movie showed up on video store shelves and I didn’t have the life experience to recognize true greatness. Then again, maybe life hadn’t shat on my chest yet so I wasn’t a pissy overly critical film viewer.

This is not Sho Kosugi’s best film but it is still a damn good time and he is the star of it and it is a good compliment to his other starring pictures, Revenge of the Ninja and Pray For Death.

Unlike those two other movies, this one doesn’t have any of his kids in it, which is kind of a disappointment. Kosugi’s sons were fun to watch and having a kid in those films made my mum think that these uber violent ninja epics were family friendly.

The action is pretty great but when a Kosugi movie is choreographed by Kosugi, you get to see the master himself, as he intends to be seen, as the baddest ninja actor of all-time.

The film also reunites him with director Gordon Hessler. The two worked together on Pray For Death. Their styles mesh well together and if Kosugi isn’t working with Sam Firstenberg, I’d rather him work with Hessler.

Rage of Honor is a fun time if you are a fan of 80s ninja action, which you should be.

Film Review: Pray For Death (1985)

Release Date: August 9th, 1985
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: James Booth
Music by: Thomas Chase
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Norman Burton, James Booth, Kane Kosugi, Donna Kei Benz, Michael Constantine

Transworld Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’m going to burn your kid like a roman candle.” – Limehouse

After three awesome ninja movies for Cannon Films, quintessential 80s ninja action star Sho Kosugi took his talents to Transworld Entertainment to make Pray For Death. This, more than his other Cannon films, felt like a true spiritual sequel to Revenge of the Ninja, Kosugi’s greatest movie. This is a pretty close second to that film but doesn’t quite measure up to it.

The story actually isn’t even that different from Revenge of the Ninja. In this movie, Kosugi moves his family to America to start a new life away from his ninja past. The family opens their own business, a restaurant. They quickly have a beef with some mobsters. One of Kosugi’s kids (played by his real life kids) is kidnapped. Then his wife and one of his kids is rundown by mobsters in a car. His wife is then murdered in the hospital. Kosugi finally straps on his ninja gear and goes Ginsu City all over Houston, Texas.

While the Texas setting didn’t give us a cowboys versus ninjas scenario like one would hope, it still gave us a sole bad ass ninja against a bunch of evil mobsters. Although, there is that amazing scene where Kosugi literally flips over some hillbilly gangsters in a beat up pickup truck. That should have been nominated for the Brass Balls Stunt of the Year Award in 1985 but I just made that award up and I didn’t have the money to make my own trophies in 1985 because I was six. But maybe I’ll make it and mail it to Kosugi now.

Pray For Death is not the epic ninja masterpiece that Revenge of the Ninja is but it is pretty close. It doesn’t have as much action as Revenge but it is heavier on the drama and family elements of the story. Also, it doesn’t have the insane and lengthy ninja battle that capped off Revenge. Regardless, it is still one of the greatest cut’em up ninja flicks of the 1980s. Plus, any film that makes Kosugi the focal point, benefits greatly. Enter The Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination lacked when compared to Revenge and this film, simply because Kosugi wasn’t the main character and just more of a glorified cameo.

I love Pray For Death. For a film that wasn’t made by Cannon, it certainly feels like it was.

Film Review: Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Release Date: September 14th, 1984
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James R. Silke
Music by: Udi Harpaz, Misha Segal
Cast: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi, Jordan Bennett, James Hong

Cannon Film Distributors, 92 Minutes

Review:

Ninja III: The Domination is the final chapter in the loose trilogy of ninja movies put out by Cannon Films. People typically refer to the series as The Ninja Trilogy, even though the films are unrelated other than all of them feature Sho Kosugi, the greatest ninja actor of all-time. Cannon would follow this series up with the American Ninja franchise a year later. That one spawned five American Ninja films and two quasi spin-offs.

This is the most bizarre of the Cannon Ninja pictures by far. The story sees a young woman become possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja. A good ninja has to help her separate from it before destroying it in an epic eyepatch ninja vs. zombie ninja battle.

Lucinda Dickey is great in this as the lead. 1984 was also a huge year for her as she starred in this as well as the hugely successful Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for Cannon Films.

Sho Kosugi doesn’t have as much screen time as he had in the superior Revenge of the Ninja but all of his scenes were good. He was a better-than-decent martial arts star and the perfect ninja on screen, every time he appeared.

Compared to the two films before this, Ninja III is campy as hell but also incredibly fun. It is a different film entirely and I almost wish this spawned a series of its own. I don’t know if the formula could have carried over beyond one film but there was some serious magic here.

I love genre crossing movies and this one does it in the right way. It is a violent ninja movie mixed with 80s comedy, horror elements and fantasy elements. It also features the strangest product placement moment in the history of motion pictures. Go to YouTube and search “Ninja III V8”.

Ninja III is fantastic and it still plays great. Actually, it probably plays even better now as there is a high emphasis on 80s style and humor that any nostalgic for that era would find satisfying.

Film Review: Enter the Ninja (1981)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1981
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: Dick Desmond, Mike Stone
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder
Cast: Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George

Cannon Film Distributors, 101 Minutes

Review:

Enter the Ninja is the first film in Cannon Films’ Ninja Trilogy. While it is still a pretty entertaining motion picture, it isn’t anywhere near as amazing and bad ass as the studios second effort Revenge of the Ninja.

However, this thing stars Franco Nero, the original Django and one of my favorite actors of all-time. That being said, it is still kind of weird to see the heroic white ninja remove his mask only to reveal a mustachioed buff Italian with dreamy eyes. As much as I love Nero, he just felt weirdly out of place as a ninja. Realistically, that’s probably because I really only associate him as a gunslinging spaghetti western bad ass, as that is certainly what he is most famous for. I do still like Nero in this picture, though. I mean, he’s Franco friggin’ Nero!

The villainous black ninja is played by Sho Kosugi, who would go on to be the hero in Revenge of the Ninja, two years later. He has a lot less screen time in this movie and unfortunately, isn’t as exciting as he would be in Revenge.

The other villain, the evil corporatist crime boss of the Philippines is played by Christopher George, known mostly for westerns and b-movies.

Put out by Cannon Films, this is actually directed by one of the studio heads, Menahem Golan of the infamous Golan-Globus duo.

This film’s plot deals with Nero going to the Philippines after completing his ninja training. While there, he meets up with his old war buddy and his hot wife (Susan George) only to find out that they are being bullied into selling their land to the local evil corporatist. As the film rolls on, Nero disrupts the villains plans and protects his friends. The villain than calls on help from the black ninja, a rival from Nero’s ninja school that hates that a white man has learned the sacred art.

Unfortunately, other than the beginning and the end, there isn’t a lot of ninja action. Most of the time, Nero isn’t even in his costume. Plus, the beginning sequence isn’t a real fight, it is Nero’s final test at his ninja school.

The action is still pretty solid but the ninja action isn’t anywhere near the level of the much superior Revenge of the Ninja. Still, this is a bad ass and entertaining flick for people who are into these sort of pictures.

Enter the Ninja could have been a much better film but we got that with its loose sequel.