Tagline: He’s the ultimate killer, she’s the perfect weapon.
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: James R. Silke
Starring: Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennet, Sho Kosugi, David Chung, Dale Ishimoto, James Hong, Bob Craig, Pamela Ness, Roy Padilla
18 | 92 min | Action/Horror
God bless you Cannon Group; I mean, truly. I am convinced that if a handful of the world’s greatest comedy directors were locked in a room together, years later they would still have failed to produce something as delightfully absurd as Ninja III: The Domination, Sam Firstenberg’s coup de grâce of crap movies. Put succinctly, the film is a heady blend of Flashdance, The Exorcist and the director’s previous trilogy entry Return of the Ninja, which unsurprisingly has absolutely no narrative connection to this third and final instalment, but even with such lofty aspirations, the movie is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Not only are the movie’s characters ill-defined, there is no real distinction between good and evil. The Black Ninja is evil, that much is clear by his heavily painted eyes, but the cops are all sleazeballs who treat women like hookers, and our so-called protagonist commits more murders than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees combined. If the film was a map of crime locations and you were trying to discern any kind of logical pattern, there would be pin holes everywhere and all of your tacks would be back in the tray. I mean, I have seen some truly cavalier productions in my time, but this is jaw-dropping stuff. It really is.
The movie starts as it means to go on — with the infamous golf course massacre. A mysterious man enters a mysterious cave and descends a staircase to a sacred tomb. Inside this sacred tomb are mystical age-old weapons bathed in a mysterious golden light. Next to this cave is an exclusive, members only golf course. Makes perfect planning sense, right? Cannon honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would purchase the then Cannon Films at the turn of the ’80s, transforming it from a struggling independent production company into a home video player thanks to their savvy business model of buying mostly bottom-rung scripts and transforming them into B-grade gold. So erratic was their process and so relentless their output that the duo would sell their next movie based on a title and accompanying promotional poster. The fact that they had no actors, not plot, no dialogue, no anything, was of little concern. These ‘peripheral’ elements were usually made up on the fly, and thus the likes of Ninja III: The Domination came into existence.
Presumably miffed by the affluent golfing crowd and their selfish privatisation of the Earth, the mysterious man then emerges in full ninja attire, indulging in the kind of senseless killing spree that typifies Golan’s childlike enthusiasm for the movie business. In a typical slight of hand, the ninja then dies in the arms of a local steeplejack named Christie after the cops leave the crime scene without consideration for the killer, or the many bodies left in his wake. Christie is played by Cannon go-to girl Lucinda Dickey of Breakin’ fame, her casting as the movie’s stealth assassin an inspired turn of against-type absurdity. When she’s not slicing and dicing she’s flaunting her spandex excesses as a part-time aerobics instructor, tapping into the popular MTV and aerobics markets with typical Golan-Globus aplomb — that, or excepting bloodsoaked murder weapons from malevolent mass murderers while surrounded by a gaggle of gun-toting extras. All in a days work, it seems.
As the only survivor of our opening salvo, Christie is questioned back at the local cop shop but quickly released, even though she is the only witness to the most brutal mass murder in the town’s history. Understanding that she is most likely shaken by her experience, hairy-chested officer Billy Secord (Bennett) turns up the sleaze factor and comes on hard, threatening to arrest Christie if she doesn’t sleep with him, a tactless manoeuvre which leads her to fall head-over-heels in love. So what we essentially have is an empowered heroine creaming under the thumb of chauvinistic oppression. The ’80s, you’ve gotta love ’em!
What Billy doesn’t know is that Christie is leading a double life of murderous vengeance. Soon enough she is experiencing headaches and memory loss as the dead cops pile up, and when she returns home with a cache of deadly weapons and unexplained injuries, our inept copper is unable to put two and two together, sending Christie to a psychiatrist who finds nothing out of the ordinary except for her “exceptional extra-sensory perception and preoccupation with Japanese culture.”
Although he has witnessed nothing even remotely supernatural, Billy then suggests that Christie see a Japanese spiritualist recommended to him by a cop buddy in the infamous Asiatic Division — Please! — and his main squeeze reluctantly agrees, leading to a priceless exorcism that makes Leslie Nielsen’s lowbrow spoof Repossessed look like Linda Blair’s darkest hour. Somehow, this cod philosophical madness is enough to reveal all: Christie is possessed by the Black Ninja and nothing can be done, unless of course they can locate another ninja who is man enough to take him down, perhaps someone in an eye patch who has been wandering the streets undetected following the biggest ninja-related multiple homicide the world has ever known.
That man is famous Ninpo practitioner and B-movie legend Sho Kosugi — the only notable connection to the first two ‘ninja’ instalments. This time, his character Yamada seeks vengeance on the Black Ninja for the death of his sensei, utilising an array of impressive martial arts manoeuvres, as well as a few that are a little more on the comical side, stealing corpses, evading Secord’s equally inept fellow boys in blue and crashing through a million-and-one plywood sets as he attempts to free the girl from his ethereal nemesis.
According to an audio commentary featured on the Shout Factory Blu-Ray release, the Cannon Group believed that a 90-minute action movie should have at least 45 minutes of action sequences, so you can probably imagine the extent of the mayhem on display, and for a production company known for recklessly disproportionate spending habits, they are nothing if not resourceful. One incredible act of cost cutting saw stunt coordinator Steve Lambert play an incredible 37 parts during the opening golf massacre alone, which is the grounds for the greatest game of I Spy there ever was. If I could travel back in time, landing a job as a crew member for Golan-Globus during the mid-1980s would be right up there on my list of priorities, and when I say that I’m being deadly serious.
Like all cinematic absurdities, Ninja III: The Domination leaves us with many unanswered questions: How does a woman leave a police station with a murder weapon like a samurai sword? Where in the world would you find a town in which a brothel is situated directly next door to that station, and how are its officers able to slip out whenever they want in order to partake in illegal soliciting? If a woman kills an entire police force while possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja, can she still be prosecuted in a court of law? As demons fly around the place and ninjas disappear under the earth only to spiral back into life like an undead tornado, you quickly begin to realise these are the kind of questions that will never be answered, but boy will you have fun contemplating them!
The sheer repugnance of the town’s police force is truly something to behold. These are men who have a duty to protect and serve, and instead they’re vulgar, misogynistic scumbags who absolutely drip with sleaze, particularly Billy’s cigar-chomping friend. One of the most satisfying moments in a movie chocked with them comes when that same reprobate is tracked back to his apartment, where he is launched through a ground floor window, falling an entire foot to his death. Hardly spectacular, but wholly ludicrous and utterly satisfying.
Most Absurd Moment
This is tough, incredibly tough, but for sheer, unrelenting absurdity I’ll have to go with the entire Golf Course Massacre, which in terms of choreography is playground Cops and Robbers at best. What are the Black Ninja’s motives for preying on Arizona’s local suburbanites? How has his tomb of weapons gone undiscovered for so long in a populated area? How does a person blow a dart through the barrel of a gun, causing it to explode?
One can’t begin to understand!
Most Absurd Dialogue
After taking Christie to a spiritualist, Miyashima produces a giant dog collar and chain, suggesting that they use it to restrain the possessed. Naturally, Christie is a little concerned by this, clinging to her misogynistic beau and waiting hopelessly for some advice. Cue Billy, with the kind of tone one might use to persuade an infant to sample their broccoli.
Billy: C’mon! Give them a chance.
So small minded!