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Friday, April 25, 2014

Ninja III: The Domination





Ninja III: The Domination
1984
Sam Firstenberg

The Black Ninja (David Chung) assassinates an entire golf cart full of people before being relentlessly chased down by what appears to be the police force of an entire city. After murdering a few dozen cops, and do a few million dollars in property damage, he's finally brought down in a hail of gunfire. Except that it's a sneaky ninja trick and the assassin ninja crawls away, only to be found by Christie (Lucinda Dickey), who is in the process of repairing a telephone line. The ninja possess her, planning on using her body to murder the surviving cops who killed him. One of these cops, Billy, becomes close to Christie but is unaware of what lurks inside her. Meanwhile a mysterious man  with an eye patch (Sho Kosgui) appears, determined to find the Black Ninja.

What makes Ninja III: The Domination notable is how gleefully it dives into spectacle. The opening isn’t just a couple of cops hopelessly trying to shoot a ninja, its dozens and dozens of cops, a few squad cars, and even a helicopter that become casualties of a single ninja. Even after they all stand in a circle and shoot him(!), he still manages to crawl all the way to the desert.  The whole film has an unreality to it that pulls just short of silly; a jazzercise routine is a sweaty sexcapade, gangs of toughs hang out in front of gyms to harass women in broad daylight, and all you have to do is look downtown for a Chinese mystic.

Ninja III: The Domination attempts to weld together equal parts martial arts action, a possession horror, and a revenge story. It almost works too. The only real stumbling block is the romance between Christie and Billy, which feels both forced and tepid. Billy is far too much of a pushy jerk when they first meet to ever really want to see him get the girl. Sho Kosugi’s Yamada is much more fun, and he genuinely seems to be having a great time beating people up on his endless hunt for the Black Ninja.

The action is plentiful. There are some really dangerous looking stunts, especially in the opening of the film with the Black Ninja leaping on top of moving cop cars and hanging from a helicopter as he battles the pilot and a gunner.  I can’t help but wonder if the final showdown between Yamada and the Black Ninja was an influence on Highlander (1986), the swordplay amidst the swirl of magic powers certainly has a similar feel to it.

Ninja III is inventive, ridiculous, and a quite a bit of fun.  The supernatural horror elements are never scary, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story.  This is an excellent companion film with Big Trouble in Little China (1986), as both are American genre films are energized by the imagery and storytelling of Asian genre films. This is a film that is as completely over the top as modern films that parody 80's cinema.

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