The MADman's Must-Watch Ninja Flicks
Be vewy, vewy quiet... there's ninja about!
Ninja are awesome (yes, and the correct plural of ninja is ninja, not ninjas) and I’ve been a fan of these shadowy spies and assassins since I was old enough to wrap a towel around my head. Heck, one out of two comics I make star ninja babes in them.
So you’d understand when I recently saw the quite atrocious Ninja Assassin movie, I was suitably outraged. What a mess that was. It just goes to show that a gazillion dollars, fancy CG and a hot action trilogy in your resume can’t guarantee a good ninja flick- all you need are some game stunt guys, lots of loose pajamas, a cool story and a couple extra game stunt guys. Seriously, most of the old, cheesy ninja B-movies (most of which are probably only available on dusty old VHS) are better than the Ninja Assassin crap. So I wanna do my part in steering those not learned in the ways of the Shinobi from such junky ninja fare by recommending a few of my favorite films featuring the mystical shadow warriors. At the very least, these are the flicks I’d bring inside my Emergency Life Preservation Vault’s limited archive space once the meteors start dropping onto the planet. Check ‘em out.
Ninja III: The Domination. I never saw Ninja 1 or II, but who cares- III is the best of the lot, I guess. Why? ‘Cause it has the uber-hot Lucinda Dickey (she did all her stunts, apparently) as an aerobics instructor and telephone linewoman being possessed by a dead ninja out for revenge on the cops who killed him. Oh, and it has Sho Kosugi with an EYE PATCH. This has it all- funny yelps, smashing tombstones, a Jacuzzi assassination, mind-controlled monks and funny special effects like a grade school Poltergeist. But really, this was a fun, sexy, action-packed flick that was never boring, and the ninja-on-ninja action was awesome.
The Octagon. This Chuck Norris flick has him battling a secret cult of ninja. The fight scenes look laughably staged nowadays (actually this is true for most of the old ninja movies), but this was pretty cool regardless. The penultimate fight between Chuck and a masked ‘sub-boss’ ninja warrior is still awesome today, in any case. Oh, and the main bad guy is named Sakura! WAHAHA! Okay, it’s actually Seikura… details, details.
Ninja Scroll. The one animated film in this lineup is also probably the most explicitly violent, complete with nudity, sex, a rape scene, multiple dismemberments and blood gushing in torrents. Get past that though and you’ll know why this flick is the single most awesome piece of Japanese anime out there, still unmatched to this day. Oh, and yeah, there are actual ninja in it in between all the freaky mutants and demon creeps.
The Hunted. An understated but awesome action-suspense flick and one of actor Christopher ‘Raiden’ Lambert’s best, in my opinion. Lambert is the titular prey, a foreign businessman being stalked across Japan by a ninja cult led by Kinjo (played by John Lone with a deadly calm and confidence). Every action scene is brilliant, with the best being an awesome battle on the Shinkansen bullet train and the final battle on an ancient samurai clan’s island stronghold.
To me, this is probably THE definitive modern ninja action flick, which makes it a bit ironic that two important cast members (Lone and Joan Chen) are Chinese. Suspense, action, humor in spades- this film is still excellent today.
Arhat vs Ninja (Shaolin vs Ninja). Okay, this is a glossed-over, faded memory of my youth- I'm really not sure about the actual title. Basically it's a pretty old and obscure period kung-fu flick. As the story goes, a royal heir was hidden among the young monks of the Shaolin Temple. The villains send out their assassins- at first Chinese fighters- to find and kill the kid. Despite taking out quite a few monks at first, the Shaolin youths eventually turn the tables and slaughter the baddies. The villains then turn to a different source for muscle- from the Japanese ninja. The Shaolin are totally unprepared for the ninja style of combat, which is all about striking from secrecy and shadows- 'Unfair' as they describe it (I guess this is more of the anti-Japanese sentiment prevalent in Kung-fu flicks). Eventually there's a stalemate, and several Shaolin kids sacrifice themselves with bombs on their bodies to try and take out the bad guys, and end up blowing themselves up with the ninja (who at least are honorable enough to die for their employers). The film ends with a treaty guaranteeing the safety of the Shaolin Temple. Pretty strange and odd fantasy/action flick, and if you can find this, good for you!
And that's it. I guess part of the reason as well for my writing this article is that I'm psyching myself up for writing some scripts starring ninja. What's it for? Well, that's gonna have to wait a bit. For now though, chase down these titles before the VHS tapes they're on warp away forever. GO! IKUZO!
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