Written by: James R. Silke
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Shô Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, and Jordan Bennett
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“For your information Billy, I don't believe in demons, ghosts, spirits, or any of that kind of stuff."
I know what you’re thinking: “Ninja III isn’t a horror movie!” And you’d be right if Cannon’s trilogy capper took the same approach as the previous two films, but Golan and Globus would have none of that. Rather than produce another loosely-connected follow-up featuring Sho Kosugi and vengeful ninjas, they produced another loosely-connected follow-up starring Sho Kosugi and a supernaturally vengeful ninja hellbent on exacting his revenge from beyond the grave, even if he has to possess the body of an innocent aerobics instructor to pull it off. As you can see, we’ve come a long way from Franco Nero resembling either the world’s most intimidating porn star or used car salesman in Enter the Ninja (I still wouldn’t wanna piss him off at any rate).
The Domination starts like most other Cannon extravaganzas: with a rampaging ninja on the warpath. This particular Black Ninja (David Chung) has targeted a scientist for assassination, and, rather than operate in shadows and secrecy, he goes for the less subtle method of attacking his mark on the golf course, which attracts the attention of the local cops. Upon responding to this possible 451 (which I’m dismayed isn’t actually a police code for “Public Ninja Assault”), much of the force is slaughtered by the Black Ninja in a ludicrous sequence filled with outlandish stunts: cars and motorcycles go flying into lakes, the Black Ninja scales a tree and hitches a ride on a helicopter, etc. It’s fitting, then, that he goes out in a blaze of glory when the cops surround him and blow him away—or so they think. Somehow, he survives having an entire artillery pumped into him and manages to disappear; hilariously, no one stops to consider the implausibility of all of this and the police resume their search as if the guy had simply run off.
Anyway, it’s incredible stuff, as the ninja makes short work out of half the police force with a sword, some shuriken, and a blow dart; nevermind why he’s perpetrating all of this violence (the movie never explains his grudge against the scientist—for all we know, he was developing biological weapons and the Black Ninja is a hero)—just know that it’s great by 80s action standards (meaning it’s downright incredible by today’s Hollywood action standards) and that it only represents about fifteen minutes of what the film has to offer. The sequence climaxes when the ninja reemerges from this pursuit on the verge of death; before keeling over, he stumbles upon the aforementioned aerobics worker (Lucinda Dickey) hard at work at her day job as a phone-line maintenance employee, and he mysteriously issues her a sword in order to transfer his soul into her body.
At this point, it should have become obvious that Ninja III is the Jason Goes to Hell of the series, and I can read your mind again if you’re thinking that’s a bad omen. It isn’t because, for one thing, Jason Goes to Hell kind of rules, and that film could have done worse than to rip off the likes of The Hidden and, as it turns out, Ninja III. In this case, The Domination isn’t burdened by any franchise expectations: aside from featuring Kosugi and an ample amount of awesomely violent, jaw-dropping set-pieces and an apparent disdain for believable human interaction, the first two Ninja films have nothing to with each other, so part 3 can go nuts in its attempt to send the franchise out on top. It doesn’t quite accomplish that, as Revenge of the Ninja stands as the peak, but The Domination makes for a pretty nice downslide all the same.
I’m not sure it’s ever as thoroughly bonkers at it seems, but it sure does try at times. The main throughline grows a bit tedious and follows a Jekyll/Hyde tack, with Dickey experiencing strange personality changes and bizarre flashbacks to the Black Ninja’s death whenever she encounters one of the cops who killed him (which she does frequently since she’s hooked up with one of them). Each flashback gives her a target, and she takes time out of her already busy schedule to moonlight as a ninja assassin to off all of these policemen during some somewhat elaborate sequences. For example, one guy is living it up with a couple of babes in a spa before Dickey busts in and slaughters all of them; the whole thing has a sort of weird rape/revenge dynamic, only the woman in question is actually possessed by the spirit of an evil, vanquished ninja, so it’s weird to delight in this stuff on even an exploitative level since all the victims seem pretty innocent (some of them are also killed while mourning at their buddy’s funeral, which especially seems like a dick move, but ninjas are gonna ninja).
The pattern is sporadically broken up by more horror-tinged interludes, such as an attempted exorcism featuring James Hong. During the scene, she’s chained up and given a dose of opium, and the scene gives way to some typical exorcism hysterics. This is probably the only one where the possessed drops the word “ninja,” though, and it leads to a hilarious response from the cop boyfriend (Jordan Bennett), who wants to know exactly what a ninja is (apparently, this guy had the worst childhood imaginable since it was bereft of ninjas) and where he can get one since “only a ninja can kill a ninja” (just like it takes a Voorhees to kill one). Luckily, Kosugi strolls into the movie as the real hero, and a flashback reveals that the Black Ninja killed his mentor (or father?) and ripped out his eye, so there’s some bad blood there that also confirms that the Black Ninja isn't just a clever name--he's actually a shithead.
Dickey and Bennett get pushed aside in favor of Kosugi, which is both weird and just as well since there’s not much to either character. She doesn’t like sodas or the idea of dating cops but enjoys aerobics and playing an arcade game called “Bouncer”; he likes to relentlessly hit on girls who aren’t into him. They’re good people, more or less, so, in theory, it sucks that they’re subjected to this weird interruption in their lives that finds them haunted by floating swords and random demonic attacks (one feels ripped straight out of Poltergeist). On the other hand, Kosugi is just a one-eyed ninja out for revenge, which better plays to the strengths of a movie called Ninja III. Despite my facetious intro, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that The Domination is more action heavy, and it delivers about as well as any film in the Cannon oeuvre thanks to some exciting fight sequences and cool stunt work. It could probably do to be a little bit trashier and gorier—there’s a lot of hack and slash but few effects gags to put it completely over the top.
Still, Ninja III is easily one of the wackiest mainstream 80s offerings; if Cannon could be considered an auteur, its stamp would have been a firm commitment to producing outlandish junk without blinking, and The Domination is no different (there’s a part where a doctor casually mentions that Dickey has ESP like it’s a common thing, and, in true Electric Boogaloo fashion, she tries to dance the demon right out of her at one point). Despite (or perhaps due to) its reputation as the silliest of the Ninja series, The Domination has been the black sheep on home video; while both Enter and Revenge found their way to DVD in the past, it’s just now getting there. It can strut a little bit more, though, since Scream Factory has also brought it to Blu-ray; this release isn’t packed to the gills with extras like most Scream releases (there’s just a photo gallery and a commentary with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert), but the immaculate presentation properly drowns you in the gaudy, neon-soaked 80s aesthetic. This is another Scream release that retains the original art and reserves the flip side for international posters, where you’ll learn that the film was released as Trancers in Italy and featured a bikini-clad Dickey fending off lasers with a sword. Are you really going to be the guy that resists checking out something that inspired that kind of promotion? Only an asshole like the Black Ninja would do something like that. Buy it!
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