Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

The best kung-fu horror revenge action adventure with added legwarmers ever made.

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Well you can’t accuse this series of trotting out the same old thing – in an utterly unexpected move, things go all Exorcist-y for the third and final instalment in Cannon’s reliably stupid run of Sho Kosugi ninja adventures. Seriously, there’s a bit where the main character is psychically psyched-out by the light show emanating from an arcade console. This being a film made after huge hit Flashdance, we also get some shamless aerobics scenes too. Like its predecessor, it has nothing plot-wise to do with any other film in the series, but continuity (barely) remains by using that same ninja font for the credits, as well as that melancholy theme music and yes, for the bringing back Kosugi, who’s still the good guy (remember, he was bad in the first one), but he doesn’t show up for half an hour – the main star this time is Lucinda Dickey’s (fresh from Breakin’) telephone repairperson Christie who stumbles onto a dying evil ninja who proceeds to possess her. This possession only takes effect at certain points, such as when she comes face to face with one of the many, many cops who blew her possessor away at the film’s outrageously OTT beginning (body count: easily double figures), at which point Christie uses her sword and various ninja periphery to exact bloody revenge. Saying that, she seems to be able to take on enemies outside of these overt possession bits; take the scene where she annhiliates a group of bastards who hassle some poor woman and then herself outside the aerobics class. Elsewhere there’s a bland cop boyfriend, James Hong (that’s David Lo Pan to you) as a wise old man who uncovers the truth about Christie’s condition and lots of high-kicking, higher-jumping and returns from the dead than I could count.

Luckily it’s all lively stuff, totally typical Cannon-fodder and despite the odd drag here and there (that’s what having absolutely no plot gets you) and the complete silliness of its most blatant Exorcist sequence (Christie is tied up, doused in green lighting and puts on a demon voice) I thoroughly enjoyed its B-movie bat-shit bonkers-ness. It’s not as good as the all-out Revenge of the Ninja (the second and best instalment) but abetted by the introduction of Dickey to the series, who has that 80’s hot, legwarmer clad thing down great. Seriously, she’s probably the only person in cinema history to use tomato juice as a seduction tool. However, any hopes that a woman in the ninja role would be anything approaching empowering is deflated by a running tendency of the film to ogle Dickey in far more than necessary sweaty aerobics sequences (though I quite liked them), making her most superhuman kick-arse skills only possible through demonic (and male) possession and mostly obscuring her in the second half with that disguise get-up of hers. She’s also totally sidelined at the end for the big battle between Kosugi’s vengeful good guy and our bad ninja (who has regained possession of his original body) but she’s still the best thing in this film.

The action is wildly excessive – the opening sequence delivers more death-star throwing, sword-welding and hapless cop-death than you’d think possible, and a later orgy of killage at a funeral gives more of the same, including a bit when someone punches a gravestone and it smashes to pieces. A gold ball is crushed in the first act and someone outdoes this later on by crushing a pool ball. Is it a good or bad film? Well, if you’re going out of your way to watch it in this day and age then you know exactly what you’re in for, and I can safely say you’re going to like it. It’s definitely the best kung-fu horror revenge action adventure with added legwarmers ever made.

PS: The term ’80s hot’ is something I remember reading in an online review of Staying Alive (yes, the Saturday Night Fever sequel) and was used to describe Cynthia Rhodes’ character. It’s a good term, so I’m keeping the 80’s fires burning by using it here.

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