You can pick up a lot of interesting pieces of information by watching movies – you can learn about great moments in history or about how important it is not to run upstairs when a serial killer is chasing you – but it was with the viewing of 1984’s Cannon film classic Ninja III: The Domination that I learned one of the most important pieces of information, something that shaped the very person I am today, and that little nugget of knowledge is “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”
What do you get when we blend the dance craze of Flashdance with the supernatural elements from The Exorcist and then wrap it all up in the Ninja mania of the 1980s? If you were to ask producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan the obvious answer would be Ninja III: The Domination a film that centres around an aerobics instructor who gets possessed by the spirit of a “Black Ninja” and goes on a one-woman rampage of revenge. If that all sounds insane, as well as awesome, then this movie could be right up your alley because as cult films go Ninja III: The Domination has to be one of the most memorable if only for the seduction scene involving pouring V8 juice down the chest of the lead actress, and with the likes of Shô Kosugi and James Hong making an appearance you can’t go too wrong, but just how does one get possessed by a ninja?
The movie opens with Black Ninja (David Chung) – his title must be referring to his soul as he never wears the more popular black ninja outfit – attacking a man and woman at a local golf course, the man we will later learn is a “very important scientist” of some sort, but not only does the Black Ninja brutally murder this pair he also kills his security detail and a dozen or so responding police officers. It’s at this point we learn that as effective as a katana and a shuriken are in a fight they will be trumped by a hail of gunfire, but as pointed out “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja” and so he is able to escape and stumble across Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a telephone lineswoman and aerobics instructor – Note: If that seems like an odd career combo don’t forget that Jennifer Beals was a welder/dancer in Flashdance – and before he dies he is able to transfer his dark soul into her.
Where in the case of Flashdance Jennifer Beals landed the hunky rich owner of a steel mill in Ninja III: The Domination our heroine is saddled with Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) a cop who after questioning her about her encounter with the dying ninja immediately goes into fall on stalker mode and even shows up at her aerobics class, yet his constant harassment – which includes his threatening her with arrest for defending herself against rapists – she somehow finds this all charming enough to invite him in for sex. They don’t even have a first date! Call me crazy but I don’t think Golan and Globus had a clue as to what was or was not romantic, not helped by the infamous scene where Lucinda Dickey pours V8 juice down her chest so that Jordan Bennett can lick it off.
The basic plot of Ninja III: The Domination has to deal with Christie being occasionally being “taken over” by the spirit of the Black Ninja and while in this fugue state she hunts down and kills the police officers that were responsible for the Ninja’s death. It should be noted that Christie was very lucky to never having been fingerprinted in the past because while possessed by the Black Ninja she literally leaves dozens of fingerprints at the various murder sprees – I guess ninjas are averse to wearing gloves – and when her blackouts and strange bruises begin to concern her she goes to the worst doctor in the world, a quack who tells her that she is perfectly healthy and that “Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!” Excuse me, but was having ESP just a commonly accepted thing in the 80s? So with no help from the medical community, it’s up to Billy to solve things “sigh” and his brilliant idea is to turn to Japanese exorcist Miyashima (James Hong) to see about getting rid of whatever evil spirit is possessing her. Sadly, James Hong is only able to confirm what we already know, that she has been possessed by a ninja, but he is the one to offer us that immortal piece of knowledge, “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”
Lucky for them a ninja by the name of Goro Yamada (Shô Kosugi) has arrived stateside in pursuit of that very same Black Ninja who has been troubling our heroes – these two have the standard antagonistic history, Goro lost an eye to the Black Ninja – and after stealing the body of the Black Ninja from the morgue he proceeds to hunt for the new vessel of his enemies spirit, which will eventually result in a badass showdown between the two ninjas atop what looks a Shaolin temple full of monks for the Black Ninja to somehow control. Needless to say, not much in Ninja III: The Domination makes a lot of sense and when the credits roll, with our heroes embraced in a kiss while Shô Kosugi walks off into the sunrise, you will be left either gloriously pleased or confused out of your mind, but that is kind of the hallmark of Cannon Films.
• A daylight attack on an open golf course doesn’t seem to be a great setting for a ninja attack. Ninjutsu is “the art of invisibility” which is a tidbit someone should have let the Black Ninja in on.
• Who was this “very important scientist” that the Black Ninja was sent to kill and why did he have so many armed bodyguards? Was he working on a new Manhattan Project or possibly the latest iPhone?
• Apparently, ninjas have the ability to crush golf balls and billiard balls with the bare hands, who knew?
• I refuse to believe a ninja would drive around in an El Camino. The Brady Bunch station wagon was an even cooler vehicle than that goofy-ass vehicle.
• During the big fight at the policeman’s funeral service we get one cop handing nightsticks out the trunk of his car to all his fellow officers, but why? Did the police blow their bullet budget during the first ninja fight?
• If the Black Ninja can animate his own dead body what was the point of possessing Christie?
Despite this being the third entry in Canon’s Ninja Trilogy – following Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja – this film has nothing to do with those previous installments other than that they all-star Shô Kosugi but even with that he plays a different character in each film. It should also be noted that this was Lucinda’s “big break” having previously been a Solid Gold Dancer and a background dancer in Grease 2 and while her career never took off – though starring in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo is something any actor could be proud of – she actually puts in a very credible performance in a film that lacks credibility at every turn. The same cannot be said of her co-star Jordan Bennett who is stuck playing one of the most loathsome love interests I have the displeasure of ever watching, sure, much of this is due to the script but at no point in this film did I not want to punch him in the face. As for the awesome Shô Kosugi, well, what can be said other than he is the epitome of cool and any film that he makes an appearance in is well worth checking, with maybe the exception of The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and he is easily one of my favourite cinematic ninjas. It should be noted that films like Ninja III: The Domination are certainly not for everyone but if you are looking for a goofy fun time you could do a lot worse.
Ninja III: The Domination (1984)
Movie Rank - 7/10
Cannon Films were mostly known for exploitative cinema, cashing in on the latest trends, and Ninja III: The Domination has to be the pinnacle of that “art form” with its mishmash of genres and overall goofy concept, which just makes me love it all the more.