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Only a ninja can stop a ninja.

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Only A Ninja Can Stop A Ninja


Posted May 10, 2009


ninja-header01Directed by Sam Firstenberg Written by James R. Silke Cinematography by David Gurfinkel Editing by Mark Helfrich CAST: Sho Kosugi, Arthur Roberts, Ashley Ferrare, Kane Kosugi Goddamn I miss the 80’s. It’s not the clothes or the music that I give a crap about, it’s the ninjas. That’s right, ninjas: the finest of all Japanese cultural exports. From the ages of 5 to 8, all I wanted to do in life was to be a ninja, but not just any ninja. While all the kids in the schoolyard were talking about how badass Raphael and Michelangelo were, I just scoffed quietly, hooked my thumbs in the pockets of my pleather pants and walked away. You heard me right, and I have the photographic evidence to prove the pants too. I could afford to be a pretentious douche at such a young age because I knew that ninjas were more than animated turtles, they were real. The only proof I needed was a movie called Revenge of the Ninja, and a man named Sho Kosugi. There’s no way I can talk about this film from an objective point of view. It’s responsible for fucking me up pretty substantially when I was a kid to the extent that my brothers and I would throw blinding ninja powder into each others’ faces whenever one of us had let our ninja guard down. Although we didn’t have access to the secret chemical compound of real ninja blinding powder, baby powder served as a good alternative. Then there was the endless array of self-forged cardboard weaponry and Sears purchased ninja costumes, all arranged to Sho Kosugi ninja specifications. I took this shit VERY seriously. So I’m throwing objectivity out the window on this one and stating with empirical fact that Revenge of the Ninja is the definitive American made ninja film, PERIOD. Here’s why. The plot of the film is quite simple but classic nonetheless: Cho Osaki attempts to escape his awesome ninja past after his family is wiped out by rival ninjas. He escapes to America, taking his infant son with him in hopes of starting a new, non-ninja life in the US by running a Japanese doll gallery. Little does he know but his best friend Braden is using the gallery as a front to smuggle heroin into the country, hidden inside the Japanese dolls. When it is revealed that his best friend is responsible for the heroin trafficking as well as being a ninja himself, capable of hypnosis and robot diversions (I’ll explain later), our hero must take up arms one last time. After all, only a ninja can stop a ninja. I’m not going to waste any time talking about the “problems” that the film has specifically in terms of representing any non-ninja characters, whether they be minorities or women, but who gives a shit. Political correctness has no place in a ninja movie and besides it was the 80’s. It was a different time; some would say a more glorious time when people weren’t so worried about offending every cross section of society with a movie. Anyway, back to the topic of the film’s greatness. As far as action sequences go, the film is relentless. In the first couple of minutes, an entire family is wiped out by a dozen ninjas and a five year old gets a shuriken (ninja star to you laymen) in the forehead. Even by today’s standards that’s a ballsy opening. You’d think that both director Sam Firstenberg and star and martial arts choreographer Kosugi would take a break in the pacing after that one but no, for the next hour and twenty minutes if ninja’s aren’t fighting each other they’re kicking the shit out of mobsters, drowning coked-up lovers in a hot tub, and beating up countless goons who just don’t know who they’re dealing with. As Braden so eloquently puts it to the mob boss who has screwed him out of a drug payment, “Don’t fuck with the Japanese”. Indeed Braden, indeed. Unlike the legions of 80’s action films, specifically those produced by the Cannon Film Group that have been forever relegated to obscurity in gas station bargain VHS bins, Revenge is unique in that it is readily available on DVD. I would argue that this decision to “save” the film is a direct result of the quality and frequency of said action sequences. Not every sequence is a complete classic, but I dare anyone to find a better ninja climax. The final rooftop battle between Braden and Cho, a showdown that has been building up for the previous hour and 20, lasts almost 10 minutes! That’s an absurd length of time for two guys battling on a single rooftop. Kosugi and Firstenberg milk the sequence for all it’s worth, making the combatants display an array of weaponry, ranging from swords to hidden flame throwers; choreographed acrobatics that border on the absurd; and finally, the appearance of the Braden-bot (remember that robot I mentioned earlier?) The look of disbelief and pure ninja rage on Cho’s face on as the robot decoy is revealed to him is one of the standout moments of film. You just know that Braden has fucked up for the last time. Just in case you haven’t been entirely sold on how awesome this film, is I’m going to go ahead and make the claim that Chris Nolan ripped off one sequence towards the end of Revenge and incorporated it into the opening robbery sequence of The Dark Knight. I don’t care if people call me a complete idiot. Look for yourself. ninja-breakdownSimply amazing. As great as the action sequences are, they owe as much to Firstenberg and Kosugi as they do to the film’s musical composer Rob Walsh. All good action films should make you want to punch someone in the face while watching them, and Walsh’s score contributes a great deal to that sentiment. It quite simply is one of the greatest synth-scores ever made. Out of all of the hyperbolic statements in this review, I’ll stand by this one as indisputable. Now, just to ground everything before I end off here. I’m not an idiot. There is a long tradition of ninjas in Japanese martial arts films. So the question is, whether this film measures up to those films in terms of overall quality. In the context of ninja bad-assery? Yes. In overall cinematic quality? Probably not. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot easier for a ninja film to become dated when it’s set in 1980’s California rather than 14th century feudal Japan. Somehow kimonos and ninja gear remain timeless while sweatpants and teased hair just seem out of place. Furthermore, to suggest that Firstenberg possessed a greater grasp on ninjas than Japanese filmmakers prior to Revenge would be a slap in the face to ninjas everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love Firstenberg, Kosugi and Revenge and not even from an ironic 80’s cheese point of view. Ultimately, it’s a solid action film that is competently staged and totally self aware of what it is, and not in that post-modern bullshit way either. It’s just balls-out, ninja’s kicking the shit out of everyone they come across. There’s no way that can ever get old.