1. In 1983 you directed Revenge
of the Ninja, starring Sho Kosugi, a film widely regarded as one of the
best ninja films ever made. How did you initially get involved with Cannon
While at Loyola
University I directed my first full
length feature film. It started as a twenty-five minute student project and
grew to become One More Chance starring Kirstie Alley and John
With about an
hour of edited work print and a trailer,
I started shopping around Hollywood’s production and distribution companies
seeking completion funds. The turning point came when I walked into a meeting
with Menahem Golan in the offices of Cannon Films. Earlier that year Menahem
Golan and Yoram Globus had purchased the New York based ailing production
company with its considerable library of sexploitation movies. They moved the
operation to Hollywood and started producing low budget horror flicks. I had
known the two heads of the company as I had worked for them as an office runner
and assistant director before they purchased Cannon. I was surprised and elated
when I learned that upon viewing the material, Golan and Globus expressed a
willingness to finance completion of the production and thereafter to take it
for distribution. While I was busy editing One More Chance Golan
got involved as a producer and director of the first of a new breed of action
movies. It was Enter the Ninja the first martial
arts movie to introduce the Ninja phenomena to western viewers. The idea to
make a western style Ninja movie was presented to Golan by Mike Stone, a
prominent American karate champion and formerly Elvis Presley’s personal
trainer. Golan got excited and committed to produce the movie in the
Philippines. Mike was the choreographer of the fight sequences and Franco Nero
the star, with newcomer Japanese champion Sho Kosugi as the bad ninja. The
completed movie enjoyed a moderate success in the international and US markets
so Golan decided to produce a sequel entitled Revenge of the Ninja this time with
the impressive fighter Sho Kosugi as the star. Just at this time I had finished
One More Chance, and I was done with the festivals and with
school. The script was ready and Golan decided not to direct it himself but
rather, to hire someone else to direct, and that someone else would be me.
Golan was willing to take a chance on me. He knew I could put a movie together;
I had proven that I could construct a scene, shoot, and edit logically. The big
question was whether I could handle action, could I tackle a fight sequence or
a chase. Clearly I did not have experience in these areas, but when he asked if
I could do it, with utmost confidence I gave a positive yes. I knew I was not
going to let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away. Apparently my self
confidence assured them so the next question was what kind of salary I would
demand. I told Golan to pay me whatever he saw fit and so the deal was made and
I was given the script and asked to start pre-production immediately,
2. Were you familiar with any of the
ninja mythology prior to working on Revenge of the Ninja?
Although I was
familiar with Japanese samurai movies -
I love the films of Akira Kurosawa, I knew very little of the Hong Kong Kung Fu
genre and nothing about Ninjitsu. Sho Kosugi the star of the movie introduced
me to both martial arts and Ninjitsu. We bought a few books and together
watched many Chinese movies, without subtitles in theaters full of Chinese
speaking audience members.
3. Revenge of the Ninja has a
very elaborate ending fight scene between Kosugi and the evil ninja, consisting
of martial arts choreography, pyrotechnics, helicopter shots, etc. How long did
it take to film the climax?
It toke total of 9 week to film Revenge
of the Ninja out of it we spent one full week on the roof of a high-rise filming
the ending fight scene. It was elaborated indeed.
4. Rob Walsh’s soundtrack to Revenge
of the Ninja has gained something of a cult following with original copies
of the vinyl LP fetching some remarkable prices on eBay. Do you recall working
with Walsh – and did you have any input on the music in Revenge?
I am not a musician so I don’t have
the tools to talk about music in technical terms. The way it works is that I
meet with the composer and we go over the entire movie and talk about the spots
that we believe music is needed then we discuss the mode I would like to create
in each scene, sequence, or transitional moment. The composer then goes to work
and comes back with rough sketches of musical pieces for the specific scenes.
Together we view it, listen to it, discus it farther and come to conclusions.
This process repeats itself several times until we arrive to the final results.
This procedure is the same to all the movies I directed.
5. Sho Kosugi has made an impressive
career starring in ninja films – even today he’s still considered the foremost
actor of the subgenre. What was it like working with him in Revenge of the
Ninja and Ninja III: the Domination?
Sho is an accomplished martial
artist, knowledgeable in all fields of martial art; he was also a teacher
(sense) with a group of dedicated students. When we first met we hit it off
right away, I did not know a thing about the martial arts and did not pretend
to know any so I rather adapted Sho as my teacher and gave him the necessary
respect therefore eliminating any potential conflicts regarding that area he in
return excepted my as the director the final authority on all cinematic matters.
This mutual respect and appreciation lead to an actually friendship later on
during shooting the years we worked together.
5. Ninja III: The Domination
is a very different type of ninja film, throwing in horror elements of The
Exorcist, the martial arts action of prior Kosugi films, and an aerobics
instructor-turned-ninja played by Lucinda Dickey. Do you remember how the
concept for such a unique concept came about?
After the release of Revenge of the
Ninja Menahem Golan head of Canon Film wanted to produce a third sequel to the
Ninja franchise but this time with a female heroin at the lead. I just saw the
movie “Poltergeist” and since we knew that women did not receive Ninjitsu
training I come up with the idea that the main character the actress Lucinda
Dickey will be possessed by the spirit of a dead Ninja and this possession will
propel the plot of the movie. Since we already dealt with that genera we throw
in also some elements from the movie “The Exorcist” that I saw years earlier
and impressed me a lot.
7. There was a rumor that Chuck
Norris had been set to star in American Ninja prior to Michael Dudikoff.
Is there any truth to that? Was Sho Kosugi ever considered for a role in American
Yes it is true. When Menahem Golan
came up with the concept of continuing the Ninja franchise with an American
hero this time, he offered the part to Chuck Norris, but Chuck did not want to
do it, he declined and so luckily for Michael Dudikoff I was entrusted with
the task of finding “the
American Ninja”. Sho Kosugi was never considered for that role basically
because he was not American enough.
8. The trailer for American Ninja
had the film titled as American Warrior. Was that the original title
during production? And, if so, why was it ultimately changed?
“American Ninja’ was always the
“American Ninja” right from the start but for some reason, upon release, in
France and some other European countries it was called “American Warrior” I
don’t know why. What you saw was probably a European trailer.
9. Many films in the 1980s had
issues with the MPAA and had to cut certain scenes (usually due to violence) in
order to achieve a suitable rating. Did you ever run into any problems trying
to meet the MPAA’s standards and were there any scenes that had to be toned
down or cut?
Are you kidding? I had a ton of
problems with the MPAA all the time in every movie I directed and very often we
had to cut out ant tune down the action scene especially graphic visuals of
violence like decapitation and dismembering, excessive blood spruces and so on.
10. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus
were notorious for keeping their films under a tight budget. What was your
experience like working for them? Were there ever any budget issues with the
films you worked on?
known Menahem and Yoram for many years, in fact many
years before I directed Revenge of the Ninja - I worked as an assistant
director on many of their films, even one that Menahem Golan directed (Diamonds
with Robert Shaw). The way they worked was that Yoram Globus was in charge of
finances, and had little input on the creative side; Menahem Golan was the
creative producer, involved in all the stages of making the movies. His main
interest was in the script and in the editing. During the shooting I was
basically left alone. I would say that in this sense, it was very easy to work
with them, as long as we did not go over budget or exceed the schedule - which
I never did. They trusted me and we had a very good relationship.
11. It seems that many films today
take a more serious approach to the action genre, whereas much of the ‘80s
action films tended to be more outlandish and fun – yet still were able to tell
an intriguing story. A good number of Cannon’s movies were gloriously
over-the-top – and were great because of it! For instance, American Ninja 2:
The Confrontation focuses around a villain who intends to create an army of
genetically-engineered ninja warriors. It was pure fun entertainment and
is still as enjoyable today as it was back in 1987. Further, films seemed to
accomplish much more back in the ‘80s with modest budgets, memorable
characters, and ‘reel’ choreographed action, as opposed to some of Hollywood’s
current crop of films, backed with more money, littered with CGI, and filtered
with a sense of ‘realism’. Do you have any thoughts on the current state of the
action genre? In your opinion has it improved or has it lost something since
the 1980s batch of action films?
You are right. In the action movies
I directed in the 80s I always tried to create and maintain a sense of fun.
Everything on the screen was not “real, reality” but rather “movie reality” but
still the story had to be solid, traditional structure of beginning, middle,
and end with a good hero and a over the top nasty villain.
The budget was modest but the action
was real happening right in front of the audiences eyes. Today’s action movies
are very elaborated and spectacular inspired by video games, they are exciting
and that how the young audience wants them. But nowadays when I see a fight
sequence, I don’t fill the pain when the hero gets bitten up the way it was in
the 80s because then the chorography was for real and in today’s movies it is
all editing and CGI something is missing but still you cannot beat the
spectaculars of Spiderman.
12. Any final words you would like
to share with our readers?
satisfaction of my work is to know that there are people all over the world who
enjoy the movies that I have directed. This is the reason I make movies - to
entertain audiences, and take them into a 90 minute journey of fantasy, thrill,
and excitement. If all of this works, then I am grateful.