Posted by Jon Peters on Jun 16, 2011
The ninja film isn’t widely loved like the samurai genre, and that’s mostly due to the lack of any significant
ninja movies, especially compared to what Akira Kurosawa delivered in his career. This is a tad unfair, but let’s change
After directing Enter the Ninja in 1981, Menahem Golan wanted to follow this hit for his Golan-Globus Films (Cannon
Films) with a sequel. In what has become widely recognized as one of the best ninja movies ever made, 1983′s Revenge
of the Ninja features some of the coolest ninja action and violence, as well as sharp direction by the newcomer Sam Firstenberg,
who would go on to direct some of the more popular films for Cannon Films, including American Ninja and Breakin’
2: Electric Boogalo.
Director Sam Firstenberg chats with Killer Film about his breakout hit Revenge of the Ninja in another dose of
Action Packed Flashback.
“Only a ninja can stop a ninja” – Cho
“I met Menahem Golan when I was 22 years old and a film student at Columbia College in Los Angeles. He had just
arrived in Hollywood, to produce and direct his first American movie in Lepke with Tony Curtis and I was invited to join the
production“, recalls Sam Firstenberg on the origins of Cannon Films and the ninja craze of the 1980s. “Seven
years later, while at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, working towards a Masters degree in film, I directed my
first full length feature film One More Chance and Golan as head of Cannon Film took 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.”
“Although I was familiar with Japanese samurai movies (I love the films of Akira Kurusawa) I knew very little
of the Hong Kong Kung Fu genre and nothing about Ninjitsu,” he explains on his upcoming involvement on the Enter
the Ninja sequel. Golan was now running Cannon Films and didn’t want to direct Revenge of the Ninja, so
that job fell to Sam. “Enter the Ninja enjoyed a moderate success in the international and US markets so Golan decided
to produce a sequel. Golan was willing to take a chance on me. 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 was not going to let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away.”
He continues: “The script was full of Ninja weapons and every Ninja fighting trick, method, custom, ceremony, and
accessories, but my first decision right away was not to follow in the steps of the Hong Kong flicks, but rather to approach
the movie as a straight Hollywood action movie with a martial arts slant, and the Ninjitsu mysticism the icing on the cake.
I felt that western movie goers have a hard time following the Eastern way of telling a story and its movie style. The Hollywood
formula of action was the right way to pursue such a subject making it ready for a western audience to digest.”
Although the film was meant to be a sequel, this was only in spirit only, but Sam did cast Enter the Ninja star
Sho Kosugi, largely forgotten by action fans today. “Newcomer Japanese champion martial artist Sho Kosugi was the
bad ninja in that film. An accomplished martial arts fighter and Ninjitsu expert who had come a few years earlier to Los Angeles
with Hollywood on his mind“, recalls Sam on his star. “Sho was so impressive in his fighting skills and
style that the company decided to build him as a star and produce a sequel around his character. When I was handed the script
I was also introduced to Sho Kosugi, the tallest Japanese person I had ever met. Sho was the spirit behind the project, working
with the writer, Jim Silke, on all the Ninjitsu and martial arts elements of the script. He introduced me to both martial
arts and Ninjitsu, with explanations, stories, books and movies we viewed together. Sho was also in charge of fight choreography,
creating all the major fight sequences in the movie using his students and utilizing Ninja weapons and every Ninja fighting
trick, method, custom, ceremony, and accessory. While we were shooting the dramatic scenes he was rehearsing and preparing
the fights and once we were ready to shoot the fights they were always ready to go. Sho himself was the utmost professional
on the set, always prepared and ready every day. He would wake up with his fighters two or three hours before the working
day to start to work out and prepare themselves, and then once on set he executed his moves to near perfection. It was a pleasure
to watch him do his stuff.” To date, Sho’s latest on-screen appearance was in 2009′s Ninja Assassin
as Ozunu, for V for Vendetta director James McTeigue.
Filming began in Salt Lake City, as this story would follow Cho Osaki (Sho Kosugi) as he leaves Japan and the way of the
ninja behind for a fresh start with his son (played by Kane Kosugi, the real-life son of Sho) and his grandmother in America.
Life seemed pretty good for a time, as Cho runs an antique store. But the past was going to catch up. Cho’s best friend
Braden (played marvelously by Arthur Roberts), who helped him escape the violence in Japan, was double-crossing him and using
his antique store as a storage unit for his heroine business. Once Cho’s son discovers the heroine, Braden will stop
at nothing to silence the kid.
“Ken Kosugi, Sho’s son, was part of the package and already written into the script as a character when I
came aboard the project. He was training with his father and on the set amazed us all with his skills of acting and fighting.
Arthur Roberts was cast in a typical casting process; I found him to have the “innocent turned villain” quality
needed for the part,” explains Firstenberg on the casting. Arthur Roberts was a regular for producer Roger Corman
at that time, in such films as Not of This Earth and Chopping Mall.
The film was graphically violent, but fans remember the film mostly for the awesome finale battle to the death between
Braden and Cho on top of the drug lord Caifano’s skyscraper. Sam Firstenberg recounts the two week shoot of the climax.
“It took two weeks, with all three units, to execute the final fight scene between Sho Kosugi and the “bad”
ninja on the rooftop of one of the towers. The scene contains many effects, pyrotechnics, and mechanical rigging. There were
many safety considerations to cover the sword fighting choreography, elaborate camera positioning, including hanging 20 stories
high outside the building, and even shots from a helicopter, to create the excitement and tension that resulted in the final
shot of the movie.”