... aka: Die Herrschaft der Ninja (The Rule of the Ninja)
... aka: Domination, The
... aka: El poder del sable (The Power of the Sword)
... aka: Ninja, The
... aka: Ninja 3
... aka: Trancers
I wanted to be a ninja as a kid and the 80s were a good time to be an aspiring ninja because ninjutsu became a cultural phenomenon back then, right along with aerobics. I did the best I could to become a full-fledged ninja. I took tae kwon do lessons for years and bought an entire ninja outfit, nunchucks, throwing stars and whatever else I could get away with at the time. I begged my mom to buy me a katana, shuriken, kusarigama and other ninja accessories but was rejected because she probably didn't want her 7-year-old running around in the woods brandishing razor-sharp weaponry. Either that, or she wanted to avoid future conversations like: Me: “Can I have a cookie?” Mom: “No, you'll spoil your appetite and then you won't eat dinner.” Me (removing katana from case; threateningly raising it): “I SAID, can I have a COOKIE?” Needless to say, Ninja III was one of my absolute favorite films back then, along with a horribly-dubbed Hong Kong movie called Chinese Super Ninjas that popped up on TV all of the time. Back then, life was more simple. I never questioned the title Ninja III and it never even dawned on me that there were others. All I knew is that it was filled with ninjas, ninja action and ninja weapons and that's all I needed to know.
Ninja III is technically a sequel to two other films: Menahem Golan's Enter the Ninja (1981) and Sam Firstenberg's Revenge of the Ninja (1983), though none of these really have anything in common plot-wise other than featuring ninjas. They were all produced by Israeli-born Yoram Globus and his partner Golan for their then-fledgling Cannon Pictures and each also featured martial arts expert Shô Kosugi in a major role. While Enter did fairly well financially and helped to kick start the 80s ninja craze here in America, Revenge became an even bigger success; opening at #3 at the box office behind only Mr. Mom and Risky Business. Considering it only played in 426 theaters and the other two major studio films were playing in 1300+ and 1100+ respectively, that was more-than-respectful business. Revenge went on to gross over 13 million dollars in the U.S., which left the door wide open for this third film. I hadn't seen this one in many, many years before popping it in tonight. All I really expected was mindless entertainment and some 80s cheese and this more than delivered on both fronts.
After getting together his weapons (stashed in a mountaintop cave), a “black ninja” (David Chung) appears on a golf course early one morning and sets about slaughtering six people. After slashing a “very important scientist,” his girlfriend and four bodyguards to death with his sword, he takes off into the woods. Security guards call in the police and the manhunt begins. During this time, the ninja does all kinds of cool ninja things like crushing a golf ball with his bare hand, lifting a golf cart off the ground with one arm, shooting a dart into a gun causing it to backfire, using a grappling hook to spin around a tree and back flipping onto the top of a moving police car. He also kills a ton of people. A TON. I've seen the actual number debated online but let's just say the body count reaches in excess of 30... in the first ten minutes alone! Wow. Officer after officer gets sliced, diced or hit with a throwing star, numerous motorcycles and cars crash and the ninja even makes a helicopter explode at one point! After being shot about a hundred times, he finally disappears in a cloud of smoke.
Telephone repairwoman / aerobics instructor Christie Rider (Lucinda Dickey) is out working when she stumbles upon the dying ninja. He says some things in Japanese, hands over his bloody sword and then keels over dead. Christie goes to the cops but doesn't say anything about the sword, which she's cleaned off and is hiding in her closet. At the station, she meets Officer Billy Second (Jordan Bennett), who becomes so annoyingly persistent in getting her to go out with him that he should be behind bars for harassment and stalking. Christie soon starts changing. She has a sudden dislike of police officers, a sudden interest in Japanese culture and easily beats up four muscle-bound thugs outside her gym when they get a little too frisky with her. At home, the sword glows and levitates out of the closet right into her hand, her arcade game projects multicolored lights onto her face and her eyes become slanted (!!) The spirit of the evil ninja assassin is back and now wants to use her body to get back at the cops who killed him.
Christie suffers from frequent blackout periods when the ninja takes over her body and thus can't even remember how she keeps getting bruises let alone times when she's out killing off the offending officers. She knocks one guy out of a window after crushing a pool ball in her hand and puts on a sexy swimsuit to kill an officer and his two female dates in a hot tub with a spiked ring. Christie goes to a shrink and a doctor but they're unable to help. Billy then takes her to spiritualist Miyashima (James Hong), who chains her up and then attempts to exorcise the ghost within her. Christie's face turns pale, she starts speaking Japanese in a deep male echo voice and then spits smoke in the exorcist's face. Guess they were all out of pea soup. Supposedly they originally also filmed a bit where her head spins around but it had to be cut on orders from the MPAA so the film could secure an R-rating. Instead, she starts flipping around in circles like they do in the gymnast event rings.
Miyashima isn't of much help, but he does reveal that “only a ninja can destroy a ninja.” Thankfully, eye-patch-wearing good ninja Yamada (Kosugi) has just flown in from Japan and he's looking for revenge against the black ninja, who had killed his father and left him for dead years earlier. Yamada goes to a morgue, beats up half a dozen security guards, knocks two orderlies' heads together and then steals the black ninja's corpse and takes it to a nearby temple. After Ninja Christie shows up at a funeral and kills a number of other officers with a bow-and-arrow and her martial arts skills, Yamada finally learns her identity and then sets out to save her, with hopes of transferring the black ninja's spirit back into his corpse and then finally killing him for good.
As a kid, I never noticed the bad acting or the corny dialogue or the absurd plot and, of course, I was immune to the 80s cheese because I was pretty much living it at the time. However, this still holds up well as a brainless action film and remains entertaining and fun all these years later. There's lots of fighting, lots of stunt work, lots of R-rated violence and lots of clever, unexpected moments sprinkled throughout that keep it all very watchable. Kosugi also doubled as the fight choreographer and does a great job with that aspect of the film. Production values are decent and Hanania Baer's photography is very nice, as well. While this may not be as much fun for young viewers, anyone who was a wanna-be ninja back in the 80s like myself will probably have a blast.
Though really not much of an actress, Dickey (a former Solid Gold dancer) is at least nice to look at and likable / appealing in her role all the same. She supposedly got the part because she was physically fit and could handle a lot of the action scenes but it also didn't hurt that she'd previously starred in the break-dancing musical Breakin' (1984), which ended up becoming one of Cannon's biggest money-makers of all time. After starring in three Cannon films (including the Breakin' sequel), she showed up in the dumb slasher flick Cheerleader Camp (1987), got married a few years later to a wealthy producer, had kids and that was that.
Not to be confused with the Charles Band movie of the same name from the same year.
Just like Cannon's two previous ninja films, this made a decent profit with a 7.6 million domestic gross at the box office, plus a healthy cable and video run afterward. However, it didn't make nearly as much as Revenge, so the producers decided to end this particular series and start another one. The following year, they released American Ninja (1985), which was also directed by Firstenberg and ended up making over 10 million in theaters on a 1 million budget. That was followed by the much-cheaper American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987), which grossed less than 4 million, and three others, which did most of their business on home video.
After numerous VHS and DVD releases over the years, a great-looking print of Ninja III made its Blu-ray debut via Shout! Factory in 2013.