The kung fu marathon, in its inception, included me glancing at my seemingly unending pile of "to be watched eventually" films which are usually things that I have a mild interest in or figure, I might need to be aware of for future projects. It also includes things that are passed my ways as gifts, recommendations, or in a very recent case a benefit of providing some research for a documentary. As such, getting around to these films can seem like a chore, often times proving to be middle of the road films that do not fall in a particular way, while in other instances, as was the case recently with The Woodsman and Finding Forrester, proving to be cinematic gems that would never have come into my radar were they not in the pile I just mentioned. Ninja III is such a film, in so much, as I had never seen its prequels, nor as I aware of its existence, until it was passed along to me as a partial payment for some work I did for a friend. As such, it was one of the first things I sat aside for this marathon, because I knew that its prominent featuring of ninjas, at least in the plot description and title, would be more than enough to suffice for inclusion in a month devoted to the martial arts genre. Shout Factory is clearly marketing Ninja III as a bad-movie that happens to be embraced for its absurdity and in this aspect it is hard to deny, particularly considering some of the narrative choices, as well as some grade A terrible acting choices. I, however, assume that given its non-studio status that Ninja III did not possess a very high production budget. This is an aspect where the film really shines, particularly, since the cinematography is often composed in a manner that gives scenes a pictorial nature, playing heavily with shadowing to add ambiance. Mind you, this is a film about a dead ninja possessing a woman's body and making her into a killer, one would not really expect anything in the way of soundtrack, editing and filmmaking to matter, instead all reflecting the same issues as those shown in the bad writing and acting. Ninja III is a well-made movie, that just happens to be really ill-conceived in the elements that least reflect the "architects" of the frame. Had the director given a second thought to demanding more out of his performers and had those same performers questioned their character's motives even slightly, Ninja III could have move from terrible to slightly above average. Of course, this is not all bad because in its existing as a terrible film it has obtained a new life that is often not afforded to better films that are decidedly middle-of-the-road.
Ninja III begins with a ninja entering a cave and grabbing an assortment of what one would assume to be the assassin's tools, ranging from katanas to the most extensive variety of shuriken imaginable. One would assume with such a setup that the ninja will be the film's protagonist, but this proves to be far from the case when only moments later the ninja shows up during a round of golf, quickly killing his guards, the women with him and the man, only to result in his being chased down by the police. The police with their various cars and even a helicopter prove no match for this ninja, as he destroys all in his path. Even after being repeatedly gunned down by a set of police, the ninja manages to escape, at which point he runs into Christie (Lucinda Dickie) a woman who works as a telecommunications engineer. Realizing he is wounded Christie attempts to help, only to have the ninja flail about in an attempt to attack her, yet in his last words he appears to cast something upon her in desperation before finally keeling over and dying. Thrown off by the entire endeavor, Christie heads to the police station after reporting the dead body, where one cop, Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) moves out of his job as a officer and immediately begins hitting on Christie. Initially, Christie is dismissive of his advances, yet when she has a bizarre vision of him being involved in the shooting of the ninja she agrees to begin dating him. After some unusual misuse of tomato juice and a lot of body hair, the two become a couple, despite Christie continuing to have visions of the various officers involved in the killing of the ninja, many of whom seem to smoke cigars while on the job. Concerned for Christie and worried as the members of his police force begin disappearing, Billy takes Christie to a spiritual advisor in the Asian area of their town, who explains that she has indeed been possessed by the dead ninja, thus explaining her quest for revenge, offering to perform a sort of exorcism of the spirit, although warning that it is an incredibly dangerous. Furthermore, considering the dangerous nature of ninjas, a warrior named Yamada (Sho Kosugi) arrives, aiding Billy and Christie in the endeavor and fighting off the nina's resurrected spirit. However, given that it primarily occupied Christie, her involvement in the slaying of the spirt is much more hands on than Yamada might have expected.
I could do a critical reading of the film, but it would almost become flippant and mocking of the work and its clearly misguided attempts at being a cool film in terms of characters and narrative, which in most cases fails miserably. Furthermore, while it does bend gender assumptions a bit throughout, it almost seems coincidental as opposed to well reasoned and revolutionary. Instead, I want to consider a few of the cinematic choices that make the film sound from a production aspect, since it will likely never receive mention in contrast to the film's terrible elements. Firstly, the opening shot of Ninja III depicts the villain stepping into a cave and cinematographer Hanania Baer situates the camera inside the shadows of the cave, thus allowing the figure to exist in a cloud of dusty light as he moves into the darkness of the space, nicely juxtaposing his movement from a suit and assumed simplicity, to the villainy of his black ninja suit. This was clearly a production choice that looks absolutely stunning, almost as though it could have fit into one of The Dark Knight films, perhaps the third of the franchise which could have benefitted greatly from the addition. The second element that is worth considering is the scene in which Christie becomes fully possessed. The scene shows her playing a video game, which appears to consist of breaking up bar fights, nonetheless, when she steps away and returns moments later, the arcade begins smoking and the screen explodes releasing a series of laser in alternating patterns. The lasers wash over Christie's face as she stands frozen, making for a visually stunning moment that could have been played up to a lot more absurdity, as is the case with her exorcism scene later. I would posit that the difference between the two, undoubtedly, comes in writing. Perhaps the possession scene was left open to the art director, while the exorcism involved dialogue and therefore described action. There are great composition and editing tricks throughout whether it be the surprisingly well-done helicopter explosion early on, or the addition of action occurring in the background that are also worth considering. I only call attention to them in this case, because they stand to be lost in the shadow of tomato juice-stained leotards.
Key Scene: The best scene is easily the arcade possession, however, the wildest scene has to be either the hot tub assassination or the tomato juice seduction.
I mean, this movie is well made...really well made, but it is also not good in terms of story and dialogue. If you want b-movie ninjas in an 80's setting go for Miami Connection...that is a certified gem. Also, fun fact: Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, both of which star Lucinda Dickie were released in the same year as this, leotards and dancing were at their height in 1984