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As we are now onto our ninth edition, it felt right to do something to celebrate – and what better way than doing a whole article on freakin’ ninjas?
Ninjas, they’re cool right? I mean, throw a ninja into a movie and it’s a recipe to print money. The thing is, ninjas were kind of dicks. They were the scrawny underclass of feudal japan, not perceived as being of a good enough ilk to be samurai, and turned to covert warfare to do their damage. Sure they looked awesome but their modern day equivalent is a teenage hoodie giving you a slap from behind and riding off on their stolen moped.
That hasn’t stopped Hollywood and, more importantly, b-movie makers from liberally usimg ninjas in their oeuvre. And one actor who keeps cropping up in these movies is none other than Richard Harrison.
Between 1986 and 1988 Harrison made 20 movies with ninja in the title. Yes, 20. They include such gems as: Ninja Operation: Licensed to Terminate, Ninja Powerforce, The Ninja Showdown, Cobra Vs Ninja… he truly is the granddaddy of Ninja-based shenanigans which is why three of the following movies are dedicated to him.
If Harrison is the master, then Michael Dudikoff is his apprentice. He is the star of the American Ninja franchise. Our pick for the one you shouldn’t ever watch but kind of really should is the second one, which has one of the most underwhelming taglines in movie history…
Enjoy/Endure – delete as appropriate.
1. American Ninja 2 The Confrontation
The Premise: Private Joe T Armstrong is a ninja, an American one, who has to confront a load of other ninjas on an army base in the Philippines.
After the blinding success of American Ninja (seriously, it made over $10 million which in b-movie land is big bucks) its makers had something of a quandary. What do we call the second movie? I mean, they couldn’t just call it American Ninja 2, that would be too easy. They needed something bigger, a tagline that didn’t just encapsulate the epic-ness of a movie about elite ninja assassins, but one that at the same time summed up exactly what was going on in the film.
And with that, American Ninja 2: The Confrontation was born. Nailed it.
Many of the ‘confrontations’ in American Ninja 2 take place on a beach, with the ninjas in question oiled up with sunscreen and wearing bermuda shorts. When they aren’t sunning themselves the rest of the movie plays out like a buddy cop drama – but more like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s take on Lethal Weapon than Lethal Weapon.
Also, for a movie set predominantly on an American airbase there’s a lot of ninjas about. They’re bloody everywhere, confronting people left, right and center.
2. Ninja Terminator
The Premise: Ninja master Harry is in search of a mystical statue that will give him superpowers so he can fight some ninjas and cut up watermelons.
Well, I like terminators and I like ninjas – despite me ripping into them in the intro – so a film called Terminator Ninja seems ideal, I’ll just pop it on the old TV and ‘oh, my god what the hell am I watching?!’
That was pretty much my reaction to watching Terminator Ninja, a movie that is hands-down one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen. It’s a bad movie, really bad. But it’s also so compelling. I don’t really know how to describe the movie, so forgive the stream of conscience writing but here we go:
Richard Harrison is Ninja master Harry (obviously) who trains for his fights by slicing up melons with samurai swords. He is the only person who can get back the golden ninja warrior statue that gives whoever owns it special powers. Ninja master Harry spends most of the movie cutting up watermelons, wearing guyliner, and speaking to someone over increasingly over the top phones. Seriously, there’s one bit where Ninja master Harry has a serious conversation with someone on a Garfield shaped phone. Ninja master Harry then puts down the Garfield shaped phone just so he can slice up a watermelon. Ninja master Harry is the original fruit ninja and it’s an amazing watch. Ninja master Harry is no ordinary ninja, either – instead of wearing all black, he wears a camouflage ninja robe, even though he never actual goes anywhere near any foliage to camouflage himself against which means his camouflage ninja robe makes him stand out more. And when he – spoiler – does eventually get the golden ninja warrior statue he gains special powers (essentially disappearing in smoke) that set him up for the big end fight.
I rarely say this in Not On My Watch but please watch this film. It’s utterly, majestically bonkers.
3. The Ninja Squad
The Premise: Ninja Master Harry is no more! Long live Ninja Master Gordon! He stars in this ludicrous move about two rival gangs, the Furious Fox and the Black Eagle, looking to take over the world.
Oh, dear. Where Ninja Terminator was actually good bad, this is bad bad. The Ninja Squad seems to have the only ninjas in the world where they feel the need to wear day-glow shell suits instead of black robes. And if that’s not conspicuous enough they have headbands saying NINJA on them. Let that just sink in for a second.
And that’s not the most ludicrous part of this movie. For a start, there’s not much fighting but a lot of prancing around and the fact this is almost certainly an old movie spliced together with some new footage shot in ’80s America doesn’t do it any favors either.
4. Ninja Dragon
The Premise: Something about ninjas and gangsters, all wrapped in the worst dubbing ever committed to film.
Ninja Dragon is yet again another cut-and-shut job of a movie. I’m getting the feeling that even though Richard Harrison made over 20 ninja films over two years, the filmmakers actually only had him in a room for one day, gave him a load of costumes together and then said: ‘don’t worry Richard, we’ll fix the rest in post’. Ninja Master Gordon is back and this time he’s been spliced into a 1930s Chinese gangster movie. While everyone else wears nifty pinstripe suits he parades around either half naked or in his camouflage ninja robe last seen in Ninja Terminator. Hang on, isn’t that end fight the same one that’s in Ninja Terminator? I think it is. I don’t know what’s real anymore.
Not even Ninja Master Gordon can save me now.
More bad movies you shouldn’t be watching
Marc Chacksfield is a former film journalist (and TechRadar’s global managing editor) who is already regretting agreeing to watch terrible movies for the sake of his column Not On My Watch.