Did you ever see the parody short film Kung Fury? It’s an over-the-top homage to 1980s action movies that has a martial artist detective take on robots, mutants, dinosaurs, and, of course, Hitler, all in the name of revenge. It’s a lot… but also not actually as far from what was really coming out back then as you might think. Ninja III: The Domination, the third and final entry in a anthology series from the legendary low-budget production company Cannon Films, is so relentlessly Eighties you might not actually believe it. Let me tell you about it! And I promise, nothing I write will be an exaggeration, this movie doesn’t need that.
Somewhere in what’s never explicitly stated but is definitely Southern California, a ninja sneaks into a cave and starts unpacking his hidden weapon cache. Immediately we’re treated to an absolutely choice match cut: as the ninja draws his sword, we cut to some douche golf guy pulling a club out of his bag. This movie actually has a lot of great match cuts, kudos to whoever insisted on those. Anyway, the ninja shows up and kills the golfer as well as his many bodyguards and course security. Now the ninja is on the run and being pursued by an army of police, which he dispatches brutally when they get to close. He’s taking out cop cars and motorcycles and even a helicopter with his ninja gears and skills, it’s great and it goes on for a long time. Like, maybe 15 minutes. All without any dialogue or explanation. Just a lot of action for a lot of time. Eventually the ninja is surrounded by cops who gun him down… or so it seems actually he disappears as soon as they stop shooting.
As an aside: we never get an explanation for this. We never learn why the ninja is a) in the United States or b) interested in assassinating this golf guy. I just assumed he was some rich asshole but later one of the cops says that an important scientist has died and I think they were referring to the golf guy? Anyway, wild to have this bonkers inciting incident and then just never expand on it at all.
While all this violence is going on, not far away a telephone linewoman named Chris (Lucinda Dickey, who had an amazing 1984 also starring in both Breakin’ films) climbs up a telephone pole to do some repairs. She spots an injured ninja and climbs down to investigate. The ninja gives her his sword and then dies. Chris is taken to the police station where hairy policeman Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) relentlessly pursues her despite numerous rejections and also the fact that a bunch of his fellow officers just died. Chris is released in time to go to her other jump: she teaches very Flashdance/Perfect-esque aerobics at a gym. Later, when Chris sees one of the women from class being harassed outside the gym, she intervenes and kicks their butts.
Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Yamada (Sho Kosugi, who’s in all three of these) arrives from Japan. But don’t worry about him, he’s not really in this until the end because there needs to be a big fight. After all, “only a ninja can destroy a ninja.” Mainly we need to focus on (ugh) the budding romance between Chris and Billy which is undercut by Chris’ increasing interest in Japanese culture and frequent blackouts. They eventually figure out that the ninja has taken possession of Chris’ body and is using her to go kill the policemen who mortally wounded him. Which also seemed really unique to me: how many movies are there were all the victims are cops?
So on top of being a martial arts movie and a revenge movie and a dance movie, Ninja III is also a possession movie, complete with some very Eighties scenes of rooms suddenly becoming very flickery and windy. Speaking of, Chris’ loft has to be seen to be believed! It’s every kid’s dream home complete with a payphone, an arcade cabinet, and Patrick Nagel art. I’ve never seen something that so completely captured the meme version of a time that was actually from that time. It’s bizarre and a lot of fun. Is it good? I mean, good enough. I feel like I’m coping with the same issues Colin did, where on paper none of this actually works but it’s fun and memorable. If you weren’t an Eighties kid but want to pretend you were, Ninja III can tell you all you need to know in 92 minutes.