Ninja III: The Domination: Aerobics Meets Swordplay

NINJA III 2About a year ago I hosted a blogathon at Forgotten Films focusing on the films of 1984…my favorite movie year. Over 100 different bloggers and podcasters participated in the 1984-a-thon, which means just about every major movie from that year was represented in some way. One of the last films snapped up for review was Ninja III: The Domination. It was understandable since the movie is sometimes hard to find. Plus, some people may think that they can’t watch Ninja III without seeing the first two entries in the series.

Back in’ 84 I had never even heard of parts one and two. Turns out that Ninja I is actually 1981’s Enter the Ninja, starring Franco Nero, and Ninja II is Revenge of the Ninja (1983). Rest assured, those two films are not a prerequisite for enjoying the madness that is Ninja III.

The film opens with a ninja killing a guy, his wife, and his bodyguards on a golf course. The police turn up en masse and pursue the assassin in a crazy chase sequence that makes the first 15 minutes of this film alone worth the price of admission. A helicopter is involved (which, of course, blows up) and the cops meet the business ends of a couple of dozen throwing stars.

NINJA III 3They shoot at the guy and he doesn’t even die. He even buries himself in the ground behind a smokescreen to escape the police. Somehow, riddled with bullets, he stumbles upon a telephone line worker named Christie (Lucinda Dickey). The ninja dies in front of her, but not before handing her his sword and chanting something.

Christie talks with the cops about what she saw, but she really doesn’t have all that much to tell. However, Officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) takes quite an interest in her as she gives her statement. She turns down his attempts to land a date at first, but the two soon become an item. Meanwhile, Christie starts acting a bit unusual. She beats up a couple of guys sexually harassing a woman outside of her gym – did I mention she also moonlights as an aerobics instructor? Then, one night she wakes up to find her closet glowing. When she opens the door, the ninja’s sword is floating. The next day she gets zapped by a laser coming out of an upright video game machine and the sword floats out of the closet into her hands. Of course, the sword should’ve been seized by the cops as evidence…but let’s just ignore that.

NINJA III 4Next thing we know, Christie is mysteriously compelled to visit a cave where she finds the ninja’s clothing. Now – one by one – she starts hunting down the cops who killed the ninja in the first scene. And remember, these are all her cop boyfriend’s buddies. Of course, nobody realizes she’s the one bumping off the cops. Still, with all the strange goings on, Billy takes her to see a mystical Japanese man (played by the great James Hong) who determines that the spirit of the dead ninja has possessed the lovely Christie. The only way to free her from the evil spirit is to have another ninja (Sho Kosugi) do battle with it. Only a ninja can kill a ninja.

Ninja III: The Domination is what you get when you cross a ninja movie with The Exorcist and throw in a dash of Flashdance…and it’s glorious! To begin with, the film is just so wonderfully ’80s. Christie’s apartment is the ultimate in cool pastel style. From the pink neon lights in her bedroom to the Patrick Nagel art print propped up in the corner. Since video games were the big new thing at the time, the filmmakers go out of their way to include the moment where Christie is hypnotized by a laser beam shooting out of a video game machine. The scene makes no sense, and I still don’t know how or why the dead ninja’s spirit would be able to control the video game, but I still love the scene. Perhaps the best Reagan-era time capsule moment, though, is the lengthy aerobicizing scene, set to a fantastically obnoxious tune called “Body Shop.” Speaking of the ’80s, I need to mention that this film was released by Cannon, which means we get loads of over-the-top ’80s action. As I mentioned earlier, the first 15 minutes of the movie is completely nuts. The final ninja showdown pitting Sho Kosugi against the resurrected corpse of the evil ninja, as well as a bunch of Southern California Shaolin monks, is also fantastic!

NINJA III 2Sho Kosugi is the dominating force in the film’s final action sequence. Kosugi appeared in all three chapters of Cannon’s ninja trilogy – though as a different character each time. It’s obvious why the studio continued to use him as he shows off his considerable skills in this film. Though he gets high marks for his martial arts abilities, his acting is not exactly going to land him a guest spot on Inside the Actors’ Studio. His dialogue is extremely minimal, which could indicate some understandable struggle with mastering the English language. However, he still manages to project an overly serious vibe which doesn’t completely fit with the more light-hearted nature of the film in general.

NINJA III 5At the heart of the film, though, is Lucinda Dickey. Her career in the movies was short, with only five feature films to her credit. Three of those films, including this one, were released by Cannon in 1984; the other two were Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, in which she played Special K. It’s fair to say that she wasn’t exactly a classically trained actress, however she’s more than up to the task of performing the many challenges of her role. At times she has to be sweet, at others she has to be the villain. She gets to do ninja action scenes, aerobics, and her best Linda Blair impression. How many other actresses get to do all that in one movie? Even in the crazier moments of her performance she’s quite compelling. Speaking of the crazy moments – she gets to perform what may be cinema’s most bizarre seduction scene…enticing her man by pouring a can of V8 juice down her neck.

This is a film that more people need to see. Cannon was a studio known for putting out some crazy stuff, but this pretty much takes the cake! I have to believe that Ninja III: The Domination is destined to become a major cult classic once more people discover it. I’m just bummed it took me 31 years to finally see this stupendously bizarre film.

Todd Liebenow is a movie geek. It’s that simple. From Denver, Colorado, he writes the blog Forgotten Films and produces the Forgotten Filmcast podcast—both of which focus on “the movies that time forgot.” He also happens to be a professional puppeteer.