Cannon Films concocted the craziest plot in Eighties exploitation cinema with this jaw-dropping fusion of ninja action, The Exorcist (1973) and Flashdance (1983)! Utterly loopy yet strangely compelling, Ninja III: The Domination opens with an hilarious scene wherein the evil ninja (David Chung) murders a “very important scientist” and his wife on a golf course, in broad daylight, in sunny California. Gasp - as their golf cart fails to outrace the shadow warrior! Shudder - as his nine-iron can’t deflect the ninja’s sword! More impressively, the ninja outruns and dispatches a police car and two motorcycle cops, then kills around a hundred of the L.A.P.D’s finest before he is shot to pieces and vanishes into thin air.
He reappears in the desert in front of Christie (Lucinda Dickey), a telephone repairwoman and part-time aerobics instructor (?!), to whom he bestows his ninja sword and transfers his spirit into her body. Later on, after leading lycra-clad ladies in their daily workout, Christie is attacked by some leering macho men. She kicks their butts with her newfound ninjitsu moves. Sleazy police officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), who has been stalking comely Christie for a while, threatens to arrest her if she doesn’t accompany him home, then throws a temper tantrum when she rebuffs his advances. Naturally, this convinces Christie to take Billy back home and let him lick tomato juice off her naked body.
But while Billy sleeps the sleep of smug, post-coital satisfaction, evil forces run amuck in Christie’s apartment. In scenes reminiscent of Ghostbusters (released the same year), her living room goes haywire with dry ice and strobe lights before an arcade game zaps her right between the eyes. Ah, those wily Japanese have power over all technology - especially video games! Possessed by this vengeful spirit, our heroine flees into the night in her skimpy leotard and leg warmers (gotta love ’em, right Fame fans?), grabs a cache of ninja weapons and starts killing off cops. Almost every cop at the precinct comes across as a sleazy womanizing creep, to the point where it seems screenwriter James R. Silke is out to make a point. One off-duty officer unwinds with a couple of lady-friends in a hot tub where Christie joins in for a foursome before garrotting everybody.
Disturbed by bruises on her body and having no memory of these nightly events, Christie goes looking for help. Her psychiatrist assures her she has nothing wrong aside from “amazing extrasensory perception and a preoccupation with Japanese culture.” Thanks, doc. A Chinese spiritualist (the ever-reliable James Hong), who handily has a mystical shrine in his basement, diagnoses Christie has a bad case of the Linda Blair blues. His attempt at an exorcism fails spectacularly once Christie starts spinning from her binding chain and barking in Japanese (“Fools! You cannot stop me, I am a ninja!”). Only a ninja can stop a ninja. Christie’s salvation arrives in the form of Yamada (Shô Kosugi), who lost both his father and his left eye to the evil ninja. Good ninja takes on evil ninja in the battle to save Christie’s soul.
In a movie that frog-leaps from one ridiculous episode to another, real-life ninja master Shô Kosugi and bubble-permed Lucinda Dickey just about maintain their poker faces. For the third in their loose trilogy of ninja movies, Cannon saw an opportunity to pair two of their latest “stars”, with Kosugi returning after Enter the Ninja (1981) and Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Dickey fresh off the studio’s dance hit, Breakin’ (1984). Neither are exactly great actors but Dickey does her best Jennifer Beals impression and Kosugi’s charisma and martial arts prowess goes some way towards compensating for the shoddy script and truly awful supporting cast.
1984 was a busy year for Shô. Apart from performing double duties as star and fight choreographer on this movie, he was doing the same for his television show The Master (starring those well-known ninja masters Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten and Demi Moore) as well as headlining the so-bad-it’s-good cult classic 9 Deaths of the Ninja and essaying a rare straight acting role in the coming-of-age drama Aloha Summer. Consequently, his character keeps popping in-and-out of the narrative and only properly interacts in its latter third. The stunt-work and fight choreography ranges from the inane to actually pretty audacious, but director Sam Firstenberg films everything in that prosaic, mid-Eighties, A-Team style lacking in atmosphere. Firstenberg became Cannon’s go-to guy for ninja action, having helmed Revenge of the Ninja and later American Ninja (1985) and its sequels. He also reunited with Lucinda Dickey for the immortal Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984).
Cheesy it may be but only the snobbiest movie buffs would turn their noses up at such grade-A gorgonzola. How can you not love the moment Christie wipes out an entire battalion of policemen attending the funeral of her last victim, or tries to chase the ninja spirit away with a blast of horrendous synth-pop until a flying sword chops her stereo in two! Music comes courtesy of one Dave Powell and features such choice lyrics as: “Is your sex life bitchin’ ’cause you live in the kitchen and your clothes shrink every night?” Say what, Dave?
In fact, Firstenberg ups his game during the finale where Yamada battles a temple full of possessed monks before his showdown with the evil ninja (who never gets named). His camera angles grow slightly more inventive to capture Shô’s frenzied fight choreography and Jim Danforth (of Equinox (1969) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962) fame) throws in some flashy visual effects. Of course what you may take away is the thought of whether this movie was what inspired Shô Kosugi to create his line of ninja-themed aerobics videos.