76 - Enter The Ninja (1981)
Most people who listen to this podcast are undoubtedly familiar with The Cannon Group - a film studio bought by two Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for the sum of $500,000 and turned into the Hollywood B-movie factory. The entire story of the company is best told in the 2014 Documentary: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Enter the Ninja is an important film for them as it set the template for a lot of the Golan-Globus productions for the next decade at Cannon. Not only did this movie start the “ninja” craze in American films during the 80’s, it proved that cheap action movies could make great money at the box office.
Golan and Globus were innovators in shlock and Enter The Ninja might be one of their most accomplished works. When Cannon’s most bankable star (Charles Bronson) refused to let Menahem Golan direct Death Wish 2, Golan kicked the director off this project and decided to make it himself. His first order of business was to re-cast the starring role of Cole with someone more recognizable.
Franco Nero was hastily cast by Golan and Globus for his international appeal and recognizable face. The only problems with casting Nero? The character of Cole was supposed to be from Texas and a master in martial arts, but Franco Nero had an extremely thick Italian accent and knew nothing about Ninjas or martial arts. Instead of changing the script, they simply decided to dub all of Nero’s lines during post-production - eliminating one of the main reasons for casting him in the first place - and replace him in the fight scenes with the original writer and star of the film. So now not only does your star not know anything about martial arts and can’t perform his own fight scenes, he won’t even be lending his voice to the project; he is no more than a body that fills up the frame.
Despite all these shortcomings and what seemed like a guaranteed recipe for disaster the movie became a huge success - it spawned two sequels and countless imitations with the newfound popularity for Ninjas. Golan and Globus had succeeded in spite of themselves and this was the blueprint for their films for the next ten years as The Cannon Group experienced varying degrees of success with their productions before eventually shutting down for good.
Enter The Ninja is a glorious mess of a movie. It’s so inept and chaotic that you can’t help but smile when it tries earnestly to develop stories and characters that are well beyond its scope. At minute fifty we learn that a character can’t perform in the bedroom for his wife anymore - this offers nothing at all to the plot or the soon-to-be-dead character in any way other than it sounds like something a better movie would have. Fight scenes are delivered with the utmost seriousness, until out of nowhere the filmmakers decided to throw in a few cartoon sound effects; immediately changing the tone of the scene without reason or purpose. These are the elements that elevate Enter The Ninja above your run-of-the-mill shlock.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you enjoy bad movies this is pretty much the apex of the artform. Self-aware bad movies are never going to be great - they are trying to trick you on purpose - but movies like this are sincere in their delivery and that’s what makes them so memorable. If you listen to this podcast and have never seen this movie, stop what you're doing and fire this up immediately.