Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Silent Assassins

Picasso Trigger

Excessive Force II

Nine Deaths of the Ninja

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Kosugi is stunned by the sudden
realization that he now knows
exactly how many licks it takes
to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
Another blatant violation of The Truth in Titling Act of 1976, Nine Deaths of the Ninja does not feature a ninja dying nine deaths. We are even a little skeptical that the main character, Spike Shinobi (Sho Kosugi), is really a ninja. What kind of ninja wears bright green camouflage and sucks on lollipops?

Made in the deepest, darkest part of the Eighties, Nine Deaths of the Ninja conforms to all the conventions of the foreign made, low-budget action thrillers that proliferated on the cinematic picnic like so many unwelcome ants. This formula, which probably exists in three-ring binder from on the shelves of many economically-minded action movie producers, was as well tread as that of the James Bond film, and even survives today in such Jeff Fahey vehicles as Operation Delta Force.

First of all, the film is required to have an ethnically diverse, testosterone-heavy team of good guys. They must have an allegedly cool code name: in this case they're the Dart Team. The team must always be summoned to do what they do best by a lot of jargon. Following the guidelines in the three-ring binder to the letter, an important-looking military guy calls out a "red option 4, NSD directive 138," which means: "put those three goofballs on a plane bound for the Philippines."

Things got ugly when Sho Kosugi
decided to become Lord of the Dance.
The three goofballs in question are Spike, Steve Gordon (Brent Huff), and Jennifer "Foxy" Barnes (Emilia Lesniak). So not only is the Dart Team ethnically diverse, but they have a girl, too! Action film junkies know better than to trust this, though: lip service is always paid to how competent and independent Jennifer is, but when the fighting starts, she's always the one running back to the truck for extra ammo.

All the members of the Dart Team have "cool" individual nicknames, and each has a clumsy affectation. Spike goes by Lollipop (a guy named Spike needs a nickname?), because he sucks on lollipops, thereby giving this movie extra appeal with those viewers who like Kojak as much as ninjas. (Kosugi apparently could not be convinced to shave his head.) Steve's nickname is Macho Man, because he is popular with the ladies. He demonstrates this by abandoning important missions to hit on prostitutes, and by dating his boss' secretary. Jennifer's nickname is Foxy and... well, she doesn't do much of anything. She's a woman, isn't that enough?

"I can take these earrings off now?
After some of the lamest credits yet filmed (Kosugi mugs the camera and brandishes a katana while girls dance around him), we are introduced to the plot. It is as follows: Bad guys kidnap a busload of people, and the Dart Team goes into the jungle to kill all the bad guys.

If the good guys are supposed to be diverse, they look like the cast of Forever Plaid compared to the bad guys. The bus is taken over by Col. Honey Hump, a fright-wigged black lesbian with wild voodoo eyes and a striking similarity to Shari Belafonte in The Midnight Hour, which was also made in 1985. Hmmm....

Honey Hump is on this particular mission at the behest of Albert (whose rather bland nom de guerre is "Albie the Cruel"), a disabled gay Nazi in a wheelchair, complete with helper monkey. Holy cats! We thought we'd seen the ultimate case of multiple stereotypes in Tammy and the T-Rex, but obviously we hadn't seen anything yet! Albert is seeking the release of his lover, Rajid, who is a Muslim pyromaniac. You could hire Honey, Albert, and Rajid and never worry about affirmative action requirements again! If that isn't diverse enough for you, Albie sends some midgets to kill the Dart Team at an art gallery, though Spike makes short work of them.

"You won't be so tough
when Ultraman gets here!"
The bus passengers are all movie types themselves, including the perky tour guide, the mischievous young brothers (Kane and Shane Kosugi, sons of Sho), the elderly mother figure, and her young charge, who will die without the medication that has been stolen by the drug-crazed kidnappers. Upon watching this movie, valuable minutes of your life that might otherwise have been spent visiting with your family, learning how to play bocce, or cleaning out navel lint will be wasted on the predictable subplots involving these characters. The wacky Kosugi brothers (whose characters are mysteriously named Shane and Kane) defend their hapless fellow passengers with their own brand of kung fu and Dennis-the-Menace-like bedevilment. For example, when "Dr. Wolf," Honey's slavering torture fiend, tries to rape the tour guide, the brothers Kosugi soak his underpants in alcohol and ignite them. Hilarious! Personally, we would have been happier to see Shane and Kane peering out the bus window waiting expectantly for Gamera to arrive, but alas, such was not the case.

Although the film sidetracks several times into pointless chases through brothels, city streets, and coral reefs - nothing slows a movie down like a scuba scene - it does move forward to the final climactic fight between the terrorists, the Dart Team, and a group of mysterious ninjas from Spike's past. If you uttered a grunt of confusion at that last group of people, you're in good company. Other than a few flashbacks at the beginning of the film, there's little to explain why these ninjas would show up or why they are hell-bent on separating Spike's head from his neck. Even at the end, we weren't sure what the black-garbed ninjas had to do with anything, and we felt it best not to press the point.

"Welcome to the new
Jenny Craig program."
One rather odious plot element is the existence of Madames Woo-Wee and Woo-Pee, sisters played by the same Caucasian actress (Judy Blye), both of whom run houses of ill repute. Or rather, Woo-Wee runs a traditional house of ill repute while Woo-Pee runs a boat of ill repute. If you can find another movie with a floating brothel, we'd really like to hear about it. The remarkable thing about these cathouses is the fact that Woo-Pee's girls seem just as happy to earn their pay as assassins as prositutes. The screenwriter must have figured that women involved in one form of crime would have no scruples about engaging in other forms, and so there is a long, involved scene during which Spike does underwater battle with a boatload of vicious call girls while Madame Woo-Pee fires an improbably large machine gun off the side of the ship.

Needless to say, Spike & Co. overcome all of these obstacles and more with wisecracking aplomb, although a serious injury which befalls Steve causes him to re-evaluate his life and declare his true love for Foxy. Foxy, for her part, has borne the indignity of Steve's philandering with the patience of a saint. We would have liked to see Foxy turn Steve down, but movie logic dictates that she welcome him with sardonic but open arms. Spike, however, is an ethnic minority in a film for American audiences, and as such he has no romantic interests. His last scene in the film shows him handing out lollipops to the kids while trying to suppress his rage at the fact that he will never get the girl at the end of the movie. As titles go, Nine Lonely Nights of the Ninja might be more appropriate.

Review date: 01/22/2001

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