Summer of the 80’s: American Ninja

Summer of the 80s is a weekly column that will run until the end of August in which I watch a movie released during the summer movie season of the 1980s that I’ve never seen before. Every Friday, I’ll write about an 80s movie that came out on the same day, or near the same day, that correlates with the post here on the site. So follow me as I travel back in time to discover my lost summer at the movies.

About the movie

American Ninja was released on August 30, 1985 through the Cannon Group.  It was written by Paul De Mielche and directed by Sam Firstenberg (Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo, American Samurai).  The film stars Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, John Fujioka and Tadashi Yamashita.  This R-rated film’s production budget was $1 million and it earned $3.2 million in its opening weekend before going on to gross $10.5 million domestically.  It is currently available on DVD only.

Tagline

The deadliest art of the Orient is now in the hands of an American.

My thoughts

Well the Summer of the 80s comes to an end with the cult classic American Ninja.  I kind of hoped for a truly great film to end my 80s summer revisit but there weren’t many options for the last week of August, even during the 80s.  I enjoyed the movie though, but not because it was well-written or exciting in any way.  American Ninja comes off as an 80s made-for-TV movie that entertains solely on how bad it is and its ludicrous use of ninjas.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers behind the movie were sitting around a table thinking of their “great” movie as they tried to figure out what element would send the film over the top and make for a kick-ass movie.  I’m sure there was much debate before an intern yelled out, “Ninjas!”  The rest is history, or at least my fictional account of how the movie came to be.

The movie starts out with army soldiers escorting the Colonel’s daughter, Patricia, to a non-specific location.  They are attacked by construction workers who appear to be trying to kidnap the daughter.  While the construction worker villains fight the army guys, a random ninja appears from out of the forest and decides to watch the events below him.  Joe (Michael Dudikoff), one of the soldiers, easily dispatches the construction worker henchmen that come up against him.  The main ninja, who is later referred to as Black Star Ninja, is then joined by more ninjas who also appear from the forest and procede to kill off the remaining soldiers before Joe and Patricia escape into the forest.  Black Star Ninja fails to find the escapees and goes to his French boss (why does a French man have ninjas as henchmen?) and tells him about Joe and that he’s got skills (this is literally the extent of their conversation).  The rest of the movie revolves around the French boss, corrupt army men and the ninjas pursuing and trying to kill Joe, who proves that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Right away, American Ninja lets you know that you are in for a “special” treat.  The fight scenes lack any punch, pun intended, and seem like they were choreographed by a ten-year old.  Admittedly though, the lack of choreography and the fact that it is so unimpressive adds a bit of charm to the movie.  Characters are wafer thin and dialogue is appropriately stilted.  The romance between Joe and Patricia literally blossoms over 30 seconds of screen time, as does Joe’s deep friendship with Cpl. Curtis Jackson, which starts out in a fight between the two men, but after showing how good Joe is fighting with a bucket on his head (literally), Curtis becomes the best of friends as they rub each other’s head and fake wrestle each other.  That’s called “bro’ing out,” right?

There’s quite a few things in the movie that happen for no other reason than to try to create conflict.  For instance, despite the fact that Joe saves the Colonel’s daughter, everyone on the army base seems to hate him and call him a “hero” in a derogatory way.  Apparently, they couldn’t come up with a proper insult so they just used “hero.”  Everyone keeps giving him shit for the whole movie despite the fact that he’s more of a hero than any other person on the base.  The biggest element of the film that doesn’t really have much explanation is why are there ninjas and why is there a camp of them overseen by French internationalists and corrupt military men?  It’s not enough to utilize the soldiers you have under your command, but you have to import ninjas and then build them a training camp?  On top of that, the ninjas themselves are pretty pathetic and don’t seem to know much in terms of martial arts.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen better ninjas in movies like 3 Ninjas or even Surf Ninjas.

Despite the fact that American Ninja is easily defined as a terrible film, I still enjoyed watching it.  It’s the kind of movie that could be fun watching with a group of friends who can enjoy the lower points of cinema.  You don’t watch Michael Dudikoff for his acting or fighting ability, let’s face it, he’s no Jason Statham, but you watch him for how utterly terrible he is and, to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Trivia

Chuck Norris was originally cast to play the title role in the film.

Michael Dudikoff knew no martial arts before filming began.

American Ninja sports a body count of 114.

In several scenes after stabbing or cutting someone with a sword, there is rarely blood on any of the swords.

After Joe jumps Jackson’s bike over the wall of the American base, the stuntman used in the scene is clearly seen smashing his face into the windshield of the bike when he lands on the street.

by Ben McBride

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