A ninja (or shinobi) is a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja include espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and of course assassination. With the recent premiere of Ninja Assassin one thing is certain; ninjas are coming back in a major way. If you grew up watching action flicks then you’ve seen ninjas on screen before, especially in the 80’s. Few were good, and almost all of them were bad. American Ninja was…not good.
Starring Michael Dudikoff as a young US Army private named Joe, American Ninja was (embarrassingly) my introduction to ninjas. My dad introduced me to this gem after he bootlegged it from Super Channel. I loved it then, and I still love it now, only not as much as I did then. This movie drives a nostalgic spear to my heart because upon recent viewing, I’ve come to realize that this movie rivals some of the worst films I have ever seen. Sort of like when you re-watch The Karate Kid and you realize how laughable the karate actually is, American Ninja is that in spades. The only difference is Karate Kid is still a great flick.
Stationed in the Philippines (I didn’t actually know this!), Joe is an outcast even by his peers. He doesn’t speak much and pretty much hangs out by himself. Other soldiers tease and bully him, but Joe ignores them all. He has his eye on the Colonel’s daughter Patricia, played by Judie Aronson, the brunette hottie from Weird Science. He also has amnesia.
Joe’s convoy is attacked by mercenaries. They are easily taken out by the army boys thanks to Joe. Ninjas soon show up, wiping out all of the soldiers with the exception of Joe, who displays some serious martial arts skill by rolling and diving and transforming into a stunt double. Joe beats the ninjas and saves Patricia from being kidnapped but doesn’t win the respect of his peers until he beats up the big black soldier, who then on becomes his sidekick! The best thing is that black dude happens to be played by the late, great Steve James. Kung Fu Joe from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!! And the second best thing about that is that his character’s name is Curtis Jackson! That makes me believe that 50 Cent is the only one that can play this role whenever they decide to make the inevitable remake. I’m also pretty sure Cpl. Curtis Jackson stars in all the sequels.
Anyway, Joe’s journey eventually takes him to his former master, where he begins the process of remembering his past. And his preparation for rescuing Patricia, who just cannot seem to avoid getting kidnapped by ninjas. Her captor is the Black Star Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita), named so because of the retarded tattoo on his face.