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Ninja III: The Domination

Shout Factory // R // June 11, 2013
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 28, 2013 | E-mail the Author
One of the chicks from Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo is possessed by a vengeful ninja's ghost.

If I didn't hook you with that one-sentence wonder of a plot summary, then I really don't know what else to say. I guess I could mention that the movie opens with a ninja assault on a golf course. It's
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the only flick I've seen with "ninja" in the title that has a Jazzercise sequence, complete with all the aggressively '80s neon Spandex that you demand. The focal point of the movie is an occasionally undead ninja with a thing for crushing balls from various sports. Lucinda Dickey's idea of foreplay is pouring a can of V8 all over her chest. You get awesome dialogue like "You hear that guy you found dead was a professional Japanese assassin?" "You mean you went all the way to my aerobics class just to tell me that?" The Good Ninja stomps in with a super-ornate eyepath and a Cosby sweater. Our heroine punches a refrigerator and screams "damn you!" while tormented by turkey gobbling sounds. One of the Bad Ninja's powers is spinning around really quickly and drilling into the earth, one "eeeeehhh, what's up, Doc?" away from a Looney Tunes short.

The great thing about Ninja III: The Domination is that I'm nowhere close to finished. There was such a glut of martial arts movies that followed in the next couple of years after that, and they were all pretty much completely interchangeable. Ninja III, meanwhile, has an exorcism sequence that starts off with a
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wizened old man with a Fu Manchu 'stache making Chrissy take a puff from one of those long, skinny pipes, and all the while, some girl is beating on a gong because Japan, and then she goes full-on Linda Blair spewing noxious green gas in a gravelly voice. There was even a head-spinning sequence that wound up on the cutting room floor!

So, yeah, this isn't one of those reviews where I drone on and on about themes or metaphors or sprinkle in vaguely pretentious French words. I'm not going to say something like "oh, when the ghost starts shooting lasers from the 'Bouncer' arcade game to hypnotize Chrissy before his sword floats around the room, that represents the collision of ancient martial arts with modern-day technology". No, we're just talking about a gloriously ridiculous slice of '80s cheese with clunky performances, hopelessly stilted dialogue, epic battle sequences that don't cut together at all, and one nonsensical idea after another steamrolling right into each other. As corny as Ninja III is, there really is something infectiously fun lurking in pretty much every single scene in the flick. Sure, the filmmakers miss the mark over and over and over, but the ambition on display here is undeniable, and it's so gosh-darn earnest that its many shortcomings wind up being awfully endearing.

Anyway, I had a blast with Ninja III: The Domination, and its fusion of martial-arts action, fantasy, horror, and even a little romance ranks right up there with the very best of the worst of 1980s schlock-cinema. Highly Recommended.

Turns out that this is one of those "wait, what?!?!" Blu-ray discs that comes completely out of left field. You have some studios like Universal who disinterestedly slop out nine year old high-def masters for even their highest profile releases on Blu-ray, and meanwhile, MGM and Shout! Factory treat Ninja III: The Domination as if it were Lawrence of Arabia or something.

Once the dupey looking opening titles are out of the way, I had pretty much the exact same reaction I did with Troll 2 a couple years back. The image is breathtakingly bright and colorful. Damn near every last shot in the film is impressively crisp and detailed. There's no wear, no damage, very few grating hiccups in the authoring, and very, very little speckling. Okay, okay, it seemed like a lot of the bits with the Good Ninja as he makes his way to this time zone are softer and grainier than the rest of the movie for whatever reason. The compression's not great, and when I started snapping my screengrabs, I felt like the filmic texture should've been more pronounced, even though it didn't look digitally filtered away on my big screen or anything like that. I was initially put off that there are a couple of sword swipes where the blade completely vanishes:
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I'm not talking about something where you have to pause and zoom in; a dude's hit with a sword that's not there. In my first take on this review, I suggested that automated scratch removal may be to blame. Smarter people than me have noted that this issue dates back to earlier masters -- you can see it in this YouTube video from 2006 -- so this Blu-ray disc is in the clear there. Anyway, if you notice the mystical vanishing sword and are wondering what's up, it dates back to the original photography. Mystery solved; thanks, Internet!

Anyway, Ninja III: The Domination manages to put a lot of major studios' catalog titles to shame, and I'm overall ridiculously happy with what's been hammered out here. Oh, and as far as the rest of the technical stuff goes: AVC encode, single layer disc, 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.

Yup, the train of overenthusiastic praise isn't gonna stop chugging along anytime soon. This 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track is so impressively clean and clear that I feel as if I'm in a ritzy mixing booth,
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and there's a sprawling board in front of me and a bunch of reel-to-reel tape whirring away over to the side there. Despite its age, obscurity, and very limited budget, Ninja III is one of those cases where you can tell from word one that this is a lossless soundtrack. The distinctness and clarity showcased throughout are considerably above average for a catalog title of this vintage. Dynamic range is healthy even without a discrete LFE to play with, its dialogue is rendered well, and the synth-heavy soundtrack -- as jarringly out of step as it so often is! -- comes through very nicely too. This is a movie that looks and sounds at least a few years more recent than it really is. Some lines are on the edgy side, and there's a very brief dropout a little past the 54:30 mark, but whatever. Ninja III: The Domination sounds so much better than I ever could've expected.

No dubs, no subs, and no captions. The only other audio option is a commentary track.

  • Audio Commentary: I really dug this commentary track with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert. Thanks in part to some especially skilled moderation, the two of 'em do a terrific job painting a picture of what it was like to make very low-budget action epics in the early '80s, including life as part of the Cannon Films family, martial arts films not really being a thing on these shores in these dark, pre-American Ninja days, and more about the fight choreography and death-defying stunts than you would ever think to ask. Among the many highlights are how Lucinda Dickey wasn't the holdover from Breakin' that you might have thought, Lambert pointing out the eight hojillion different bit parts he played, and getting a peek at which exact moment it was where he shattered one of his vertebrae. They're proud of the movie but take it for what it is, and that coupled with their astonishingly detailed memories make for a hell of a commentary.

  • Photo Gallery (HD): The disc's other extra is a hefty high-res gallery, overflowing with posters from all over the world and dozens of production stills. There are 94 images in all.

There's a DVD along for the ride too, and the interior cover showcases some very eclectic international poster art.

The Final Word
Whenever someone whips out the so-bad-it's-good card, that usually means there are three or four accidentally amazing scenes, and the rest of the movie is an excruciatingly slow, borderline-unwatchable slog. Ninja III: The Domination, though...? Nope! Something entrancingly strange is lurking around every corner, and I wouldn't even want to begin to guess the last time I watched a movie with this sort of hushed awe and wide-eyed fascination. I'm not going to sit here and argue that Ninja III is a timeless, well-crafted masterpiece or anything, but when a movie is this much fun and this unique and this gloriously insane, I can't bring myself to call it bad.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you need Ninja III: The Domination. Yeah, about as Highly Recommended as it gets with me.
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Highly Recommended

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