Enter the Ninja (1981)
Starring Franco Nero, Susan George, Shô Kosugi, Christopher George, Alex Courtney
Director of Photography: David Gurfinkel
Music by W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder
Edited by Michael J. Duthie, Mark Goldblatt
Written by Dick Desmond / Story by Mike Stone
Directed by Menahem Golan
Rating: 2 out of 10
I watched so many movies for this week and when I decided to stop I had a hard time deciding which movies to focus on. Surprisingly, I picked Enter the Ninja, probably the goofiest movie of them all. But it is one of those really enjoyable bad movies that I love (and that you have to watch a dozen terrible movies before finding one). The story is a joke, the acting is horrible, even a kid could point out the continuity errors, it’s offensive in many ways and many, many, many things make no sense whatsoever. But somehow, it’s fun to watch Franco Nero play a ninja (which is a silly idea in itself), only to clearly see that he never does any ninja stuff which is reserved for his stunt double (and original lead actor Mike Stone). The fight scenes are even decent in some regard, just everything else is incredibly sloppy and over the top. If you enjoy these kinds of movies, you’ll love Enter the Ninja.
What is fascinating to me about B-movies is that they often boil down ambiguities to very simplistic ideas that seem even more representative of our culture than more complex movies. That is why I think it’s worth analyzing this movie, even if no real thought was put into making it.
One aspect that is funny is race. Cole (Franco Nero) is the master ninja here, although he is very white. In the society of ninjas seen in the beginning, he is treated as someone special, as if he’s better than all the others, so much so that the previous champion of the class, Hasegawa (who is Japanese and played by Shô Kosugi) gets really angry and turns evil in the end. Why? The Master helpfully explains that Hasegawa can’t deal with the fact that it’s the 20th century and things have changed. Yes, I know. So, in a movie that has “ninja” in its title, the only relevant Japanese character is a villain (though not the villain, because the movie has plenty of them), which seems not the most thought out idea.
The movie is set in the Philippines for some reason, but the only people who matter there are white people. Cole visits his old friend Frank (Alex Courtney) there, in a huge mansion that reinforces the idea of American colonizers living the life. Philippine people are only shown as either being exploited by other white people (like another villain who actually has a hook instead of one hand – he is credited as The Hook) or having cockfights and seeming greedy or as scared when attacked. They can’t defend themselves, they’re not even trying, so Cole, the literal White Savior, has to come in and help them.
Women are not getting off any better here. Well, there is actually just one woman, Mary Ann (Susan George), who is Frank’s wife. There are so many weird things going on with her. When Cole meets her for the first time, she threatens him with a gun (because she doesn’t know him) and he right away disarms her while (accidentally?) grabbing her breasts, throwing her to the ground and kicking her in the ass (yes, literally).
Afterwards she mostly comes across as the typical nagging wife that both men make fun of. In a later fight, she tries to help the natives too but is just slapped to the ground (with an accompanying “bitch”) and watches the fight from the sideline. I wonder if she also notices that Cole sometimes wears a shirt and is sometimes topless, which would explain a little of her passiveness.
But, wait, there are actual deep marital problems discussed here. You see, Frank and Cole once were mercenary buddies in Africa (later at least specified as the “Belgian Congo”), but now Frank suffers from PTSD and can’t “get it up” anymore for Mary Ann although “she wants it all the time!” We are supposed to feel pity for Frank. This is presented as a problem for which there can only be one solution, that is never talked about but simply happens in the next shot: Cole sleeps with Mary Ann. To help out his friend? To satisfy her for a while so she leaves Frank alone? Anyway, it seems to help, because the very next morning Frank feels much better and makes ambiguous sex jokes. It is all very odd.
Towards the end Hasegawa attacks Mary Ann and Frank, she gets her gun taken away yet again and is tied to a tree (in what seems to be three seconds time), so she can watch her impotent husband (who chooses a baseball bat as a weapon, which seems to be something he can get up) get killed by the villain (who laughs manically all the time). Hasegawa takes her captive, so that Cole can rescue her. There is a big fight in the end between Cole and Hasegawa that she (again!) watches from the sidelines after Cole told her to go home. Poor Mary Ann.
The last aspect that really fascinated me was Cole’s tendency to simply kill everyone without the slightest mercy. This is especially weird in the opening segment where we clearly see him killing several ninjas. When it turns out that this was just some elaborate test to prove his ninja awesomeness, we see some ninjas with scars but what about the ones he clearly stabbed? Did they die for a good cause? Or were they, like the master of the ninja school, able to replace themselves with dolls in a matter of seconds (and with no believable logic whatsoever)?
Well, the movie seems to say that Cole is just someone who kills fast. He was a mercenary after all, but the movie never even attempts to question this or pose it as a moral dilemma for Cole. When the Philippine village is attacked (without real weapons), Cole stops the attackers and, just like that, kills them (with a stool, I think?). No one asks any questions. He kills all the later attackers right away, too, except for The Hook, whom he just steals his hook and throws it away like the meanest schoolyard bully ever (there is even a “wah-wah-wah-wah” sound when he throws it!).
In the final moments this becomes as absurd as possible because The Hook has found a new job working at the airport when Cole is about to fly back home (wherever that is). Cole sees him, then says (seriously): “A true ninja doesn’t kill, he eliminates and only for defensive purposes”, which is a blatant lie after seeing this movie! And then he says: “But there are exceptions” and winks at the camera. It’s the final shot of the movie. Him, winking at us because he is joking about killing human beings. Now, that’s what I call detachment.