Enter The Ninja (1981) – A Review

Franco Nero Enter The Ninja 1981 Cannon action movieCole (Franco Nero) is an American ex-military operative who has learned the ancient ways of ninjutsu in Japan. He even gets a rolled scroll license that states he’s now a master of ninjutsu! 

After attaining his status as a ninja, Cole travels to the Philippines to visit his old army buddy Frank (Alex Courtney) and discovers evil forces at work that are harassing him and his wife Mary-Ann (Susan George). A powerful, malicious businessman by the name of Venarius (Christopher George) wants them to sell him their farmland and won’t take no for an answer, and he’s prepared to get his way by threatening Frank and Mary-Ann until they agree. 

Luckily, Cole has learned to use his ninja training for good. He’s prepared to help his friends out and kick the assess of all the baddies that harass them. However, the stakes get raised when the big boss hires another ninja to combat Cole and finish him off once and for all!

Oh we’re hip deep in the Cannon shlock here folks!

Franco Nero Enter The Ninja 1981 Cannon FilmsEnter The Ninja was a Cannon Films production, directed by one of the Cannon maestros himself Menahem Golan. It’s got all the earmarks of a Cannon Film – wonky special effects, bad acting, a cheap budget, zero finesse and a script that probably took about as much time as sitting at a traffic light to write.

No matter how bad they were, I always found the films by Cannon to have a certain charm to them. There’s a surreal enjoyment I get watching how poorly made they are.

It’s a much different reaction I get from watching more modern day wannabe ‘shlock films’, like those Sharknado movies or any of those cheesy SyFy films they churn out. They try so hard to be ‘so bad they’re good’ they just become boring. Their intention is to be cheesy entertainment viewers are meant to laugh at it. They’re like, ‘artificially bad’. 

Whereas with Cannon I feel their low-grade film library is backed with much more earnestness. They actually legitimately attempted to try and get away with convincing audiences this was an exciting movie.

Sure, they’ll cut corners and try to spend the least amount of money possible, but they’re still aiming for a more of sincere form of entertainment with their ultra cheap productions, but they’re not looking to get easy laughs by how bad it all came together. They want you to be thrilled by what’s happening onscreen and they’re trying trying to trick you with their product despite the clear lack of funds, talent and awareness they had to make this movie magic happen. It’s this huge miscalculation that makes Cannon Films so enjoyable and fun!

Enter The Ninja is great example of this. 

Franco Nero Enter The Ninja 1981 fight action sceneSo, immediately arriving in the Philippines Cole has an unexpected heated meeting with Mary Ann, before they settle in and he learns of the problems Frank and his wife are facing with Venarius. Unbeknownst to them there’s a huge oil deposit under their property and it’s too valuable for Venarius to take their “No” for an answer. Cue his squad of heavies lead by a disgusting, little toadie with a hook for a hand! You can’t get more evil than that!

They scare off plantation workers, beat up Frank and this is where Cole steps in and uses his ninjutsu skills to ward off the baddies and protect his friend’s home with plenty of ludicrously bad fight choreography. 

This clash of good and evil culminates when Venarius hires his own ninja to take out Cole – the same ninja who was against this Westerner becoming a ninja at the very beginning of the movie! This bad ninja is played by Sho Kosugi, who would later become one of the most in demand martial arts actors when the ‘ninja craze’ was in full force during the 1980s. He even showed up in 2009’s Ninja Assassin

Enter The Ninja 1981 action movie fight sceneThere’s plenty of amusing cheesy laughs during Enter The Ninja. The film opens with ‘an action packed’ scene of Cole decked out in his white ninja outfit seemingly attacking and killing enemies. We get the glorious blood squibs, whooshing sound effects of swords being swung, throwing stars being hurled and limbs being sliced.

BUT the joke is on us as we discover this was only a final test Cole is put through by his own ninja comrades. You might ask yourself – well, if it was a test why did they have to go through such cinematic lengths to add the goofy blood spurts and all that? There is no answer to this. I guess to make Cole’s final test as authentic as possible? It’s best not to think too hard during a Cannon Film. 

Nero looks completely out of his element and comes off as one of the stiffest action heroes around. He doesn’t exude any charisma or have any cool lines. He’s almost like a ‘fill in hero’. They needed a guy to play an American ninja, they pulled his name out of their book, offered it to him and he accepted.

Susan George Franco Nero Enter The Ninja 1981 Cannon filmNot to mention the Italian Nero was dubbed in the film. The character of Cole is meant to be from Texas and poor Nero couldn’t pull off an American accent. Well, much like the movie magic that would help Nero appear to be a Ninja master, techniques were used to change his voice to give him the American voice the character required – i.e. Nero becomes the victim to poor dubbing.

“A true ninja doesn’t kill. He eliminates and only for defensive purposes.” That’s my goto line to quote when I think about this movie. Of course, the awkward dubbing to Nero when Cole delivers that line makes it sound all the more memorable. 

What’s really funny is how years later Nero talked about his experiences of making Enter the Ninja and working with Cannon in the excellent documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Nero recounts just how confused he was by the project, how cheaply it was made and had never even heard of the word ‘ninja’ before.

There is one incredibly bizarre scene where Cole has sex with George. After we learn that Frank has become impotent due to all the stress Venarius is causing him, he feels guilty of not being able to satisfy Mary Ann. During a late night she walks into Cole’s bedroom, the lights go out and they engage in some horizontal activity. 

Franco Nero Susan George Enter The Ninja 1981

Franco Nero and Susan George in Enter The Ninja

I imagine the Cannon maestros just wanted to have a sex scene for their ninja star, but it plays as very odd. Suddenly the sheen of him being an admirable hero is sullied by him getting it on with his best friends wife. They attempt to justify the sex, but it’s hard not to look at Cole a bit differently and feel bad for poor Frank. Maybe Cole’s ninja master breezed over friend loyalty during his teachings.

Not to mention the Italian Nero was dubbed in the film. The character of Cole is meant to be from Texas and poor Nero couldn’t pull off an American accent. Well, much like the movie magic that would help Nero appear to be a Ninja master, techniques were used to change his voice to give him the American voice the character required – i.e.. Nero becomes the victim to poor dubbing.

Franco Nero in Enter The Ninja Cannon martial arts action movieWhat’s really funny is how years later Nero talked about his experiences of making Enter the Ninja and working with Cannon in the excellent documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Nero recounts just how confused he was by the project, how cheaply it was made and had never even heard of the word ‘ninja’ before.

The villains are the one who seem like they’re having the most fun with their roles. Zachi Noy who plays Siegfried ‘The Hook’ appears to trying to channel a bit of Peter Lorre. A little sweaty stooge who’s ready to do his masters bidding. At least that’s the vibe I get, but maybe I’m being too generous

Christopher George makes the most out of his every moment never holding back that he’s the major villain and fully prepared to amp up the cockiness and chew up his dialogue. He nonchalantly tosses off orders and acts like this whole Landers trouble is merely an inconvenience. He has a memorable moment as he proudly shows off his ‘living mobile’ (a bunch of bathing suit beauties in his pool).

Enter The Ninja 1981 bad guys villainsI sometimes wonder how on earth some of these ideas actually happened. Some of them are just so bizarre and goofy I’m amazed they made their way to the final cut. 

For 1980s action fans they should be fully satisfied. There’s plenty of ninja fights, costumes, weapons galore! Throwing stars, blowguns, swords, smoke bombs, nunchucks, they cram it all in here! You get all the stuff you’d hope to see with a movie called Enter The Ninja.

Is it all impressive looking? Well, in 1981 it probably had a much cooler impact than watching as a kid than it does today.  There are many shots filled with Franco, say hurling a throwing star or shooting an arrow at a bad guy, the film cuts to a shot of the bad guy with his back to us and twirling around to the camera with the shooting star embedded in his bloody face. There’s stuff like that.

Enter The Ninja 1981 martial arts action movieIt’s not the most convincing action shots. Most of it are quite shabby, but if you’re in the right mood it’s a hoot to watch. It’s that old reliable ‘Cannon Charm’.

As much as we’d like to laugh at Enter The Ninja, it was a profitable hit for Cannon. They latched onto the Ninja/martial arts craze in its early stages and it got plenty of attention. It would later get watched by more millions of young film fans thanks to VHS and cable.

Cannon would end up making two sequels – Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination. Sadly, neither have any connection to the original. I always found that extremely disappointing. They pretty much set another story with the ending and Nero telling George how he’ll be back.

How much fun would it have been to see Nero return for more of his own Ninja adventures. A Nero Ninja trilogy would’ve been a memorable series in the Cannon catalog. Nero’s final wink to the camera make me ache to see more!

The fantastic trailer for Enter The Ninja – how can you not possibly crack a grin and want to watch the movie based on this??? 

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