“Ninja III: The Domination” is the last entry in a very loose trilogy of ninja movies released by Cannon Films, the others being “Enter the Ninja” and “Revenge of the Ninja.” The first two movies definitely believe ninjas had superhuman physical abilities, but “Ninja III” makes the leap into the supernatural by giving them more magic mumbo-jumbo than vampires. According to this movie, a ninja can crush a golf ball with one hand, punch through the roof of a police car, slice a billiard ball in half in midair, survive more gunshot wounds than 50 Cent, and even transfer their souls into other people. It’s that last bit that makes up most of the problem for the heroine of this movie, Christie, but she also has other issues that we’ll get to.
Christie – an aerobicizing line worker for the phone company – becomes possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja, who does the Vulcan mind-meld with her just before he keels over from extreme lead poisoning courtesy of the police. The ninja was at a nearby golf course on assignment to murder “a top scientist” for reasons that are never brought to light, and the cops respond like he just got five stars in “Grand Theft Auto IV.” The power of kung-fu compels Christie to go on a killing spree targeting the cops who brought the evil ninja down. Her only allies throughout this ordeal are a good-guy ninja played by Sho Kosugi and her complete dipstick of a boyfriend, Officer Billy, who also happens to be one of the cops on the ninja’s hit list.
I want to get this out of the way before I talk about anything else – Billy is a real piece of work. When he first meets Christie, she’s giving a statement at the police station and he thinks that’s a swell time to start hitting on her. She brushes him off, but he starts following her to aerobics class. When she uses her newfound ninja skills to defend herself and another young women from a gang of sweatpants-wearing thugs who threatened to rape her, Billy arrests her after just watching her fight them. Then he throws a little tantrum about why she won’t go out with him and he tries to throw her out of his car. That’s not even getting into the fact that he wears jeans and a flannel shirt to his colleague’s funeral. He was wearing a tie in the scene before, but he takes that off before going to the funeral. Billy is a real piece of work.
Fortunately for Billy, Christie isn’t much better, mostly because of being possessed by a ninja ghost who wants to kill him. That’s the only explanation for why she doesn’t run screaming from him, but rather invites Billy home. They engage in the least appealing love scene outside of a Gaspar Noe film as Christie dribbles warm V8 juice down her décolletage and lets him lap it up. They’re an icky couple.
Getting close to Billy allows Christie and her unwanted ninja roommate access to the police station, and now it’s time for some wasabi-hot ninja revenge. After hypnotizing her through the stand-up arcade game in her very 80s apartment, the ninja’s ghost takes over her body. She starts hacking and slashing her way through the duty roster, killing one by slinking her way into a hot tub with him and stabbing him in the neck with a poisoned needle she kept hidden in a ring.
Meanwhile, did you know that only a ninja can kill another ninja? That’s why 80s-ninja-movie staple Sho Kosgui arrives in America looking to catch up with Christie. (Either that, or it was because he found out Cannon was making another movie with “Ninja” in the title and he couldn’t let that slide.) Sho is out for revenge because the evil ninja living in Christie’s brain killed his family, so he starts following the trail of dead cops back to Christie and Billy.
At the same time, Billy finds Christie’s ninja sword under some towels in her linen closet and she’s been complaining about blackouts that Western medicine can’t figure out, so Billy’s plan is to take her to a mystic he knows somehow. The mystic is played by James Hong, better known as David Lo Pan from “Big Trouble in Little China” and the maître d’ in “Seinfeld’s” Chinese restaurant episode. (“Cartwright!”) The mystic’s big trick is to chain Christie to the ceiling and let spin her around like it’s Cirque du Soleil, but that only makes the evil ninja ghost mad, go figure. It’s disconcerting for all involved, but in the very next scene Christie’s eating Yoplait like nothing happened.
Eventually, everything comes to a head at the funeral of Christie’s last victim, where she shows up in full ninja gear to kill whoever’s left. She fights Sho, who leads her to the conveniently located ninja temple just outside of town. The ninja’s spirit is forced back into his bullet-riddled corpse, and it all ends up with Sho and the evil ninja fighting to the death, or the re-death in the evil ninja’s case.
“Ninja III: The Domination” papers over its plot holes with more ninja magic than a Sega Genesis game, but by throwing everything it can at the audience at breakneck speed it overcomes its severe limitations. Even ninja-schlock masterpieces like “American Ninja” or “Pray For Death” have their dull moments, but “Ninja III: The Domination” has no time to stop and delve into anyone’s backstory or try wasting our time with subplots.
It’s also not a bad film to look at, for the most part. The special effects are certainly of their time period, but they make for a more colorful movie than most ninja movies from the 80s. The production and costume design also really dig into the 80s aesthetic for all it’s worth – stonewashed jeans, sweatbands, neon-squiggle wall decorations, Patrick Nagel paintings, etc. In the minus column, the martial arts action tends to rely too much on special effects enhancement than honest-to-goodness stunt work or fight choreography. And Billy is such an odious character in the first third that it’s very hard to care for anything he does or says later on, even though the more obnoxious aspects of his personality are toned down eventually.
It’s a shame that “Ninja III: The Domination” didn’t inspire more supernatural ninja epics, but maybe it’s enough that this one strange movie was allowed to exist. It’s no stranger than ninjas who are also turtles, after all.