The Films (3.5/5, 4/5)
Kino Lorber Studio Classics has just done a great cinematic service to fans of 80's action, they have brought the first 2 parts of Cannon's famous Ninja Trilogy to Blu-ray. Over the years, I have wondered when these 2 cheesy, but fun and violent slices of action would make it to HD, and each year I'd fine myself disappointed. In 2012, I was allowed a slight reprieve, when Scream Factory unleashed the weirdo stepchild of the series Ninja 3: The Domination (Seriously, Ninjas, Aerobic Instructors, Possession, if you haven't seen it stop reading, and start watching), which gave me hope the other 2 would be close behind.
They were not.
It is now 3 years later, and KLSC is bringing Sho Kosugi's biggest films to HD, and I couldn't be happier. None of the films have anything narratively speaking in common. The one common factor is the appearance of Kosugi as a ninja character in all 3 films, and absurd action sequences. The film is essentially the beginning of Cannon's love affair with the ninja having been used to great effect in the prior years Chuck Norris vehicle The Octagon.
The film stars the immortal Franco Nero as Cole, the first non-Japanese man to successfully complete the training and become a ninja. Of course, it's not considered a reason to celebrate by all at his ninja school. A competing ninja named Hasegawa(Sho Kosugi) is ashamed that an American would be given the distinction of being a ninja, and thus makes Cole his personal enemy.
Cole, however, does not stick around, he leaves for the Philippines to help a friend and his wife with their plantation. This friend, has a problem, which is a local crime lord, Venarius(Christopher George, Pieces), wants the plantation, and in order to get it has been using his thugs to beat up the plantation workers. This makes it difficult to hire new people as they are in fear. Fortunately, Cole is there to take on the crime lord and his thugs with his newly minted ninja license (no seriously, he was given a ninja license, I love Cannon Films). Unfortunately, for Cole the crime boss isn't dumb, and quickly figures out that a ninja is behind his declining fortunes. He then hires a ninja of his own, and of course, it is Hasegawa. It is now East vs. West as Cole must take on Hasegawa in a battle between ninjas.
Enter the Ninja is not the best of the ninja trilogy. It feels like this film was Cannon trying out the genre and trying to see what works. The film is a lot less interesting, and paced more unevenly then it's 2 sequels. That being said it does have some fun action sequences, a great hook handed villain (always a great addition to any film), and fitting performances by Sho Kosugi, Franco Nero, and the late Christopher George.
Revenge of the Ninja is where the series truly takes off. In this film Kosugi makes a Terminator 2-esque switch from a villainous ninja to a heroic one. The film begins in Japan when Cho's (Sho Kosugi) family is attacked killing his wife his wife, and one of his two children. Rather than seek revenger for the deaths, he decides to put the life of a ninja aside. He sees himself as an artist, and is convinced by American pal Braden to take his remaining family, and open a gallery dedicated to his work, and other native Japanese works and open it in the U.S. away from the violence that follows his family.
Being a Cannon Film the violence does indeed follow his family, and after years of peaceful living in the U.S. Cho finds out that his art gallery was used by Braden as a front to smuggle heroin into the country. When Cho's son Kane witnesses an incident that is part of the fallout from the crimes, Cho becomes involved in order to save his son, stop Braden and his criminal outfit from using him, and restore peace to his existence.
The cast lead by Kosugi do a great job with the material. They know the type of film they are working with and play it up well. Kosugi himself, makes a fine leading man taking the place of the villain role he had in the prior film. Special notice should be paid to Kosugi's son Kane, who also plays his son in the film, and offers a simple, but effective performance.
Revenge of the Ninja is Sam Firstenberg's third film as a director. The first 2 were not action films, and according to the introduction he informed Cannon that he was a skilled action director to get the job, relying on the crew who worked on the prior Ninja film as his guide. However, you would never guess that this was Firstenberg's first foray in the action genre, as this is the high point of absurd action in the Ninja series. While Enter the Ninja occasionally had slow moments, those are almost all but gone here, replaced with crazy amounts of action, violence, and occasional bits of humor. Any problems I had with the first film are gone by the second, and Cannon and Firstenberg have created something truly campy and fun. The film definitely is, of it's time, with sequences such as a threatened death by hot tub, which in a decade that produced films like Hollywood Hot Tubs seems just about appropriate.
Audio/Video (3/5, 4/5)
Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Enter the Ninja in a 1:78:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer, and Revenger of the Ninja in a 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Both films appear to look better than they ever have previously. However, the transfer provided to KLSC by MGM are not given a full restore, but a simple high definition scan, and some color correction. So what we get for both is vastly improved fine detail over their DVD counterparts, nice colors, flesh tones, and a solid grain structure. There is damage from the source material, this is more prevalent in Enter the Ninja than Revenge, but is never overly distracting.
The audio for both films are presented with DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks in English. Both tracks have dialogue, score, and effects that are mixed well, and always completely audible. I did not detect any issues with the tracks.
Extras (.5/5, 2.5/5)
Enter the Ninja does not have anything in the way of extras except for the film's theatrical trailer. Revenge of the Ninja has a commentary by Firstenberg and the film's stunt coordinator Steve Lambert, an introduction to the film by Firstenberg, and the film's trailer.
Combining these 2 releases with the already released Blu-ray of Ninja III: The Domination and you have one of the Crown Jewels of the Cannon Films library finally complete, and on Blu-ray. The A/V on the discs looks an sounds better than before. The extras are slim to non-existent, so while the films can be HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to those looking for some awesome action films, the Blu-ray's themselves can only be RECOMMENDED as a package.