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Review American Ninja (1985): Black Star Ninja shoots lasers. That's beyond awesome!

genre: action, adventure, martial arts

Growing up in the Eighties was an experience for sure. Especially film wise there was a lot of creative and outrageous stuff to be found. It always was a joyous occasion when I visited the video rental shop. And the rare times they didn't have anything you'd like you always could count on television to provide you the goodness you craved. Some German channels in particular were specialised in bringing the best B films like Karate Warrior and No Retreat. No Surrender. Amongst them was American Ninja. It was awesome then and it's awesome now.

Like with a lot of trendy events a lot of people want to jump on the bandwagon and join especially if it can make them a lot of money. Martial arts was incredibly popular in the Eighties and one of the sub genres within were Ninja films. It's not hard to understand why because you have to be a fool to deny that they are cool. Godfrey Ho is very infamous for cutting and pasting hundreds of ninja films with all kinds of ninja's who were far removed from the traditional ones. His films rarely made sense but one thing he excelled at was making ninja's look even cooler than they already are. However while someone like me could sit and enjoy these types of films the big audience wouldn't be able to stomach them. Enter Cannon Films who took a more serious and professional approach and managed to make these types of martial arts films appealing to a larger audience. Director Sam Firstenberg clearly loves action and did what he could do to make it look spectaculair.

He certainly succeeded in doing that with American Ninja. Even when it obviously is a low budget flick (Estimated $1,000,000) the action is very memorable and exciting. The fight choreography might not be on par with what Hong Kong was delivering at the time it had other elements that made the film more special. For example Michael Dudikoff playing the mysterious Joe was a brilliant plot device. Of course nowadays the amnesia thing has been done to death but back then it was kind of a novelty. In this case it made it plausible that Joe was a ninja. The whole mystery and the mysticism around the ninja's in this film was and still is fascinating. I don't know it it was deliberate or just poor writing but not explaining the origins of these ninja's and what they are actually about makes them more compelling. Sword fighting, projectiles, ninja magic, it's all there. The Black Star Ninja even is capable of shooting lasers for god's sake. How is that not awesome?

In all honesty most of the action holds up quite well. It maybe a little slow here and there choreography wise but that is compensated by the mysticism and charisma of both Michael Dudikoff and Steve James. He should not be forgotten since he is the voice of reason and legitimate stunt performer and martial artist in his own right. Plus he turns the lone wolf type film into a buddy movie. American Ninja is a classic. If you disagree I will be forced to kill you. The ninja code commands it.

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