The 80’s Cult Ninja

Ok because it’s martial arts week lets look at the not so serious side to the martial arts. I’m thinking the 80’s and I’m thinking the boom in ninja films in the west. Let’s do this.


Now lets start by saying these films were awful, totally shocking in comparison to the slick Jet Li flick of today’s cinema, I mean most people could do something of a similar or indeed better standard given a cheap video camera (or even just a camera these days), an internet connection, a youtube account and a whole load of spare time.

But… This is the key point here, it was these films that determined how most school kids and pretty much everyone here in the west imagined ninja to be. In fact the influence of these films on pop culture is massive! So allow me to explain the typical 80’s ninja film!

Ok most of these films will have one or more of the following names attched to it Godfrey Ho, Richard Harrison and Sho Kosugi… I’ll get onto the latter a little later but lets start with the first two. Godfrey Ho is suggested to have directed somewhere between 80-100 films in the 80’s and 90’s, the vast majority being utter rubbish as you would well expect from the speed they were churned out. However he’s unique style of rubbish has made his films a bit of a cult let me run down the basic ‘plot line’ of a film for you.


There is a main story line usually involving some kind of underhand illegal gang armed with lots of guns, these gangs are quite typically based in Shanghai or the USA and they are played by Asian actors. Makes sense so far. The bosses of these gangs are normally Americans… hmmm… The people stopping these gangs (gangs themselves) NEVER call the authorities and there are almost always shootouts to resolve the struggles. Fine so where are the cool Asian ninja because ninja are Japanese Right?? Wrong. The main ‘ninja’ in these films is almost always Richard Harrison, and he almost always fights another american… what the???!!! it’s a bit suspect I know but maybe your thinking this is just because the gang bosses are Americans sort of, they don’t really get involved in the gang bits of the films apart from sitting around tables bossing people around or doing so on the phone. No Godfrey Ho likes to add them in, in a cut and paste style that has no real meaning or relevance to the plot in any way.

For example one second gangsters are having a shootout next minute Richard Harrison is making some handsign then poof his in a camouflage ninja outfit with a headband saying ninja (just to let you know your not watching power rangers) then he’s stalking some other guy in an outlandish coloured ninja outfit like red or yellow perhaps even lavender, rarely black but the headband is important, then they have a brief clichéd and poorly overdubbed chat… then cover their faces after we all know who they are, roundoff backflip and fight.

The fight doesn’t have to use Japanese martial arts or weapons anything Chinese will do and realistic martial arts seem to be banned. There is plenty of over the top spinning, odd handsigns, random pointless jumping and my personal favourite flips that are played backwards to make them look more dramatic. There is never really any blood and Richard Harrison Always wins and then the victorious ninja tends to just disappear, in the better scenes in a puff of smoke but mostly through really basic clip editing after a handsign or backflip. Back to gangsters. Huh what did I just watch???? yeah thats Godfrey Ho and Richard Harrison for you although to be fair to an unfortunate actor Godfrey Ho used a few different actors in his films Richard Harrison is just unlucky enough to be in the ones most people remember.


Also not many of the actor have even studied ninjutsu… apparently the art of the ninja is not needed for a ninja film or any real acting ability… Most of these films are pretty much the same thing over and over each more insanely ridiculous as the last… yet oddly captivating and highly entertaining in an ironic kind of way. Check out such awful films as: ‘Ivan the Red’ ‘Ninja Dragon’ ‘The Ninja Squad’ (the worst film I have EVER seen) ‘Ninja Destroyer’ ‘Ninja Terminator’…. you get the general idea…. the whole thing kinda reminds me of an anime with brightly colours ninja doing odd handsigns all the kids are into these days….

Also to be fair to the low budget films of the 80’s there was also a man who had bestowed upon him the title of ‘the ninja’ Sho Kosugi. He was Japanese and actually knew ninjutsu… and wore black without a stupid headband! Stuff with him in is well worth the watch yeah there is still a large portion of 80’s cheese with it but on the whole much much better for the overall ninja feel. This man is what your Tenchu, ninja turtles, and modern film ninja is based upon. If you’ve seen that demotivation poster with two ninjas holding guitars that says “you’ll never be as awesome as this” well the ninja on the left is Mr Kosugi and it’s true you will never be as awesome as him!!

Check out the final fight scene it’s from ‘Revenge of The Ninja’ that is 80’s ninja B-movie at it’s best!



Words: Failcase Industries
All images belong to their rightful owners and are used under fair use.

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