Enter the Ninja (1981) is an American ninja action film directed by Menahem Golan. The film stars Franco Nero, Susan George, Christopher George, and is Sho Kosugi first major role in an English-language film. Sho Kosugi would be the only cast member to return in the second two films in the series. Enter the Ninja (1981) is often credited with starting the “ninja movie” craze of the 1980s. It was the first in Cannon Films’ “Ninja Trilogy” anthology series, followed by Revenge of the Ninja (1983), which got the best reviews, and Ninja III: The Domination (1984) which got the worst reviews.
Enter the Ninja (1981) began production in the Philippines with Emmett Alston directing, but when Charles Bronson refused to allow Menahem Golan to direct Death Wish II, Golan, a co-principal of Cannon Films which was producing both movies, took over the directing duties of Enter the Ninja (1981), replacing Emmett Alston.
The initial screenplay was written by martial artist and stuntman, Mike Stone under the title Dance of Death. Stone’s screenplay shared many similarities with the popular novel The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader, which was being developed into a film by John Carpenter during the same time frame. The final screenplay was written by Mike Stone, Dick Desmond, and by Menahem Golan who went uncredited. Originally, the role of Cole was intended to be played by Mike Stone himself, but he was let go because he was too inexperienced as an actor. Actor Franco Nero, was cast instead after being discovered by the producers at a film festival in Manila. Franco Nero had no prior knowledge of martial arts so he was doubled by Mike Stone for all the complicated fight scenes. The film was shot in the Philippines, but some of the footage was shot in Japan.
All the fight sequences in Enter the Ninja (1981) were choreographed by Mike Stone and therefore were very realistic and at times dangerous.
At the time Enter the Ninja (1981) was released, reviews from critics were mixed to positive. Some critics complained of its occasional campy tone while some praised the production values of the relatively low-budget film.
Today people criticize the film for its “cheesy acting” and a few critics appreciate the film and it has garnered a “cult following” as the original ninja movie that started the “80’s craze”.
The film has been released on VHS and Beta during the 1980s, but an official US DVD release had long eluded the masses until MGM issued as part of its Limited Edition Collection (a series of manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs) in October 2011. The film had also been distributed on DVD in the UK by Lighthouse (2001) and Optimum Entertainment (2011). In 2015, the film was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.
Enter the Ninja (1981) is about Cole, a veteran of the Angolan Bush War, who completes his ninjutsu training in Japan. Cole goes to visit his war buddy Frank Landers and Frank’s newlywed wife, Mary Ann Landers, who are the owners of a large piece of farming land in the Philippines. Cole soon finds that the Landers are being repeatedly harassed by a wealthy CEO named Charles Venarius who is attempting to force them to sell their property. Cole soon discovers the reason for the harassment when he finds out that there is a large oil deposit located beneath their land. Cole thwarts the local henchmen hired by Venarius to bully and coerce the Landers.
Cole and Frank infiltrate Venarius’ base, and defeat a number of his henchmen. In the aftermath, Frank gets drunk and confesses to Cole that he is impotent. Mary Ann comes to Cole during the night and the two have an affair. Once Venarius learns that Cole is a ninja, he hires a ninja of his own to eliminate Frank and Cole and that ninja is Hasegawa, a rival of Cole’s from their old training days.
Hasegawa steels into the Landers’ farm at night and he kills Frank in front of Mary Anne. Hasegawa abducts Mary Anne and takes her to Venarius’ martial arts arena. Cole enters the arena kills each henchmen one by one before ultimately killing Venarius. Hawegawa releases Mary Ann, and the two ninja engage in a final battle. Cole defeats Hasegawa, who begs to be allowed to die with honor, so Cole beheads him.