Before the Cannon Film Group made its play to become a major Hollywood studio, it generated big profits with popular action features. They produced a series of Charles Bronson vehicles as sequels to his 1974 hit film Death Wish and made martial arts star Chuck Norris a star with three Missing in Action pictures inspired by Sylvester Stallone's popular Rambo films.
Cannon co-founder Menahem Golan initiated another action franchise with 1981's Enter the Ninja, which attempted to do for 'Ninjas' what Bruce Lee had done for King Fu. Starring Franco Nero, the film performed well despite being judged weak in almost all categories. The second entry Revenge of the Ninja (1983) dispensed with star names and promoted martial arts master Shô Kosugi to the lead role. New director Sam Firstenberg gave all attention to the martial arts combat.
The third and final series entry is Ninja III: The Domination (1984), written by James R. Silke, who was known for his collaborations with Sam Peckinpah. Shô Kosugi returns for a third time joined by the dancer Lucinda Dickey, who had just starred in Cannon's hit dance musical Breakin' (1984). As if dance scenes weren't enough, Ninja III also takes a page from The Exorcist (1973) when Dickey's aerobics instructor is possessed by the spirit of an evil 'Black Ninja' (David Chung). Sporting red contact lenses and racially insensitive 'oriental' eye makeup, Dickey slays for the dark side until a Japanese exorcist (James Hong) frees her of the evil spirit. For a finale, the Black Ninja's spirit revives his own corpse to do battle with the Good Ninja (Shô Kosugi).
Ninja III: The Domination was filmed in Arizona, with visual effects experts Jim Danforth and Harry Walton conjuring a Ninja temple and animation effects to depict the supernatural possession. Despite critical disregard Ninja III found a cult following. Director Firstenberg moved on to a new series called American Ninja (1985) starring another Cannon action discovery, Michael Dudikoff.
by Glenn Erickson