If you were a fan of cinematic ninjas during their 1980’s heyday, chances are you fell into one of two ninja camps…Team Dudikoff: The fans Michael Dudikoff and the American Ninja films– or Team Kosugi: The fans of Sho Kosugi and the Revenge of the Ninja films series. Granted there were other ninjas, ninja films and ninja-like opponents for Chuck Norris to conquer in the ’80s– but nothing as storied as the 5 movies in the American Ninja series or the Cannon Film Group’s ‘Ninja Trilogy’.
While the ‘Ninja’ chapter of American-made martial arts films was relatively short-lived, these two ninjas were at the peak of their game before the genre shifted from theaters to straight-to-VHS and DVD– long before Chris Farley and films like Miami Connection and Kung Fury re-cast the ninja as satire. Today, CHARGE! takes a closer look at these two ninjas and what makes their films so memorable lo, these many years later.
Michael Dudikoff aka Private Joe Armstrong
Seemingly relegated to background and supporting roles in films like Bachelor Party and Tron, Michael Dudikoff was ‘surprised’ to get cast as Private Joe Armstrong. Three American Ninja films later (Dudikoff starred in only 3 of the 5 movies), he was a bonafide Cannon Film Group ‘Action Hero’, breathing the same rarefied air as Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Sho Kosugi. Working alongside the unparalleled Steve James, Dudikoff effectively kicked his way into cinematic ninja history.
Sho Kosugi aka Hasegawa – Cho Asaki – Goro Yamada
After getting his cinematic start as an extra in The Godfather: Part II and The Bad News Bears go to Japan, Sho earned the title roles for the Cannon Group’s Ninja trilogy. Starting with ‘Enter the Ninja’ in 1981, followed by ‘Revenge of the Ninja’ in 1983 and Ninja III: Domination in 1984, Sho Kosugi became the go-to ninja for Golan-Globus films as well as for subsequent films that cast him as a martial arts hero with an edge. Unlike Dudikoff, who hung up the proverbial ninja mask to work in real estate, Kosugi later opened the Sho Kosugi Institute, which focused on teaching martial arts acting in the United States and overseas.
Martial Arts Movie Magic
Long ago, in a time known as the 80’s, martial arts films were all the rage– and new films were coming soon to a theater or drive-in near you every week. And I’m not talking about feel-good Karate Kid type stories (which are fantastic in their own right, but that’s a different blog post) or old-school Kung Fu movies (ditto)… I’m talking about kick-ass, ‘R’-rated martial arts movies that always centered around one of three plots—revenge in every form, infiltrating/discovering/offending a secret sect of ninjas, or revenge for infiltrating/discovering/offending a secret sect of ninjas. Because it doesn’t matter if it’s late night cable channels, old-school drive-ins, the multiplex or your web browser– Be it the Octagon, Enter the Dragon, American Ninja 1-5 or Revenge of the Ninja, the appetite for martial arts films (from the U.S. and abroad) has always been and will always be insatiable.