Archive for the Tadashi Yamashita Category

Review: American Ninja (1985)

Posted in Michael Dudikoff, Reviews, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita with tags , , on December 3, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita

Fight Choreography by Mike Stone

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Back in 1985, America was made up of three things: Apple pie, Reaganomics, and Ninjas. This was the time when Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus ruled the world under the name of Cannon Films, which became the home of Chuck Norris and cheesy action flicks. During this time two kinds of films ruled the action roost: Anything with a guy running through Vietnam freeing guys still held captive there, and ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas. The biggest series to come out of all that was American Ninja.

The story opens with the cheesiest music you’ve ever heard, right out of the A-Team. In fact, I think it actually was the A-Team soundtrack, but whatever. We meet Private Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff), who seem like an odd bird from the get go, not wanting to speak with..well, anyone.

He drives an escort in the Philippines for the daughter of his General, and before long the escort is ambushed by a group of thugs, and after a moment of pretending that yeah, he’s just content to stand there and get shot, he decides it’s NINJA TIME and unleashes level 1 ninja skills, punching and kicking the baddies aside, unaware that a group of ninjas, hidden in the trees and hill above are watching him. Yes, they are hiding among green trees in black uniforms, so of course they can’t be seen. I don’t think Michael Dudikoff knew any martial arts prior to the film, but he did pretty well for what was asked of him. (Since those films I know he’s been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie family) Unfortunately while Joe goes off to save the annoying general’s daughter, the rest of the military escorts jack up the remaining thugs, but wouldn’t you know it the ninjas jump in to kick some ass, and massacre the entire company. Joe and Patricia don’t notice this as they escape into the forest, pursued by ninjas. The scene would be fine if not for Patricia, who comes off as a typically vapid, pampered American girl that was also a prevalent stereotype of heroines during those Cannon years. He gets her back home, where her father gives Joe a lot of shit for fighting off the bad guys instead of standing his ground. The specific reasons why he’s so angry becomes apparent later.

Meanwhile, a conglomerate of bad guys are led by a dude named Senior Ortega, and you know he’s bad because he’s wearing a white suit with a pink tie, which means he’s evil incarnate. He shows off his lead ninja Black Star (Yamashita) who, in a typical show of how badass he is, kills one of his own trainees. Something tells me those guys don’t include insurance in their benefits package. Back at the base, we meet Curtis Jackson (James), the martial arts instructor on base (you know he’s black, because most action hero black sidekicks are named Jackson), challenges Joe to a fight, and this leads to a good scene of Jackson getting grappled and tossed about by Joe, who doesn’t really want to hurt Jackson, and after he admits defeat they form a friendship. Yes, ladies, it’s a guy thing. We just roll that way. We come to learn that Joe has lost his memory, and has these ninja skills but doesn’t know where they come from. Soon Joe becomes a target of Ortega, and Joe faces off with them in a warehouse attack that features a lot of ninja action, not badly done, and okay for American fight choreography. Joe follows the attackers back to their base and finds out who he really is and why he knows ninjitsu, and with the help of Jackson and a the US military, goes to stop Ortega once and for all, and face the Black Star Ninja and Ortega’s ninja army one last time…

This is all really silly. I mean jeez, during the last fight Black Star tries to kill Joe with a flamethrower in his sleeve, and a laser in his other sleeve! That’s not a ninja, that’s Master Chief! Yes, this movie drips pure cheese, but the best kind. So much of the 80’s is in this film, and came out at the height of the ninja craze that swept the United States at the time, even if most of the ninja scenes were just way off of what they were really like.

One scene I have to point out, because it’s my favorite for some reason, is when Jackson fights this big Asian guy toward the end of the film, and gives him a punch to disorient him, and then shows him his tiger claw hand, to his face, right before he uses it to grab the guy’s testicles and starts to crush them, shouting out “How do you like that? Them nuts!” It’s a crazy scene, but funny in all the right ways. It actually occurred to me a lot of guys get kicked in the nuts in this film, even one poor sod who was pretty much already beaten by Jackson, and takes one more to the family jewels for posterity.

All in all, it’s still good fun all these years later, and formed a snapshot of what many American action films were like during that era. And never fear, Joe Armstrong and Curtis Jackson will return…in American Ninja 2!

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (5) Not great, but not horrible either. Michael Dudikoff acquited himself quite well, and Steve James is always fun to watch. It simply suffers from the American fight choreography of the day. I think it was actually better than, say, The Octagon with Chuck Norris.

STUNTS: (5) Some good overacted death scenes and reaction by some of these guys puts the “ee” in the cheese of this film.

STAR POWER: (6) Michael Dudikoff would go on to star in several more American Ninja films, and this is what he’s most famous for. Steve James did more of them also, and other films before dying too young at the age of 41 due to pancreatic cancer. He always played the sidekick to other stars, though he was the better martial artist in just about every film he did.

FINAL GRADE: (5) It’s an American ninja classic made during that period of time, and is cheesy fun, but not really a good martial arts film.


Review: The Octagon (1980)

Posted in Chuck Norris, Richard Norton, Tadashi Yamashita with tags , , , on September 13, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef, Tadashi Yamashita

Fight Choreography by Aaron Norris

Directed by Erik Karson

The Octagon is a heartfelt story of one man’s quest to live the rest of his life never having to see or deal with that normal affliction many 80’s action heroes had to deal with…ninjas. Okay, so heartfelt is a strong word…but it kinda is. The Chuck Norris love is on full display here, as the film opens with Chuck standing silhouetted in from of a setting sun, talking a lot of nonsensical shit that still won’t mean much later. The film then jumps to a group of lively looking folks walking in the forest toward a village, followed in the brightness of day by ninjas wearing black, because of course they want to blend in with the forest surroundings which makes perfect sense, assuming the person you are following is color blind.

We then cut to a rich old guy leaving his mansion in a limo only to get shot like 15 times point blank by assassins, who aligned with the ninjas. We then meet Scott James (Norris) a karate champion, who goes on a night out on the town with a pretty yet vapid woman named Nancy. He takes her home, and dammit, before he can charm her into the sack with that moustache of his, ninjas attack. Now, to this point I thought this film might be autobiographical, but alas it wasn’t. But it would be fun if it were. What occurs during this fight, and after, and throughout the whole damn film is hearing Chuck’s inner monologue, which is his voice speaking in a whisper for no damn reason. Does an inner monologue have a whisper? Any time ninjas are around, that monologue goes off like some sort of damn ninja-spider sense kind of thing.

To get back to the moment at hand, they do jump Chuck, and he makes them pay, but they do kill Nancy, and to be honest, he must really not have cared for their date too much as he didn’t seem too broken up about her getting stabbed to death. In fact he seemed kinda relieved.

Actually, how the hell did he know they were ninjas other than his ninja sense? They looked like a bunch of douchebags wearing black clothes that looked like those makeshift Halloween costumes you make when you find out you’ve been invited to a party at the last second and rifle through your closet to put something together.

The next day James goes to see an old mercenary friend named McCarn played by Lee Van Cleef, who seems to only exist in this film to tell James to watch his ass, and to shoot a few bad guys in an attempt to protect James. Meanwhile, and throughout the first half of the film we are treated to really weak scenes of ninjas trying to train the new douchba-I mean recruits on how to be ninjas. I’m not sure the guys teaching them know how to be ninjas, but at least they dress like them.

We then meet another rich lady named Justine who was related to Nancy (I think) who tries to get James to help save her from the ninjas, but what she doesn’t realize is that James knows that the ninjas were trained by a childhood ninja classmate named Seikura, who dreams of ninja domination. Just as all ninjas do, I think.

Soon, after an inexplicable car chase that must have been left on the cutting room floor from Smokey and the Bandit, he goes back to see McCann and realizes that McCann knows about the ninjas too. Back at the ninja ranch, once French dude figures out that while being a ninja is cool, training to be one actually sucks ass. He tries to leave, but a well placed shuriken in the back of his neck says otherwise in a hilariously bad acting scene as he dies. Jeez, I know it was this guy’s only scene, but damn, dude!

James then attends a merc rally in an attempt to be recruited so he can get to them from the inside, and who should turn up but Richard Norton (City Hunter, Shanghai Express) as one of the recruiters. Of course this doesn’t work, and Justine winds up getting killed, and his buddy CJ kidnapped by the ninjas, and James goes to free him, but must go through the ninja maze known as the Octagon to meet Seikura for one final duel…

Ugh. I know this film helped start the ninja craze of the 80’s, but our standards must have been low back then. Chuck acts like Chuck, and the story here is truly insipid, and the side stories with his friend AJ make no sense. The ninjas look like they are on a pledge drive for as much urgency they portray. The story plods along, as we get varying behind the scene things going on that really go nowhere and don’t really matter. Not to mention the fact that while James is the hero, he doesn’t save a damn person. Pretty much everyone he tries to save dies. Not a great track record for a hero, but since this isn’t a great film, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Oh yeah, and hearing Chuck’s internal monologue is truly headache inducing.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Chuck pretty much fights everyone with the same trademark moves he uses in every fight. The best fight in the film isn’t against Seikura, but against his second in command, which is a great fight until the end of it. The rest is Chuck fighting a bunch of guys who really don’t know how to fight. It’s obvious Aaron Norris never watched a damn asian martial arts film, or else he’d know how much his choreography sucks.

STUNTS: (3) Meh. What weak stunts there are is combined with horrendous acting, which makes this almost a Troma flick. Actually Troma flicks have better stuntwork. No offense to Lloyd Kaufman.

STAR POWER: (6) Chuck Norris and not much else. Look out for Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow) in an early appearance, and of course martial artist Richard Norton, who made better films with Cynthia Rothrock.

FINAL GRADE: (4) If anyone wondered why Chuck Norris is such a movie icon, they won’t find it out here. A terrible ninja movie that takes itself way too seriously for the story they present.