“Ninjas are the ultimate Japanese murderers, absolutely ruthless beyond your wildest imagination. C’mon, I’ll show you some action…” – Tyger McFerson, Ninja USA
Ninja USA (aka USA Ninja and Ninja In The USA) is another entry into the cycle of ninja films made sometime in the mid-80s by Kuo-Ren Wu (here credited as Dennis Wu) with the ever-game Alexander Lou as the lead. If you’ve seen The Super Ninja or Wu-Tang Vs Ninja, you’ll know broadly the kind of messy but enthusiastic fun that’s to be had here. Fans of the Z-Movie will also get a kick out of the cast, which includes a rare performance (as the bad guy no less) from Sakura Killers legend George Nichols…
If you’re a ninjologist, the first five minutes of Ninja USA will immediately set you at ease. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place and are accepted here. It’s five minutes of gratuitous mayhem as Alexander Lou, in some kind of chainmail-patterned ninja suit, duffs up several dozen black ninjas with an array of wicked stunts and tricks (including one bit where he slices up an entire tree for no reason beyond how cool it looks). These scenes bear little relevance to the plot but they’re exactly the kind of mindlessly glamorised violence that your parents, your teachers, Tipper Gore and pretty much every other authority figure in the 1980s warned you about. The body count’s higher than most sensible movies before you’ve even learned a single character’s name.
So, once we’re settled comfortably into our desensitized ninjoid bliss, the story begins. George Nichols play Tyger McFerson (that’s the way they spell it on the police blackboard so that’s how I’m spelling it here!), a Vietnam veteran turned international drug lord. He’s setting up some kind of huge deal with key players in the Mexican and Arabian markets but the NYPD are out to stop him. It’s never clear exactly what country the film is supposed to be set in (it looks an awful lot like Taiwan) but if you’re going to mention a police force in the mid-80s and sound cool about it, you’d have to go with the NYPD. New York back then had a reputation like the Wild West, so these guys were obviously the most badass. Ninja USA always favors coolness over accuracy.
Unfortunately for the cops, Tyger’s hip to their tricks and is training up (in the style of American Ninja) an army of ninjas to kill witnesses, enemies and anyone else who even thinks about getting in his way. These ninjas are so hardcore they will fling themselves off a bridge and plunge to their deaths at his command, although this is poor leadership in my considered opinion. He’s really not thinking about the long-term return here, since I’m sure a ninja army has a huge initial capital investment.
There’s some family drama happening at the same time as well. When Tyger was in ‘Nam (as shown in a Rambo-style, ultraviolent flashback) he gunned down a bunch of dudes and saved two young children, Jerry and Ronny, whom he adopted as his own. In the present-day, Ronny is a high ranking police officer and Jerry (who has grown up to be Alexander Lou) is getting married to Penny (Rosaline Li), a journalist desperate to win The Pulitzer Prize by exposing Tyger. At their wedding, a roll of film with photographic evidence against Tyger on it gets slipped into Penny’s veil and she knows her time has come. Her Pulitzer’s in sight! And yet…
…Tyger has her kidnapped so it’s down to Jerry to save the day. To be honest, the film loses its way a little here and lags in the middle. They obviously had a half-hour section where there wasn’t a lot to advance the plot beyond Tyger making Jerry increasingly mad. As a result, poor Penny gets beaten up and quite gymnastically raped (on a video that’s subsequently sent to Jerry) and there are lots of lacklustre attempts on Jerry’s life too, including an absurd one where he runs away from a motorbike gang – sped-up Keystone Kops style – and a cool one where he duffs up some dudes beneath the Sakura Killers underpass (it’s always fun spotting locations from other movies in these things!)…
Ultimately, we find out through an extended flashback that Jerry trained to be a ninja many years ago but has hung up his sword. Obviously, enough’s enough eventually so – Sho Kosugi style – he dons the hood again and goes back to the shadows to duff up everything in sight. Although it takes a while getting there, it’s worth it for this gory climax in which Lou spins through the air, flings himself (and others) off tall buildings, hops dimensions (yes, hops dimensions – this is what ninjas do) and climbs up a very dangerous looking bridge (that looks a lot like the one from Ninja Holocaust) while all the time dodging a million bullets from machine gun-toting goons and flaming arrows from the evil crossbow ninjas. We also see him fight Eugene Thomas and George Nichols, which is great fun; full of the kind of rough, brutal and nasty choreography you’d expect from these guys. It all comes to an abrupt but gloriously homo-erotic climax beneath a waterfall. We never do find out if Penny wins the Pulitzer though.
Ninja USA is cheap and silly and not a patch on Ninja Condors (probably the best of the Wu/Lou cycle) but if it’s ninja action you want, it delivers the goods indiscriminately. I enjoyed all the attempts to make this feel American, from the US flags hanging in as many locations as possible to the name-checks of the NYPD and the Pulitzer Prize, but it’s always obvious that you’re watching a Taiwanese production. No other country could produce something this strange, madcap and yet curiously watchable.
Point of trivia : If you ever wondered whether Filmark movies even had scripts, the answer is right there on the screen in Ninja USA. There’s a scene where Ronny looks into Tyger’s police file and the papers inside look suspiciously like… the script!