American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt Review
“Ninjas? Not again…”
Thanks to an attractive tax system, which was enforced in South Africa during the apartheid struggle by the late eighties, film companies were lured to produce martial-arts movies, which were already proven to be successful there. The ever-frugal Golan/Globus partnership, who had based operations in the country prior with American Ninja 2, were seeing a steadier financial decline, and, needing to keep within tight budgets, stuck their ground and set up shop for their third entry in the now struggling franchise.
Sam Firstenberg, who had left his own indelible marks on the previous instalments apparently wasn’t asked to return for the third outing, while original star Michael Dudikoff, concerned of boycotting as a result of working in the troubled nation, refused to come back. The clandestine approach toward making these movies in South Africa proved to be ultimately more damaging than it was worth; American Ninja 3 didn’t perform as well as its predecessors, but it didn’t stop the Cannon Group from trying to ride the gravy train for a couple more years.
Gary Conway’s napkin scrawls find themselves centring on Sean Davidson (David Bradley), who was left orphaned in 1979 after his father was murdered during a bungled robbery attempt within the vicinity of a Karate championship. Raised by a master of ‘Mikio’, Sean has perfected the magical ninja arts, and when his master is kidnapped he travels to the island of Triana to find him. There he meets Curtis Jackson (Steve James) and acquires a comedy sidekick by the name of Dexter (Evan J. Klisser). They take part in a Karate tournament (which turns out to be one match), which they soon learn is a stage for illegal shenanigans involving science! You see, an evil, albeit mild-mannered mastermind named The Cobra (Marjoe Gortner) is conducting germ warfare. More bio-enhanced super ninjas than you can shake a leg at.
Directed by Cedric Sundstrom, who would go on to helm American Ninja 4: Revenge of the Dude, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt finds itself as the black sheep in the family, nestled in its own purgatory and with little sense of identity. Struggling to introduce new characters, while confused as to what to do with well-established ones, it rests on a plot so devoid of actual thought and charm that it’s hard to be entertained when you realise that you really have seen it all before; in an interview he conducted not long before his untimely passing, Steve James even spoke that the film was practically improvised on the spot. Sundstrom sticks to Cannon’s worn template with enough competency, rarely deviating from a predictably pedestrian narrative which features far too many unforgivable plot holes amidst a bunch of loosely connected scenes which add up to very little, such as a pointless hand-gliding escapade, more super ninja demonstrations, and a promising but wasted underwater sequence. It’s a shame, because one gets the feeling that its director at least attempted to bring in some new elements, but sadly wasn’t given enough room to work with. Perhaps most interesting of all is the presence of a female ninja (Michele B. Chan), which not only adds a little variety but whom also manages to go the entire duration of the feature without being shoehorned into a romantic plot device. Silly as her storyline gets, however, it’s not enough the save the picture from total incredulity.
Denim-clad David Bradley steps in to replace Dudikoff, and to be fair he’s no worse off in his first appearance. A former Karate champion, versed in several martial arts, Bradley at least brings some conviction to the role of our protagonist in terms of physicality and as a technician, but he’s let down in part due to ropey editing and uninspired fight choreography. Acting wise, there’s not much to shout about and sadly his co-star Steve James is more painful to witness, performing as if he really doesn’t want to be there, with dialogue (quite possibly ad-libbed) that seems to exist purely in order to lament Dudikoff’s absence, the lack of interesting story elements and character development. Here he’s on auto pilot, with no spark in his eyes and little humour to boot. By this point in the franchise James was deserving of leading status; his disillusion toward Hollywood whitewashing which reflected poorly on the American Ninja franchise, and the lack of faith studios had in placing black actors in lead action roles, remained completely founded during his career, despite him being a well trained actor and a man of greater ambition.
88 Films presents American Ninja 3 at 1080p, using MPEG-4 AVC. Compared to the previous films it’s a slight step down, not really faring much greater than a solid DVD transfer. A reasonably clean image, it does however suffer from a slight softness, although close ups are acceptable. Colour rendition is fairly natural, with the film not quite having the same overly saturated pop of the first two.
Sound is once more good ol’ English LPCM 2.0, which delivers clean dialogue, along with giving George S. Clinton’s score a nice boost. It’s just a shame that the score is largely forgettable, using repurposed material from Avenging Force and featuring one of the blandest rock songs in eighties action cinema.
There are no extra features here and 88 Films haven’t provided English subtitles.