American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Images: MGM

Following the success of ‘American Ninja’ in 1985 a sequel was inevitable especially from the studio stable of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the infamous Cannon Films.

Joyfully we saw the return of both Michael Dudikoff and Steve James reprising their roles, and Mike Stone finally was put in front of the camera as the film’s ninja villain.

However the film was made during the emergence of turbulent times for Cannon Films and the sequel had its budget reduced to $350,000 (from $1million allotted to the first film).

Despite this the film grossed over $1.8m in its opening weekend, and made a total $4 million at the box office. It also paved the way for a further sequel ‘American Ninja 3: Bloodhunt’ which was greenlit soon after without Michael Dudikoff. After 35 years how does this action packed sequel hold up?

Trailer

Cast

The dude in black is back. Michael Dudikoff returns as the American Ninja Joe Armstrong, and with him his brother in arms, Steve James as Sergeant Curtis Jackson.

Joining the familiar dynamic duo on their Caribbean assignment is Larry Poindexter as Charlie, and Joe as Curtis’s cocky aide who guides our heroes through the sights and perils of their latest posting.

Jeff Celentano (aka Jeff Weston) plays Marine Commander Bill ‘Wild Bill’ Woodward, an eccentric-yet-tough station commander, responsible for protection detail for the American Embassy.

Writer and actor Gary Conway is cast as the film’s villain Leo ‘The Lion’ Burke, a drug dealer who uses the island as his base for his drug operations and coerces virologist Professor Sanborn to create his army of genetically enhanced ninja warriors. Helping The Lion and training of the super ninja is Master Tojo Ken played byKarate legend Mike Stone.

Providing the damsel in distress role and potential love interest is Michelle Botes as Alicia Sanborn, who recruits Joe to help rescue her father from the Lion’s clutches.

Plot

Army rangers Joe Armstrong and Curtis Jackson are assigned to a remote Caribbean Island to investigate the disappearance of US Marines stationed at the American Embassy.

The Island paradise proves to be less welcoming when our two heroes learn of the Island’s anti-American sentiment where stationed Marines dress casually to deter attention.

Joe and Curtis’ investigation barely gets started before kidnapping attempts ensue as they uncover the man behind the kidnappings – Leo Burke aka ‘The Lion’ – a drug baron who has kidnapped a local scientist and mass-produced an army of mutant Ninja warriors to protect his drug empire.

Review

Looking back at this classic, to this day I still hold it in the same high regard as when I first rented it from my local video store some 35 years ago.

It is in many ways superior to the first film, in terms of its balanced mix of comedy and action, chemistry between the two leads, and fight action.

The first ‘American Ninja’ will always be revered as the classic it so richly deserves to be, yet credit should go to the sequel for presenting fans with a genuine follow up story rather than a repeat of the original.

Writers Gary Conway and James Booth’s script asked the question; ‘what’s next for our two heroes Armstrong and Jackson?’ The answer is in Joe Armstrong, you have a confident soldier, no longer searching for his identity and at ease with who he is, and takes his role as both soldier and keeper of his Ninja legacy, very seriously.

Jackson is also at ease with himself, a confident, fearless character who like Porthos in ‘The Three Musketeers’ is larger than life and lives it to the full. Throw them both into a plot lifted from Ian Fleming’s ‘Dr No’, add some super Ninja Warriors to the mix and you have under 90-minutes of pure martial entertainment.

Ninjas on The Beach

When a film opens with Marines on motorbikes speeding down a Caribbean highway to a disco synth soundtrack then beaten unconscious in a bar and carried away by burly ninjas, you know you’re in for a good time.

The tone and story are set for our heroes to swoop in, unravel the mystery and save the day. The introductions are basically a walk through, but an entertaining one nonetheless; marines dressed in holiday gear and acting like they’re on Spring Break, and a tough yet funny Marine captain, Wild Bill, who throws out so many one-liners as if he had them stashed under his desk. It’s the action however we get impatient for and the wait time for its delivery is short.

The beach fight featuring a swathe of Ninjas vs team Jackson and Armstrong delivered what fans of the fledgling franchise at the time hoped for, more Ninja action and more Jackson action.

The first that stood out on first viewing all those years ago is just how much Michael Dudikoff had improved since the first film.

Time spent on that project and ‘Avenging Force’ (also with co-star Steve James and directorSam Firstenberg) showed Dudikoff stepping things up even further in both the acting and action stakes.

His movements are fast and more fluid, executed with increased confidence. Dudikoff is given more to do and shows off his new-learned abilities.

Then there’s Steve James, who in the last film was given little opportunity to shine. With his character of Curtis Jackson firmly established, it was exciting to see him show off a little more martial skill which he does complete with a boat hook used as a Jo staff, and some cracking arm breaker and elbow smashers.

Bar Fights and Hot Pursuits

When you consider most fights break out in bars and taverns it’s a wonder why anyone still patronises them. In particular the Island’s local seedy dive bar ‘The Blind Beggar’, a nexus for much of the film’s fight action from Ninja kidnapping marines to heavies working for the local drug lord taking on the powerhouse duo of Armstrong and Jackson.

Here is where the drama and the action both go left field in comparison to the first featuring bone-breaking action combined with some slapstick comedy.

Things at first get serious for our American Ninja as he walks into a trap laid by turncoat marine, Taylor. Armstrong calls on his Ninja skills to fend off his abductors and ‘the dude’ abides in spades. Once again Dudikoff’s improved skills shine and it’s great to see such huge improvements in the small gap between both films.

Later, Armstrong and Jackson return to the Blind Beggar on a rescue mission that quickly turns into a bar brawl straight out of an old Western.

Here the duo’s diametrically opposite character traits come into play and it’s a joy to watch. Armstrong is all business, focussed determined and yes Dudikoff continues to shine.

Jackson, however, revels in the royal rumble taking on the Lion’s henchman and anyone else who cares to join in. It’s a quizzical juxtaposition to watch the late Steve James in a bar brawl as he was a skilled martial artist and technically capable of so much more. Yet one can’t help but smile as James looked like he was having so much fun, showcasing his charm and knack for comedy.

The chef’s kiss however comes when Tojo Ken aka Mike Stone shows up, sadly just as the duo make their exit. Still, Stone finally gets to kick-ass onscreen, against a burly patron, serving as an appetizer for more to come.

It’s only for a few seconds but as a karate student myself I spotted some familiar technical combinations, and the finishing spinning back kick to the head still leaves my jaw sore and scratching my head as to why Stone never quite made it as an action star.

Storming Blackbeard Island

The film never lets up on the action front allowing every opportunity for Dudikoff to show off his improved martial ability.

There are also considerably more ninjas and Joe seems to encounter them at every opportunity be it in alleyways, or on top of moving vehicles before taking on the whole black clad platoon at Blackbeard Island.

If there was a risk of these encounters turning repetitively banal, director Sam Firstenberg and Stone as fight choreographer kept them engaging and tension-filled. Breaking up the ninja encounters with our G.I Joe is a full demonstration of Mike Stone as Tojo Ken in action.

Stone’s main event is a repeat of Tadashi Yamashita’s in the first film. Ninja Master ‘Ken’ (no pun intended) dispatches his ninja students with skillful ease and possesses great skill. Yet Ken lacks the mystique of ‘Black Star Ninja from ‘American Ninja’, a master whose students were honoured to die by his hand.

Instead Ken’s students seemed almost unfeeling in their relationship, however since they are genetically- enhanced clones this is no surprise. Still, watching Mike Stone in action, finally, is a real treat, and there is much more of ‘The Animal’s’ skill on show. It also ties with a scene and direction that is an 80’s action film fans’ comfort blanket as we move into the same James Bond-esque showdown that graced the first film.

The finale, as mentioned before is familiar terrain, a somewhat disappointing move given the bold direction taken up to this point.

Everything from here on in we’ve seen before: damsel in distress? Check. Full military assault on a criminal compound? Check, and the list goes on. There’s even John Fujioka cameos in flashback offering some Obi Wan Kenobi-style mystical guidance to Joe before he dons his true ninja uniform ready for battle.

Entertainment levels remain at 11, and thankfully whilst Dudikoff continues to dispatch ninja henchmen with his usual blend of martial skill and deadpan stoicism, Steve James revels in bringing a diametrically opposite sense of fun to his combat scenes.

As a surprise we’re also treated to James wielding some slick and deadly skills with a pair of Butterfly swords before being taken ringside as Ken meets Joe in an arena match up.

Ignoring the predictable outcome, this master matchup is packed with plenty of fun sword play, but is literally cut short with little else in terms of ninja action, failing to live up to the anticipated hype. As entertainment, it meets expectations with Mike Stone showing us just why he deserved to be a bigger action star.

Summary

“American Ninja 2: The Confrontation” delivers on its promise of an action and martial arts spectacle.

It’s a highly enjoyable film that provides a thrilling ride for fans of the genre. Michael Dudikoff’s cool-yet-charismatic presence, combined with the well-executed fight sequences and breathtaking locations, make this movie a must-watch for ’American Ninja’ enthusiasts.

The sequel stepped up the action, humour, character development and chemistry in particular with both Dudikoff and James’s evolution as action leads as well as a collaborative duo.

Whilst the film may lack depth in its storytelling and has a tendency to dip into safer territory, its relentless energy and entertainment value more than compensate for these shortcomings.

Looking back at this 35 years on there’s a certain sadness in being reminded of how the careers of Dudikoff, Stone, and James didn’t elevate them to be the bigger stars they deserved to be.

Very few of their subsequent films ever quite ascended to anything higher than this. Yet as nostalgic interest continues to grow, with more restored re-releases and inclusions into libraries of assorted streaming services, fans can revisit this golden era and enjoy the action, humour and all-around entertainment and see the glint in Dudikoff’s and James’s eyes shining bright.

Whilst martial arts fight choreography has evolved over the decades, there are still plenty of bone- crunching ninja battles to delight and impress. It is definitely a keeper for those who enjoyed the film during its first run, and a poignant piece of nostalgic history for the younger generation of fight film fans.

Favourite Quotes

  • “Tell me, what would Japanese assassins be doing in this part of the world, taking a vacation?”Wild Bill Woodward.
  • “Yes sir, we should kick some ass!”Sergeant Curtis Jackson
  • “That damned American Ninja! He fights like a tiger!”Tojo Ken
  • “There you have it; the super ninja, the ultimate fighting machine. Strong, obedient, heartless, and as many of them as we want!”Leo ‘The Lion’ Burke

Trivia

  • Screenwriter Gary Conway, who also plays the film’s main villain ‘The Lion’ based this story on various script ideas he developed based on his fascination with the Ninja mystique. Ideas for scripts included a Ninja army with supernatural and superhuman abilities, long before the franchise started.
  • Conway would revisit the idea of the genetically engineered ninja two years later with ‘American Ninja III: Bloodhunt’ starring David Bradley in the lead role.
  • Actor James Booth was brought in to do some script polish work so that Conway could focus on his portrayal of The Lion. Booth had written the screenplay for ‘Avenging Force’ starring Michael Dudikoff, and ‘Pray for Death’ with Sho Kosugi, in which he also played the film’s villain.
  • Like his friend Gary Conway, Booth also wrote a script for a further entry in the ‘American Ninja’ franchise – ‘American Ninja 4: Annihilation’ bringing both franchise stars David Bradley and Michael Dudikoff into one adventure.
  • Mike Stone, who plays Tojo Ken, is today a 10th degree black belt in Shorin-ryu karate. He began training at age 19, after enlisting in the army, under Sensei Herbert Peters.
  • During his tournament career, Stone amassed a record consecutive 91 wins including the sparring grand championship at the first ever International Karate Championships. Known for his aggressive competitive streak, Stone was given the nickname ‘The Animal’.
  • Stone’s work as an actor and stuntman include ‘Circle of Iron’ aka ‘The Silent Flute’, ‘Highlander II: The Quickening’, and ‘Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back’. His only starring role was in the action adventure ‘Tigershark’ which he also co-wrote.
  • Stunt coordinator BJ Davies had previously worked with Sam Firstenberg, Michael Dudkioff, and Steve James on 1986’s ‘Avenging Force’. He also directed the late Brandon Lee’s first feature film ‘Laser Mission’.
  • David was inducted into the Hollywood stuntman Hall of Fame and held two world records: a high fall from a helicopter from 180 feet, and an aerial neck suspension beneath a helicopter at 70 mph at 100 feet from Universal Studios to the Santa Monica Pier.
American Ninja 2 The Confrontation 1987 KUNG FU KINGDOM

American Ninja 2 – The Confrontation (1987) – KUNG FU KINGDOM

Film Rating: 8/10

If you’re feeling nostalgic, indulge and get your Blu-ray copy of ‘American Ninja 2: The Confrontation’ from Amazon and catch all the ninja action!

Have you seen ‘American Ninja 2’? How does it compare to the first film? Are you a fan of the American Ninja Sequels? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram!

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Ramon Youseph

Ever since he first saw the great Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon on the big screen whilst living in Iran, Ramon has been fascinated with martial arts, and at age 6 attended classes in Kan Zen Ryu Karate under Sensei Reza Pirasteh. When he moved to the UK, martial arts came calling in his early teens in the shape of the mysterious art of Ki Aikido which he studied for five years. Since then he has practiced Feng Shou Kung Fu, Lee Style Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Kickboxing before returning to Aikido, studying under Sensei Michael Narey. As well as Bruce Lee, Ramon is a big fan of martial arts actors Jackie Chan, Cynthia Rothrock, Jeff Wincott, Richard Norton and Tadashi Yamashita to name a few. Ramon is an aspiring writer and when he is not honing his craft he likes to go out running, hiking and is still trying to count to ten in Japanese.

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