Color, 1986, 70 mins. 29 secs. / 86 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Parvin Tramel
Starring Ron D. White, Brent Bell, William R. Johnson, Victoria Mann, Rick Rykart, Linda Garrison
VHSHifest (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)

"You must be one of them fancy Justice Ninja Stylekarate fellas!" Welcome to Missouri for the weird and wonderful world Justice Ninja Styleof Justice Ninja Style, the only place you can see a stealthy practitioner of secret martial arts facing off against tubby Missouri farmers. Shot on video with tons of locals gleefully chipping in as actors, production members, caterers, or whatever else you can name, this very lo-fi action film gives you an idea of what a Cannon ninja film might look like if it had been made in the Midwest by an amateur theater troupe. And that idea is glorious.

While best pals Carol (Mann) and Shelley (Garrison) are out for an afternoon drive, their luck runs out when they get a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere. Carol sets off to get help, but in the meantime Shelley is approached by two passing cops, George (Rykart) and Grady (Johnson). The piggish George presses Shelley about a date she supposedly promised and gets violent in the process, eventually killing her when she fights back. George convinces the weak-willed Grady to cover it all up by pinning the murder on the next passerby, Brad (Bell), who's just moved into town to fulfill his dream of opening a karate studio. The corrupt cops swiftly turn public opinion against poor Brad and indicate he might not even survive to see a trial, but a sneaky ninja prowling around helps spring Brad out of prison and get him out of several ensuing scrapes with the law. Blowguns and throwing stars are just a few of the tools of the ninja's trade as Brad teams up with a fellow karate instructor to deal with vigilante locals, country music aficionados, and the identity of his secret benefactor.

Justice Ninja StyleClocking in at a trim 70 minutes, this is a great party film for SOV fanatics with lots of adorable action, baffling Justice Ninja Stylemusic performances, random livestock, the funniest town hall diner meeting ever filmed, and end credits noting characters like "Willie Nelson lookalike," "Man yelling 'Ninja,'" and "Woman yells 'fire!'" The story itself is as formulaic as can be, but the setting and execution make all the difference here with everyone clearly giving the project their all (especially Rykart, a really despicable baddie here).

Barely circulated on VHS by local production outfit Cobra Productions, Justice Ninja Style joins the ranks of shot-on-video '80s actioners reinvigorated on Blu-ray, this time in a double-disc(!) deluxe edition from VHSHitfest. The main feature looks extremely good for an SD production, upscaling pretty well here without any tape damage or other tech issues in sight. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track is also in good shape and features optional English SDH subtitles. The film also comes with a very amusing new commentary by DeSoto natives Cody Terry and Steven Francis, who talk about the big commotion caused by the production when the St. Louis filmmakers came to town. They have a lot of fun pointing out the various actors and locations while also noting the film's attempts to ride the wave of ninja mania exemplified at the time by the likes of Sho Kosugi. An alternate extended cut of the film, Ninja The Ultimate Warrior, is also included here from an inferior, darker tape master, but it's nice to have for the sake of completeness. It's technically much rougher and takes forever to get moving thanks to a long, long prologue shot later in 1989, so make sure you watch the Justice Ninja Style cut first. "The Ninja Speaks: The Story of Ron D. White" (58m31s) answers the burning question of who the enigmatic "Supreme Master, 10th Dan" is who's credited with playing the ninja and co-writing the Justice Ninja StyleJustice Ninja Stylefilm (as well as directing under varying pseudonyms); it's a very colorful life story from his early unsuccessful days in boxing through his time in the Navy and finally to his discovery of karate, which led to a trophy-winning career. Also included are a "Locations Then & Now" featurette (10m14s) cruising around DeSoto with White, a Justice Ninja Style trailer (narrated by... James Earl Jones...?), a Ninja the Ultimate Warrior trailer, and a How To Become a Ninja instructional promo hosted by White. Click around a bit and you'll also find a 3m7s news clip showcasing White's career as a process server, presumably without kicking recipients across the face.

But wait! You say you want to see that entire How To Become a Ninja video and learn how to dress in black from head to toe so you can fight people in your own backyard? Look no further than the second Blu-ray, which features the whole 60m43s opus with White showing how to disguise yourself, lay out weapons across your lawn, and avoid injury as you go about your stealthy mission. Then you get a 1m44s TV news segment on the making of Justice Ninja Style, a batch of 1989 raw footage from the Ninja The Ultimate Warrior shoot (37m8s), a "Six Flags Ninja Media Day" celebration with White at the opening of the Ninja rollercoaster (42m44s), and a very hefty 17m21s image gallery with lots of production photos. Dig a tad further and you might also stumble on 1993's "A Really Good Rocker: The Making of the Music Video" (29m34s), featuring Rykart and fight choreography by White. If you ever wanted country line dancing and bar fight choreography from a Grand Master all in the same place, look no further.

Reviewed on May 5, 2023