"I take orders from the Octoboss."

3 Ninjas Kick Back

It’s tempting to say that 3 NINJAS KICK BACK is the bottom of the barrel for a kids movie, mainly because of the amount of farting that happens in a particular scene. But I checked my review of the first 3 NINJAS and I called it “some real bottom of the barrel dreck, almost as bad as any off brand DTV throwaway kiddy garbage you’ll ever encounter,” so that one might’ve been worse. The best thing I can say about this first released 3 NINJAS sequel is that in the tradition of THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II and THE KARATE KID PART II they go to Japan for part of it. That takes some effort.

I say “first released” because they actually made 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP in the same year as the first movie but they had some kind of distribution problem and didn’t release it until 1995. Can you imagine? A whole two years where 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP was a lost film. That’s why part 2 recasts two of the kids but part 3 returns to the original line up at their original age.

Victor Wong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) returns as the grandpa and sensei to three giggly white kids, Colt (returning Max Elliott Slade, APOLLO 13), Rocky (Sean Fox, CALENDAR GIRL) and Tum Tum (J. Evan Bonifant, the kid from BLUES BROTHERS 2000). They’re planning a trip to Japan together “to study with the Grandmaster,” but it turns out the kids have ”the baseball championships” at the same time so they decide they don’t want to go, breaking grandpa’s heart.

What nobody realizes is that grandpa’s old enemy Koga (Sab Shimono, THE CHALLENGE, SUTURE) wants to steal the ancient dagger that grandpa was presented for winning a tournament 50 years ago and plans to pass on to this year’s winner. Koga sends his idiot nephew Glam (Dustin Nguyen, 21 Jump Street, RAPID FIRE), who brings along his bandmates Slam (Angelo Tiffe, “Cop #1,” POLICE ACADEMY 6: CITY UNDER SIEGE) and Vinnie (Jason Schombing, I STILL DREAM OF JEANNIE) to get the dagger. They crash into Grandpa’s car so he ends up hospitalized in Tokyo, but due to a bag mix-up Tum Tum actually has the dagger. So the kids find a way to scam airline tickets to Japan to visit Grandpa, go to the tournament, meet a girl ninja named Miyo (Caroline Junko King, “Young Keiko O’Brien,” one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation), fight sumo wrestlers, escape on hang gliders, use the dagger to unlock “a cave of gold laden with riches,” and you know what that means in a kids movie, even after the ‘80s: they go down a slide! In short, 3 ninjas kick back and the other one does all the work. Or something.

I was wondering what the deal was with kid’s baseball movies at this time, so I looked it up. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR and THE SANDLOT both came out in ’93. THE SANDLOT was a big hit. So maybe that explains this, LITTLE BIG LEAGUE and ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD all coming out the next summer. In this one it’s that type of little league that definitely exists where they let tiny little 9-year-old Tum Tum play with rat-tailed, beginning-to-get-mustaches teenagers twice his height. Why not? What could go wrong?

Tum Tum is funny because he’s always eating food, in fact in one scene you think he’s trying to catch the ball but instead he catches a hot dog that is also flying through the air. And he eats the hot dog, for comedy! Also there’s a chubby kid on the other team named Gerald (Brian Wagner, KINDERGARTEN COP) and it’s especially funny that he eats food. Do you get it? Actually it turns out the real joke is that he’s eating a can of beans, because while he’s batting he starts farting. There’s a whole sequence where he runs the bases while farting the whole time and causing each member of each team, plus the umpire, commentators, and everyone in all the bleachers, to pass out from his farts. Then they’re okay again in the next shot. A little bit later when a brawl breaks out one kid falls next to Gerald’s butt and he farts again, right in the kid’s face. I’m not sure why the kid didn’t die or even pass out, this seems to violate the previously established rules. You know, a movie needs to have an internal consistency. It’s just not right.

Alot of it is what I call “funny coded.” You can tell Glam is funny because he has a long blond wig. You can tell Slam is funny because his hair sticks straight up.

You can tell it’s funny when Tum Tum says “Lets murdalize ‘em!” or “Scramble!” because he does it more than once and the camera zooms in on him. You can also tell what’s funny from the score by Richard Marvin (SURROGATES). It’s competent when it’s getting treacly at the end (winning the baseball game, spoiler) but mostly it’s my least favorite kind of score: the kind with all the little faux-orchestral keyboard doot-doot-doots telling you ooooh, this part is funny. Oh shit, look at this though. Can you believe how wacky this part is. Ha ha. Oh no. Oh no. Look at this guy. Farting right in the kid’s face. The kid doesn’t like it! Can you believe it? Funny stuff.

The kids do seem to know some moves and stuff. Some of it is just doing kicks while Glam and friends wave their arms around and make faces like a fun uncle trying to amuse a toddler. Those guys also try to kill Grandpa while dressed as female nurses, which was the basis for both KILL BILL and THE DARK KNIGHT. I think I read there was a lawsuit and everything.

The kids also get to fight some ninjas, and there’s a fight with the gimmick that they’re talking to their mom on the phone and trying to not let her know. Kind of Jackie Chan for beginners. I suppose the presence of competent martial arts in the movie means it’s better than it could’ve been.

There’s some decent ninja imagery at the tournament, where there are many colors of outfits and they spin weapons and fight. Colt gets jealous just watching and sneaks into the tournament, but loses to Miyo. A girl! She speaks English so she trains them to fight better and they help her with baseball. I gotta respect the montage, even though it’s part serious, part Tum-Tum eating food with sumo wrestlers.

In the end Koga decides that “the true ninja is free from all desire,” so everything is cool. I appreciate a peaceful resolution. I’m proud of you, Koga.

Since the first one was a surprise hit they must’ve seen this as a possible big deal. It was one of those movies that was heavily advertised on the back of comic books. It also got its own three part comic book adaptation published by NOW Comics. The writer was Chip McElroy, who also did a UNIVERSAL SOLDIER adaptation I have. The art was by Rafael Navarro (penciler), Robert Perchaluk (inker) and Holly Sanfelippo (colors). This was also the only installment in the 3 NINJAs trilogy that got a video game (for Sega Genesis, SNES and Sega CD).

Nguyen was already well known from 21 Jump Street, obviously trying to branch out here. He went on to a legit martial arts acting career, appearing in VANISHING SON II and IV, THE REBEL, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN and Warrior.

The director was Charles T. Kanganis, who did the Traci Lords action movies A TIME TO DIE and INTENT TO KILL. He followed this with RACE THE SUN starring Halle Berry and Jim Belushi, and then sort of became Belushi’s guy, doing K-911 and six episodes of According to Jim. More in the spirit of this one he did DENNIS THE MENACE STRIKES AGAIN, with Don Rickles and Betty White as the Wilsons.

You can’t always trust IMDb trivia, but this has one I can’t ignore. It claims that according to defectors from North Korea, 3 NINJAS KICK BACK was a childhood favorite of Kim Jong Un, and his dad commissioned a remake with Korean actors. What the trivia does not mention is that the “Simon Sheen” credited as co-writer and executive producer of 3 NINJAS KICK BACK as well as director of 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP is actually Shin Sang-ok, an acclaimed South Korean filmmaker of the ‘50s and ’60s who Kim Jong-il had kidnapped, along with his actress wife Choi Eun-hee, in 1978. They were forced to make movies both as propaganda and just because he was a maniac wannabe movie producer – being a GODZILLA nerd, for example, he made them do a kaiju movie, PULGASARI.

In 1986, while attending a film festival in Austria, the two managed to escape to the U.S. and they hid out in Virginia for a while, before moving to L.A. and working on 3 NINJAS movies. (Don’t worry, they were able to return to South Korea and make more movies there too.)

That story is actually way more interesting than any of the 3 NINJAS movies, and I just discovered there’s a documentary about it (THE LOVERS & THE DESPOT), so I might have to check that out. I expect way less farting than in this one.

‘90s shit: The word “grunge” is used to describe Glam’s band. The Japanese rap songs on the soundtrack have kind of a New Jack Swing sound.

Dated depictions: I think the cabbie who drives them to LAX is meant to be some kind of Arab stereotype, judging from the headwear they give him. Also there’s this running “joke” that people in Japan can’t stop bowing to the kids wherever they go and they bow back in a mocking sort of way. Hard to explain, but it’s weird.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 8th, 2024 at 8:31 am and is filed under Reviews, Family, Martial Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “3 Ninjas Kick Back”

  1. Massive respect to you, Vern, for not only sitting through this but actually taking the time to write about it. I personally could not do it. Just reading about the baseball fart-a-thon made me cringe so bad my teeth rattled (full disclosure I saw that phrase in a comment section earlier and stole it). I’ve seen The Lovers and The Despot and I remember it being pretty good, so yeah… Maybe check that out to get the taste of this one out of your mouth.

  2. I do believe that I actually saw this one on TV when I was a kid, not knowing that it was a sequel to a movie that I had never heard of. (Oddly enough, the same thing happened to me with RETURN TO OZ.) And I don’t remember anything about it, other than 2/3 of the 3 Ninjas always being annoyed at Tum Tum. (Which btw, an internet friend of mine once named her chonky cat.)

  3. I somehow recently ran into Caroline Junko King IRL. I’m forgetting how at the moment. She’s now a freelance animator out of Portland and worked at Laika for awhile doing commercials, according to her LinkedIn. I wish I could recall the situation.

  4. I do believe that I actually saw this one on TV when I was a kid, not knowing that it was a sequel to a movie that I had never heard of.

    I saw it on a theater marquee and thought it was about three actual ninjas trying to go on vacation, but end up attempting to kill each other (or something like like that). But when the ticket person told me it was a sequel to a kid’s movie, I just saw something else.

    I still think the movie I formed in my head was a pretty good one.

  5. That does indeed sound like a much better movie.

  6. Vern the fact that you were able to mine a thoughtful and entertaining review out of this movie is amazing!

  7. I didn’t know Kim Jong Un was so young.

  8. Glaive Robber

    May 8th, 2024 at 1:10 pm

    Oh, man, LITTLE BIG LEAGUE. That takes me back.

    I was reading somewhere that said there’s basically been one wide release baseball movie in the last decade, and it was the Christian movie “The Hill” with Dennis Quaid. Is this possible? I LOVE baseball movies, and like the sport itself, I guess sports movies are now made with more of an independent audience in mind.

    What I’m saying is, I would watch “3 NINJAS UP AT BAT”.

  9. That does indeed sound like a much better movie.

    I had visions of

    “This cool guy I went snorkeling with is actually the enemy ninja who was hiding under my bed? And who almost succeeded in slitting my throat if I hadn’t thrown that smoke bomb and narrowly escaped just in time? This can’t be! Perhaps we should team up and find out who’s behind this. Because otherwise, he seems like a really cool guy and a great doubles partner!”

    So I have to admit, I was more than a little jazzed when I approached the ticket window, and more than a little bummed to find out it was not that.
    Plus, they would always show Sho Kosugi meditating in a temple or whatever. But I was always curious what he did when he really needed to unwind.

  10. grimgrinningchris

    May 8th, 2024 at 6:40 pm

    I did NOT have my second Sho Kosugi reference in a single day being in a 3 NINJAS talkback on Vern’s sight on my Yahtzee table today.

  11. You’re a braver man than me, Vern. Used to have the first one on VHS. On the list of many childhood movies and TV shows that don’t hold up at all/can’t finish.
    Love the series so far!

  12. Oh man this movie has a weird place for me, when my grandpa was dying we went and stayed with grandma on her island beach house and this was like the one kids movie she owned so me and my sister watched it like thirty times in a two week period on no sleep freshly traumatised cause my grandpa was crying in pain all night.

    I… honestly don’t actually remember much of the film.

  13. Franchise Fred

    May 8th, 2024 at 9:22 pm

    Imagine if 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up became the Day the Clown Cried of kids ninja movies…

  14. The sacrifices you make, Vern. I hated these kinds of kids movies when I was a kid. I don’t know how I would sit through them now as an adult.

  15. RBatty – That’s funny because lately I’ve been instituting a “nobody’s making me watch this” thing more than I used to. For example I was gonna do RETURN OF JAFAR because it was such a milestone for DTV sequels, but I decided it wasn’t worth it. I knew it probly wouldn’t be good but I assumed it would be interesting.

  16. I haven’t seen any films in the Three Ninja Saga, but I did watch The Return of Jafar, and to my memory there are no extended farting scenes. It’s more bland than painful.

  17. The ALADDIN show that followed it was kinda interesting though, since the plots had way more “Monster of the week” episodes than you might expect. In fact, while the movie made it look like having a magic lamp that is hidden in a talking tiger head cave would be as unusual as it is in our world, the series went all out on the fantasy angle. Also the next DTV movie, which served as series finale and was about Aladdin finding his father (who happened to be Ali Baba), was much more memorable than RETURN OF JAFAR.

    Honestly, if they ever going to make that sequel to the live action movie, I hope they take a cue or two from the series and have Aladdin fight an army of sand monsters or whatever else happened there.

  18. The only thing I remember about RETURN OF JAFAR is how incredibly short it is. But I do have hazy but fond memories of the Aladdin animated series– they packed a lot into each episode. And yeah, the third movie (which brought Robin Williams back) was a good one.

    Another big-deal animated movie on VHS this year was BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, though that one actually had a failed theatrical run the previous December so it doesn’t count as DTV. I still have my VHS copy with the included digest-sized comic adaptation.

  19. I’ve been saying for years that if they finally make a sequel to the live action Aladdin, then they should take the opportunity to make a full on fantasy film inspired by Middle Eastern myths and legends rather than the usual European ones, much like the series.

    All this talk reminds me of the weirdest Disney DTV movie I’ve seen. I was watching Bambi 2 with my kiddo, and it’s basically a sidequel. It take place between when Bambi loses his mother and he is a teenager in the original film. There’s a weird subplot about Bambi’s dad deciding that it’s time he gets a new mate now that Bambi’s mom has died. And it doesn’t seem like he’s waiting all that long. He’s looking for a replacement almost immediately.

    But even weirder is that he tasks the Owl with bringing him eligible does. He’s got himself a full on dating service. And talk about a wingman!

  20. But when does Godzilla show up?

  21. I actually saw MASK OF THE PHANTASM in a theater, second run. I remember there was a kid rolling a Batmobile toy through the rows before hand and also a drunk guy who was ranting about “Moskovian” cannibals and how “they’ll eat you like JURASSIC PARK over there.” Then he promptly fell asleep and snored through the whole thing. (It was a dollar theater so drunks would often go there to pass out.) Good movie though.

  22. grimgrinningchris

    May 10th, 2024 at 3:36 pm

    Vern- back to punk references.
    I once took the (very popular for a good while) super political So-Cal punk band, Good Riddance, to see RUMBLE IN THE BRONX at the second run dollar theater here when they had an off day on tour.

    There was a gentleman of dubious sanity in there that kept walking up to the screen and shouting shit.
    “Jackie Chaaaaaaaaaan… finally comin’ to America!”
    “Mad cows! All the cows are mad at Jackie Chaaaaaan!”

    He had to be escorted out eventually. But the incident wound up referenced on one of the band’s records a year or two later.

  23. At the risk of sounding like one of those dorks who swears “deep inside they knew” that they were “suffering” while they watched THE PHANTOM MENACE 6 times over the first 4 days, RETURN OF JAFAR came out in the UK when I was 8, a little too young to straight up accept a new iteration of something you already loved wasn’t good, and certainly too young to understand that “Video Premiere” doesn’t mean “will be really, really good” but I do distinctly remember feeling a bit underwhelmed, and that something wasn’t quite “right” about it, but kind of assuming that I liked it. I do agree that KING OF THIEVES was a big improvement, but I don’t know if I could honestly call it “more memorable”, because I remember almost nothing about it (besides the obvious return of Williams) and I’ve seen it at least twice, the most recent time in my 30s, which I am still in thank you very much.

    I did watch the ALADDIN TV series, but I feel it was mostly a “good enough when it’s on” kind of thing. The only episodes I remember are a) an episode that starts with ol’ Al flying in on a magic carpet and reading Jasmin a poem about her “beauty”, and then Jasmin is all like “bro, u only care about my looks?” b) an episode where the villain was some kind of anthropomorphic plant. I think those might have actually been the same episode. I didn’t know it took inspiration from Middle Eastern myths, that’s cool, but the plant man probably reminded me of JAYCE & THE WHEELED WARRIORS more than anything. I believe RETURN OF JAFAR was originally intended to be the pilot or first three episodes of the TV series or something, which is why (if I recall) it has US TV style fade-outs for ad breaks. Aladdin and Jasmin were engaged for the duration of the series, kind of unusual for cartoon characters.

    I know this isn’t necessarily an original observation, but while I like(d) the TIMON & PUMBAA series (which we’ll get a chance to discuss soon!) and hear some of the others like the STITCH series were pretty good, on the whole I think it was a mistake for Disney to spin-off their films into TV shows. A lot of reasons are put forward for the death of theatrical hand-drawn animation in the US, and ultimately I think it comes down to the age old story of audiences being drawn to the newest shiniest thing (i.e. CG Animation) and by the time people maybe began to miss the old thing it was too late. But I also think it was devalued in audiences eyes, both by all the mediocre TV cash-ins that were being released, and by all the films being compromised to continue on Television. I think after a while people, certainly parents, cottoned on to Disney’s newest big release being part film, part launching pad for a new “brand” of mediocre video games, DTV movies, Happy Meals and TV shows. It’s kind of funny to me that, given that this started around the same time Katzenberg left, Dreamworks sort of seem to have fallen prey to the same thing with some of their franchises like the PANDA, the DRAGON etc.

    RBatty024- I’ve never seen it, and I’m sure there’s at least some embellishment, but a lot of the publicity material around BAMBI II emphasised that it was being adapted from discarded story ideas/subplots from production on the original movie. They released a Special Edition of BAMBI around the same time (which I do have) which has a recording (audio only I believe) of a vintage Story Session with Walt n’ the Boys, which might illuminate exactly what was taken from those sessions.

    MASK OF THE PHANTASM I bought on VHS at the Warner Bros. Studio Store in a visit to London around 95. Until recently I assumed that was the only WBSS in the UK, but I’ve since learned there were quite a few dotted around the country. I’m sure the VHS was sold elsewhere, but I don’t think I ever saw it. I was one of those kids who knew the PHANTASM’s identity from that toy though; I’d also read the Junior Novelization.

    I’ve never seen 3 NINJAS KICK BACK or KNUCKLE UP, but I have seen the MEGA MOUNTAIN one with Hulk Hogan and Loni Anderson.

  24. I mean, ALADDIN & THE KING OF THIEVES has a scene where the villain murders a shark with his bare hands, so there is that.
    And don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean to imply that the ALADDIN show was some kind of masterpiece of 90s TV animation, but I did enjoy its “What if we let the protagonists fight monsters, witches and such every week?” approach. I do agree on the “watering down the brand” take though. It was a double edged sword. In general I still think that the TIMON & PUMBAA and HERCULES shows were the best, because the first was a completely unexpected case of “Disney trying to jump on the more zany cartoon comedy of the 90s bandwagon by using two established characters from a movie that is not at all like ANIMANIACS” and the latter felt the most faithful to the movie, considering how that one was basically one of the most outright comedic Disney flicks. (I still chuckle at the conclusion of the episode about Hippocrates.)

  25. Did mean to mention that I thought Dan Castellaneta always did a pretty good job as the Genie under the circumstances (the circumstances being that he was replacing arguably the most-identified-with-the-original-A-List-voice-actor cartoon character of all time). And it was pretty cool that Gilbert Gotfried stayed on as Iago. I don’t think I ever saw the HERCULES TV series, but again it was impressive/cool that they kept on Tate Donovan, Bobcat, Matt Frewer (admittedly he was doing a lot of voice work at the time) and even, whatever we think of him now, James Woods.

  26. Being a gazillion dollar company definitely helps when it comes to keep certain A-list actors around for your saturday morning cartoon. I think TARZAN was Disney’s only based-on-a-movie show that had absolutely none of the original voice cast in it. None. Not even a random supporting role. I always wondered what was up with that, but then I neither cared enough about the movie to ever check out the show.

  27. Something about the not-quite-up-to-normal-Disney-standards way they drew shirtless Tarzan in that show was oddly off-putting. I don’t think it was insecurity about my own physique. Not just that anyway.

  28. grimgrinningchris

    May 11th, 2024 at 9:33 am

    Woods, awful human though he may be, is my favorite Disney villain (even if the movie surrounding him is kinda middling). He’s on record as saying Hades is the most fun he’s ever had acting, and has done it for numerous series, DTVs and video games for a pretty cut rate (maybe even as low as union scale) just because he loves doing the character- which gives him a FEW points to counter his numerous demerits… Not sure if he has ever been in ninja movie though.

  29. Yeah, too bad that you now always have to add an “He may be an awful human being IRL” disclaimer whenever you say somethign good about Woods as an actor, but his Hades is an all-timer of a funny cartoon villain, right up there with Peter Ustinov’s Price John. You might probably know the story of how Hades was actually supposed to be scary and dark, but then James Woods came in and just did him as fast talking comedy character and they rewrote the script accordingly.

  30. grimgrinningchris

    May 11th, 2024 at 11:43 am


    I knew it was something like this, but just looked and read that when Hercules was going over budget, he offered to refund his whole salary to keep it on track because he was having so much fun. Good on him for that.

    Also, even though we have gone way off track in this thread, I always like a chance to point out that the singing voice of Hercules (Roger Bart, as opposed to Donovan as the speaking voice) is the guy that got his dick cut off and fed to a dog in Hostel II. He also, more recently, originated Broadway’s Doc Brown in BTTF:The Musical.

  31. Now you actually made me rewatch THE RETURN OF JAFAR and yeah, it’s really not worth it, despite having eight credited writers and a bunch of more with a “Story by” credit. It’s quite interesting though that Iago is basically the protagonist of the flick, since much of the story is told from his POV and his redemption is is really what drives the plot. Dan Castellaneta is indeed really good though as Williams’ replacement (That was the first time I actually heard him as Genie, since I only knew the German dub) and I have to admit that “You’ll be surprised what you can live through” is an incredibly badass and scary threat for a kids movie.

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