Keith Palmer (krpalmer) wrote,
Keith Palmer

MST3K 322: Master Ninja I

I had come out of "San Francisco International" with a sort of feeling like "I'm glad I had an idea of one Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode to watch, but what am I going to watch next?" Then, it came to me that Clu Gulager had also appeared in one other episode, "Master Ninja I," and it seemed like enough of a connection to me... although I did wonder a little if it amounted to "picking one of the coconut candies out of the box so I'm not stuck with it at the very end." The episode didn't seem to make much of an impression on me when I first saw it, for all that I later saw a comment by someone who seemed quite impressed by it... but, remembering to some small extent how my first viewing, as with many other episodes, would likely have been spreading it into "host segment to host segment" chunks over four days, I decided it's always worth trying something again.

One thought I've had is that, for all that two episodes earlier "The Unearthly" had broken Mystery Science Theater's third season pattern of alternating North American movies (and ultimately movies from the 1950s) with "dubbed and daffy" Japanese movies, "Master Ninja I" still represents a sort of cockeyed echo of the pattern. Not only does it have ninjas in it, but it's been made by putting two episodes of a 1980s TV series together... It may be, though, that I can't really get the full absurdity of Lee Van Cleef playing "the only Occidental American ever to become a ninja" because I haven't seen any of the other movies he's been in (except, I suppose, for the other one he was in that was also shown on Mystery Science Theater...) In any case, Lee Van Cleef winds up paired with Timothy Van Patten, and they ride around in a van (complete with gerbil) helping out small business owners threatened by larger business owners. (The first one of those larger business owners was played by Clu Gulager, thus making that anticipated connection for me; I did sort have the feeling that he didn't seem that much older even after fourteen years.) It's a plus for Timothy that both of the small business owners in this assemblage have teenage-or-so daughters, the first one of them played by a young Demi Moore (young enough to somehow seem a little odd to me); the next two daughters of someone who used to dance for the movies ("Yes, this is from my 1935 film, The Prancing Ninny."), one the floor show attraction at her father's club and the other all but stuck in a wheelchair. In the meantime, Lee is searching for a just-discovered daughter while being chased by an actual Japanese ninja played by the stunt coordinator for the series Sho Kosugi, and when the two clash, once per "instalment" (with Lee's face conveniently hidden by his ninja mask), there's lots of fighting and yelling. ("Well, one thing's for sure - they both have more inner rage than they're willing to admit.")

I suppose that in the end, the episode wound up fun in a way perhaps lower keyed than other episodes but still fully entertaining. It may well have prompted philosophical thoughts about the television of the mid-1980s, and memories of how the medium was proclaimed inherently low-quality at the time and how that may have helped shape my tastes to the present day. As well, my impression that the "riffing" dwelt on the mumbly quality of Timothy Van Patten's speech was refined to realising how those quips picked up over the course of the episode, and I even started to think by the end there indeed might be a point to them.
Tags: mst3k, mst3k episode
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