A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 557 – The Master

The Master – September 8th, 2011

Among our MST3K episodes from back when I was recording them off of Comedy Central we had one titled “Master Ninja 2.” And we watched it fairly frequently. Enough to know a bunch of the jokes. The thing is, we knew there was also a “Master Ninja 1” that they’d done before, but I’d never managed to catch it. I’d never seen it, though I’d certainly heard about it. And then Shout Factory released both episodes on professional DVD and we snapped them up. I do not recall if we bought this before or after we’d finally seen Master Ninja 1 with the MST3K treatment. All I can say is that if we bought it after, it was probably my fault and I am duly ashamed.

I admit, it’s not really a movie. It’s a pair of episodes of a martial arts television show from the 1980s. But after the show was cancelled pairs of episodes were released as movies, which is how MST3K did them. The conceit of the show is that a US soldier named McAllister stayed in Japan after the war and became a ninja. Then he gets a letter from his long lost daughter, heads for the US and meets up with Max Keller, a well-meaning troublemaker who drives around in a van with his hamster and gets (literally) thrown out of bars. Keller convinces McAllister to take him on as a student and off they go to get involved in super spy plots and labor disputes and corrupt police forces while they search for McAllister’s daughter. It is exactly as horrible as it sounds.

The first episode in this pair is the first episode of the series. So we get an introduction to Keller and we get an introduction to McAllister and we get the rundown on the premise for the show. It’s all horribly contrived, but I will give the movie credit for not trying to claim that Lee Van Cleef, who played McAllister, was Asian. Granted, the way they explain the whole ninja thing feels terribly forced, but there’s at least a little effort there! They work it into the plot, such as it is! So, that’s something. And that’s about all this has going for it. Well, that and a few of the single episode cast members ended up having actual acting careers or had already had careers. In this first installment we have a young Demi Moore, for example, and in the fourth episode George Lazenby showed up. But that’s about it.

The first installment has the obligatory introductions, then promptly tosses Keller and McAllister into a dispute between a family that owns an airfield and a land developer who wants their property. There’s a skeezy police officer who assaults Demi Moore, the airfield owner’s daughter, and there’s a lot of fighting and corruption and arson. Honestly, the plot just isn’t that interesting. None of the plots are that interesting. They’re stock conflicts, usually with a pretty young woman for Keller to flirt at (I’d say with, but it’s not like any of them are sticking around so the chemistry doesn’t matter much). Someone will threaten them. Someone will underestimate McAllister. Then there’ll be a fight where McAllister uses his ninja skills to save the day. There you go. This first episode totally sets the tone, if the four episodes I’ve seen are an indication of what the other nine are like.

The second section follows right along, with an extra dose of McAllister’s mysterious past. From what I could tell, he seems to have defied ninja tradition and now his former student is out to kill him? I could be getting it wrong. I usually watch this through a filter of riffing and when we started the second part on the un-MSTed version we have we realized something was very wrong with the disc. First, our DVD player refused to play it, continuously defaulting back to the menu. Second, the XBox refused to play it too. We were finally able to get it running on Andy’s computer, but the sound was about three seconds behind the action. Turns out this makes a movie hilarious in some moments, when the dialogue ends up matched to the wrong person, and incredibly hard to watch for the rest. Now, to be fair, I’m sure we paid pennies for this and the old “you get what you pay for” axiom holds true, so I’m not mad that the movie’s out of sync. On the other hand, whereas I might have been willing to put in some effort to pay attention to a decent movie if it was out of sync, this movie just isn’t worth the bother. So I payed the barest minimum attention necessary.

I’m pretty sure the plot involved a club where drinks are served and talented dancers dance getting shaken down for protection money by a Yakuza gang who actually want to own the club and therefore force the former owner’s daughter to rake in money for them by dancing. Also, there’s a sister in a wheelchair who is of course not at all jealous of her dancing sister except she totally is. I would expect no better of a show this sloppy and dated. McAllister and Keller get involved, have the sister in the wheelchair deliver the ransom for the dancing sister, then there’s the obligatory martial arts fight. Oh, and the sister in the wheelchair takes a few steps at the end. Why was she in the wheelchair? Why did McAllister’s “just buck up and believe in yourself” crap work? Who knows! It’s not like the show cared or anything. It’s all there for the big poignant moment at the end anyhow.

Having seen this much of the series, some of it without the humor that makes it bearable, I’ve got to say I wonder how it lasted even thirteen episodes. I do prefer the third episode over all the others, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to what we watched just now. With a pilot like that first section with Demi Moore, how did this get greenlit? I guess martial arts were a thing at the time and Keller was played by Tim Van Patten, son of Dick Van Patten, so presumably the combo of family contacts and Lee Van Cleef convinced someone it was worth taking a shot on. But what’s even more unbelievable is that it was ever repackaged as movies and released. And we bought one! I don’t find this as gut-twistingly offensive as some things we own, but I do apologize. I’m sorry. I don’t know if it was really me who put it on the pile, but I’ll take the blame. It’s the least I can do.

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September 8, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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