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15THE KILLER ELITE (1975)

The Killer Elite Ninja Movie

Sam Peckinpah? one of the greatest action filmmakers of all time, made a ninja movie?! With James Caan, Robert Duvall and Burt Young??!! For action junkies it sounds too good to be true... and unfortunately it is. This fairly by-the-numbers thriller about a team of veteran mercenaries protecting

a Japanese diplomat doesn't rate as one of the legendary tough-guy director's best, and isn't a particularly enthralling ninja feature, but it's a solid movie and a landmark for ninja fans as one of the first mainstream American feature films to give the shadow-assassins a "realistic" presentation — albeit one confined mostly to the extended shipyard-brawl finale.

Viewed today it's more of a curiosity item, a chance for martial-arts fans to see ninja presented in Peckinpah's more "grounded" Western style (no wirework, no exaggerate sound-effects, no invincibility to gunfire), though some may be disappointed to discover that when Killer Elite's ninja do finally make their appearance, they don't exactly rate the proper respect from the main (Western) cast. Instead, the film treats them more as a deadly (but hardly terrifying) part of the Japanese characters' strange/"exotic" cultural quirks. Regardless, at the time, seeing kung-fu/grindhouse fixture like ninja sharing the screen with major Hollywood stars was something entirely new and exciting.

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