Film / 3 Ninjas

The 3 Ninjas series is about three ninjas who are trained to be ninja-like by their grandfather. The original 3 Ninjas is an 1992 martial arts comedy, directed by Jon Turteltaub. It features Mori Tanaka (Victor Wong), a Japanese grandfather who teaches his American grandsons martial arts. Three of the four films were produced by Shin Sang-ok (as Simon S. Sheen), most known for directing Pulgasari. Yes, it's that guy!

Said grandsons are promptly introduced and receive proper codenames. Samuel Douglas Jr. (Michael Treanor), is physically strong, tough, and remains strong and cool under pressure. His codename is "Rocky". Jeffrey Douglas (Max Elliott Slade) is fast and free, "with the spirit of a young wild horse", receiving the codename of "Colt". Michael Douglas (Chad Power) is a Big Eater. His codename is "Tum Tum". The trio must help their grandfather against a rogue student of his, who has turned career criminal: the dangerous Hugo Snyder (Rand Kingsley).

The film involves the boys facing Snyder and his agents, along with having a rivalry with some school bullies, and Rocky's relationship with his first love interest Emily (Kate Sargeant).

It was a modest box office hit: earning $29,000,301 in the United States market. The film was lucrative enough to receive sequels. Two were produced almost immediately. However, they were curiously released in reverse order. What was to be the intended third film was released second, the second film was released third, causing some internal logic problems.

The second film to be released was 3 Ninjas Kick Back (1994). Grandpa Mori plans to visit Japan to return a dagger he has held for 50 years, apparently to serve as a prize in a martial arts tournament. He takes his grandsons with him for what he hopes to be a bonding experience. The boys have grown up somewhat and their different interests have made them drift apart. Rocky is having trouble concentrating on anything other than cute girls, his latest crush being Lisa Di Marino (Maital Sabban). Colt has developed a Hair-Trigger Temper and can be counted to pick up fights left and right. Tum-Tum has become even more obsessed with food. They barely have anything in common anymore. When they discover someone has sent thugs to retrieve the knife and that their grandfather has had a very suspicious accident, they travel to Japan on their own to investigate. There they team-up with a female martial artist, Miyo (Caroline Junko King). She might be young but is even better-trained than them. She even agrees to give them some lessons, in exchange for them tutoring her in baseball. Naturally, amorous Rocky has forgotten all about Lisa, shifting his attention to Miyo. The film was not as financially successful as its predecessor, and critics dismissed the film. However, it earned $11,798,854 in the United States market, the 104th most successful film of its year. It did very well in the VHS market, particularly among younger viewers.

The third film is 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995). This time Colt gets a love interest in Jo (Crystle Lightning), a Native American girl whose village comes under threat of becoming a toxic waste dump, due to a Corrupt Corporate Executive. Continuing the decline of the series' commercial value, the third film earned just $413,479 at the box office.

A fourth film was released, featuring a new cast of actors in the roles of the Douglas Brothers. 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (1998). The film starts with the trio failing at a training exercise. Rocky and Colt grew disillusioned with the regimen and thinking they are too old for it. Rocky would rather spend time with his current girlfriend Jennifer (Lindsay Felton) than spending time with grandpa. Soon, the trio team-up with their new friend, computer nerd Amanda Morgan-Greene (Chelsea Earlywine) in order to diffuse a difficult situation. Retiring Action Hero Dave Dragon (Hulk Hogan) becomes the hostage of a group of kidnappers, led by mastermind Medusa (Loni Anderson), along with any other people placed in danger due to her plans. By the end of the film the victorious trio are back to training, with a new appreciation for it, with Amanda joining them as the fourth ninja of the group. The fourth film was a massive flop, earning only $375,805 at the box office.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Miyo
  • Adult Fear: For parents who work in law enforcement, having your children kidnapped or threatened by one of the criminals you're chasing.
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted. The kids would most likely have been shot otherwise.
  • Anachronic Order: Knuckle Up was supposed to be released before Kick Back (as one clue, Knuckle Up features the three ninjas' actors from the original film, while Kick Back has replaced Rocky and Tum Tum's actors with only Colt's actor reprising his original role), but due to legal issues, Knuckle Up was released a year after Kick Back. So Knuckle Up was supposed to be the second movie, and Kick Back was supposed to be the third.
  • An Aesop: In Knuckle Up, the three ninjas come to Jo's defense at the beginning, but cause property damage and were primarily doing it "to be heroes", which as their grandfather points out is not helping others, it is helping themselves. Their grandfather then asks them to listen to the sound of the flowers blooming. This seems like nonsensical advice until near the end of the film, when they finally get it—of course the flowers don't make any sound when blooming, because flowers concentrate more on being pretty than on acting pretty. The same should be true for their heroism; if they really want to help others, they should do it without making a big production out of it to get attention.
    • In Kick Back, the Aesop is about the value of self-control and restraint. At the beginning of the film, the boys inadvertantly cause a baseball game to be stalled because they lack these qualities: Tum Tum keeps his eye on food instead of on the ball, Rocky messes up a pitch because he's distracted by the pretty Lisa Di Marino, and Colt responds to the provocations of the opposing team by starting a fight that then escalates into a brawl. After their adventure in Japan, the boys return calmer, and this time they win the baseball game.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: "The eyes, boys! Light up the eyes!"note 
  • Artistic License Martial Arts: Where to begin...Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum are able to beat up several bigger and stronger adult opponents in rapid succession. In Knuckle Up, they even curbstomp an entire biker gang! Even a well trained real-life kid ninja would have trouble with multiple attackers bigger or more numerous than they are. Aristic license though is probably done for both Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny. This varies considerably between entries; in the first movie the boys are forced to fight evasively against their completely unskilled attempted kidnappers, then take on the guards one by one through stealth and trickery, finally taking on The Dragon three-on-one and only getting their attacks to register at all through the use of low blows and pressure point strikes.
  • Badass Family: The boys are ninjas-in-training, Grandpa's an Old Master, and their dad is an FBI agent.
  • Bad Boss: All of the Big Bads, though Snyder is by far the worst.
  • Badass Adorable: Miyo is pretty enough for Rocky to fall in love with her, and she can kick butt, too.
  • Badass Grandpa: Grandpa doesn't just train the three brothers, he has his own fight scenes.
  • Big Bad: Snyder in the first movie, Koga in Kick Back, Harding in Knuckle Up, and Medusa in High Noon at Mega Mountain.
  • Big Eater: Guess how Tum Tum got his name...
  • Big "NO!": Rocky gets one in the final battle between Snyder and Grandpa, in slow motion no less.
    • Dave Dragon has one in High Noon at Mega Mountain when Medusa locks Amanda out of the system while trying to regain control of the park.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": When the boys overreact to a practice dummy.
    Grandpa: Quiet, boys!
    Boys: Yes, sir.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In Kick Back.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Naturally, the result of the Laxative Prank in the first film. Subverted in that the person in question actually makes it to the bathroom.
  • Broken Record: Rocky loves Emily! Rocky loves Emily! Rocky loves Emily!
    • Other examples pop up in later films, with the brothers repeating "Colt's gonna kiss Jo!" at the end of the second, and "Rocky loves Miyo!" in the third.
  • Car Chase: There are two of them in Knuckle Up; Jo's father evading some of Harding's goons while trying to get to the hearing, and the boys chasing after some more of Harding's goons to rescue Jo.
  • Catch-Phrase: "We Should Run!" "We Should Hide!" "We Should Kick Their Butts!"; "Let's murderlize 'em!"
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Snyder in the first movie.
    "God, I love being a bad guy."
  • Chained to a Railway: A variant of this trope is done in High Noon on Mega Mountain with Jennifer being tied to the tracks of a roller coaster.
  • Chick Magnet: Rocky, attracting Emily in the first movie, Miyo in Kick Back, and Jennifer in Mega Mountain. Jo from Knuckle Up is the only exception, as she's attracted to Colt instead.
  • Combat Parkour: The three main characters used this in their fights and, being ninjas, they were masters at using their environment to their advantage in a parkour style.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Harding in Knuckle Up.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: In Kick Back, the boys initially choose to go to their baseball game instead of traveling to Japan with their Grandpa. It is not until the important stuff has been done that they realize that Japan is a day ahead of America, meaning that they can do both.
  • Damsel in Distress: Emily in the first film, Jo in Knuckle Up (though Jo tries to take down the bad guys and is simply overpowered), and Jennifer in Mega Mountain. Thankfully, Miyo averts this.
  • Demoted to Extra: Grandpa Mori plays a much more active role in the first two films than the latter two.
  • Description Cut:
    Marcus: We should save some of this (pizza) for the kids we're napping.
    Fester: They're probably pretty nice kids.
    (Cut to-)
    Colt: Where are all the weapons?! The slingshots, the knifethrowers?!
    Colt: Grandpa isn't coming! He sold us out!
    (Cut to-) Grandpa knocking out a mook as he climbs onto the ship to rescue the boys.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: In High Noon at Mega Mountain.
  • Doting Grandparent: Mori Tanaka.
  • The Dragon/Giant Mook: Rushmore in the first movie.
    • Lothar in High Noon at Mega Mountain.
  • Evil Plan: In order: Revenge, finding a chamber of gold, shady business, hijacking a theme park for ransom.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: In Kick Back, the boys fight off a pack of ninjas while taking a phone call from their mother. They actually toss the phone to each other during the fight so she can talk to each of them, and explain away the noise as an action movie on TV.
  • The Family for the Whole Family
  • Funny Foreigner: Miyo seems strange to the brothers but, in a inversion, they are the foreigners because much of the plot takes place in Japan.
  • Greed: This is the primary motivator of the Big Bad in the second film, the third, and the fourth; in Knuckle Up, Jack Harding is trying to cover up evidence that his business is polluting the land, which if revealed would get his business shut down. In Kick Back, Koga is trying to find a hidden chamber of gold, and as a youth was willing to try to steal a dagger from Mori because that dagger would lead him to the gold. In Big Mountain, Medusa is trying to take over an amusement park just for the ransom money.
  • Groin Attack: Used a couple of times in the first film - one for Fester and one for Rushmore. The boys also do this on a training dummy.
    • Tum Tum hits the dummy in the groin a lot.
  • Girl of the Week: Each of the movies features a different female character in the role of a potential Love Interest, and as noted above almost all of them are attracted to Rocky.
  • Hollywood Genetics: Surprisingly averted. While it's clear they're trying to justify white-washing, it is entirely possible for the Douglas brothers to be white. The more an ethnic group reproduces outside of its own, the more the common genetic traits of that ethnic group are diluted. The grandfather married a white woman, making the boys' mother half-Asian, and the mother married a white man, making the boys only a quarter Asian. With so little Asian blood left, they are more likely to resemble their Caucasian father; the only ethnic trait dominant enough to survive is the characteristic tilt to the eyes (which they do not have). Famous people who are quarter Asian include Dean Cain, Chad Michael Murray, Mark Paul Gosselar, and Rob Schneider, none of whom look remotely Asian.
  • "Home Alone" Antics: There is a scene early on where kidnappers were tripped by traps set by the brothers.
  • Hope Spot: In High Noon at Mega Mountain, Amanda uses her laptop and tries to regain control of the park by overriding Medusa's controls, but Medusa quickly regains her control of the park and locks Amanda out of the system.
  • Improvised Weapon: "Everything around us can be our friend. Be friendly to our environment. That is the ninja way." About a minute later, Rocky takes out a mook with a telephone.
  • Injun Country: In Knuckle Up.
  • Insistent Terminology: Fester and his goons aren't robbers, they're kidnappers.
  • Kevlard: Rushmore in the first movie. Until the heroes figured out where his weak point was, their blows simply did not register.
  • Kid Hero meets Kung-Fu Kid: 3 of 'em.
  • Knight, Knave and Squire: Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: In Kick Back, Miyo is skilled in ninjitsu but wants to learn how to be better at baseball. Her speech pattern has her jumble the words "bat" and "butt". She wants to "kick bat" and "Swing my butt!"
  • Laxative Prank: The boys use this as a way to defend themselves against the bumbling kidnappers in the first film.
  • Little Miss Badass: Miyo defeats multiple opponents with relative ease.
  • Match Cut: The brothers' parents talking while driving back home. The mother tells her husband that the boys love their grandpa and the ninja teachings. The father worries that "someone could get hurt". Then we cut to Emily entering inside the house where the three surfer dudes are about to ambush her.
  • McNinja:
    • Admittedly, while the Three Ninjas are in fact very competent in terms of their pure martial arts skills, their grandfather is not teaching them real-life ninja philosophy. To name just one example, real-life ninjas did not live by codes of honor that would involve body, mind, spirit, and heart or anything that noble Justified, however, because their grandfather does not just want to teach them how to be ninjas, he wants them to grow up moral and good. It makes perfect sense that he'd be willing to take a few liberties with what sort of people ninja are supposed to be.
    • The Mooks are a much clearer example; they're pretty clearly generic thugs with negligible skill in martial arts wearing costumes to be thematic. The boys even call them on this when they see them openly patrolling with rifles.
  • Mooks: Both the ninjas and the incompetent kidnappers.
  • The '90s
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In Knuckle Up, the three ninjas come to Jo's defense in a pizza place against some goons who were treating her roughly, but because they damage the property in the process, they end up punished by their grandfather, who sends them to help clean up the place and take out the garbage, doing work to pay off the damage. This is a more justified example than most uses of this trope, however, as the three ninjas confessed to their grandfather that their primary motivation for helping Jo was "to be heroes", and as their grandfather points out, heroes are more concerned with helping others than they are with making themselves look cool.
  • Not in the Face!
    Hammer: Ooh! Watch my nose, dude! It's bad news already!
    [A CD hits his nose. Marcus laughs, but gets hit too]

    Hammer: Not the stomach! Not the stomach!
    [Rocky and Colt elbow him in the nose]
    Hammer: Thank you. [passes out]
  • Obvious Stunt Double: In some of Grandpa's fight scenes, it's glaringly obvious that a stunt double is used. The gymnast stunt man is clearly taller and many pounds lighter than the heavyset Victor Wong and the fight double has far more hair.
  • Old Master: Grandpa.
  • Only Known by Their Nicknames: Throughout the franchise the brothers are always referred to by their ninja names - with a few exceptions. Notably, their father refused to ever call them by their nicknames until the end of the first film.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Rocky and Colt do this in Knuckle Up when the villains pour flammable gas into the manhole they were escaping from.
  • Outside Ride: In Knuckle Up, the boys escape one confrontation with the villains by riding on the back of an ice cream truck. Naturally, Tum-Tum has a souvenir.
  • Parents in Distress: Jo's father in the beginning of Knuckle Up.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The three goons insistently refer to themselves as "kidnappers", not "robbers". However, they never got the chance to actually kidnapped them.
    Colt: Oh no! Robbers!
    Fester: Robbers? I thought we were kidnappers.
    Marcus: We are.
  • Post Game Retaliation: In 3 Ninjas Kick Back, the defeated baseball team goes for "extra innings" - that is, attack the victorious players and their friend, Miyo. One of the boys decides to fight Miyo, but it does not end well for him.
  • Power Trio
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: The kids' "beating up grown mercenaries" mojo isn't so effective against Rushmore.
    • At the film's climax, they get around it with Mori's help in the "Light up the eyes!" scene.
  • Punny Name: The kids' dad's FBI partner, Jerry, is listed in the credits as "FBI Agent Kurl." So he's Jerry Kurl.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Those surfer dudes from the first film.
    • The Big Bad's nephew and his friends in "Kick Back."
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: One scene has the kids use a recording of their grandfather calling them to buy tickets to Japan, cutting the call after their grandfather starts insulting the airline agent (he was actually talking about the Battleaxe Nurse in the room with him).
  • Say Your Prayers: Tum Tum does this during the car chase in the third film.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: In Kick Back, the boys go to Japan to deliver a MacGuffin to Grandpa Mori.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Jo in Knuckle Up. The very first time she appears in the movie, she is shoved roughly to the ground at a protest, hitting a tire in the process, but while still on the ground she continues to chant along with the rest of the protesters. Later, she defiantly confronts one of Harding's goons asking where her father is and what has been done to him.
    • Miyo in Kick Back is a more laid-back example; she's more friendly and soft-spoken than Jo but is introduced soundly beating Colt in a tournament and can easily hold her own in a fight.
  • Thug Dojo: The main antagonists of the first movie.
  • Totally Radical: "Cake" which could be "Piece of Cake."
  • Underestimating Badassery: This is a strong contributing factor to the three ninjas winning most of their fights, as because they're young boys, their opponents approach them believing they'll be easy pickings, only to discover that the three ninjas are ninjas for a reason.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Subverted. A mouthful of jellybeans would normally be a pretty stupid secret weapon, but Grandpa stuffs them down the Big Bad's throat with the intention of choking him long enough for Grandpa to gain the upper hand.
  • We Will Meet Again: In Knuckle Up, when a furious Harding vows "This isn't over yet!" when the judge orders his landfill permanently shut down. Unfortunately for him, it's an empty threat at that point and he's immediately contradicted with "It's very over".
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In Knuckle Up, the three ninjas come to Jo's defense after she's treated roughly by Harding's goons, and the three ninjas win the fight...but in the process, they cause a lot of property damage to the pizza place they were in, causing their grandfather to lecture them that if they were primarily defending Jo "to be heroes", that is not helping others, that is helping themselves.
  • Yes-Man: Tum Tum to Colt.

Alternative Title(s): Three Ninjas Kick Back