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Series / Master Ninja
aka: The Master

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"Hi, I'm Max Keller."
— Start of each episode's Opening Narration

"I can get mean and nasty, but my friend behind you... You know, the one dressed in black with the samurai sword? You know how these ninjas are, always going around beheading each other. Barbaric, I know, but to them it's some kind of ritual. Know what I mean?"
Max Keller, Perp Sweating a corrupt sheriff.

The Master was a short-lived action-adventure series that aired on NBC in 1984 (one season of 13 episodes), starring Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, and martial artist/actor Sho Kosugi, taking advantage of the Ninja fad of The '80s. The series was repackaged as the Master Ninja movies for release on VHS by Film Ventures International (who created their own opening and closing credits on the cheap).

Max Keller (Van Patten) is a drifter with a Cool Van and a hamster, who drives from town to town, taking odd jobs and getting in trouble when his Chronic Hero Syndrome kicks in. One day he tries to assist an old man at ground zero of an impending bar fight; Max is soon defeated, but he's amazed when he sees the old man systematically demolishing the bar and everyone in it. As Max helps the old man escape, he learns his story.

John Peter McAllister (Van Cleef) was a World War II veteran who stayed in Japan after the end of the war — you know, to enjoy the peace of postwar Japan (!) — and managed to join a ninja clan, learning their secrets and becoming "the first occidental ninja". He returned to the United States because he learned about a daughter he never knew he had; the airport at the town where he met Max was where the only photo of his daughter was taken. Unfortunately for him, his clan didn't approve of him deciding to retire, and his former apprentice, Okasa (Kosugi) is trying to find and assassinate McAllister.

Max asks McAllister to accept him as a student; the old man is skeptical but eventually agrees to at least teach the youngster enough to keep from getting himself killed. They team up to stop a Corrupt Corporate Executive and a Dirty Cop from destroying Demi Moore's airport and begin journeying together following the trail of McAllister's daughter, fending off Okasa and righting wrongs in each Adventure Town they find on the way.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired the first four episodes in the series in 1992, which became some of the most-loved episodes of the series. For information on those episodes and associated tropes, please see the following recap pages:

The Master contained the following tropes:

  • '80s Hair: The women in the series have this in spades.
  • Adventure Towns: One per week, with the premise that they were trying to find MacAllister's missing daughter. Why she never stayed put in one place when she went through the trouble to contact him and tell him where she was is never explained.
  • Arrow Catch: MacAllister does this repeatedly.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Soon after they meet, Max speculates on what weapons the Master is carrying. He asks what else is in the guy's arsenal, and the Master answers, "My toothbrush."
  • Artistic License – History: Yeah. Post-war Japan was so calm and tranquil.
  • Casting Gag: George Lazenby playing a British secret agent. He even drives an Aston Martin!
  • Chekhov's Skill: Once an Episode — tightrope walking or Faking the Dead, if you see either of our heroes practicing something in the first act, it will be done for real in act three. Also: Chekhov's Hobby.
  • Compilation Movie: The Master Ninja films.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Half of the villains in the Master Ninja movies.
  • Covers Always Lie: Check the Trope image. Timothy van Patten was never a supreme heartthrob, even in 1984. And McCallister didn't even intimidate anyone with his eyes, let alone kill them.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: The villains watch a surveillance screen that looks suspiciously sharper than the rest of the scene.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Carrie the union organizer in the second film, played by a pre-Wings Crystal Bernard, is very cute. And has a voice that could break glass.
  • Destination Defenestration: "This is how I usually leave a bar." SMASH!
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Killing the Corrupt Corporate Executive (and so violently and remorselessly) seemed overly excessive given all he did was try to torch the airfield.
    • Then there's the corrupt cannery owner who threatens or straight-up murders any employee who supports the union.note 
  • Every Man Has His Price: McAllister is identified by an incognito Japanese assassin as a ninja and assumes his services were purchased. McAllister retorts he's not for sale. The assassin scoffs, "We are all for sale."
  • Girl of the Week: Max inevitably ends up trying to woo whatever young woman the duo encounters before they leave town again.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Max's fighting style.
  • Knight Errant: Max. His Establishing Character Moment is the first we see of him: getting tossed through a bar window just for helping a couple being harrassed by bikers. His reason: "I had to help them, didn't I?"
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Max when he decides to bum-rush Okasa in the first episode and gets thoroughly trounced.
  • Magic Brakes: Used in the fourth episode to introduce that episode's love interest.
  • Master of Disguise: Okasa, as shown in the pilot episode.
  • Ninja Log: "Realistic" version, done with an electrical transformer. Electrocution ensues.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: A very obvious one with Van Cleef, who is clearly slower, feebler, and quite a bit fatter than his stunt double.
  • Released to Elsewhere: The corrupt cannery owner's favorite trick in Master Ninja II; any troublesome employees (or ninja, or Van Pattens) suddenly "give up" and leave town one day. For a shallow grave right outside of town.
  • Running Gag: Max getting tossed through windows, according to Max. It doesn't happen that much.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Team Pet: The hamster, who Good Bad Flicks' Cecil Trachenburg considers the best character on the show!
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The villains of the second episode/part of Master Ninja I. For some reason they employ a random ninja as a contractor, possibly because the writers wanted to avert the All Chinese People Know Kung-Fu trope.
  • Walking the Earth: What Max does before he meets McAllister.
  • What the Fu Are You Doing?: Max's attempt at a kiai during his first lesson with McAllister.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: McCallister rightfully chews out Max for using his shuriken to intimidate someone in a meaningless barfight; he finishes by warning him that if he ever uses his shuriken again, he'd better be prepared to fight someone with it — even if it's McAllister himself. It's actually the same warning you give to anyone who aims a weapon, especially a gun, at another person.
    • Hypocrite: McAllister did the exact same thing in the pilot episode, throwing a shuriken to intimidate a group of people in a bar. However, you could argue that McAllister felt his life was genuinely in danger, as a 70-year-old man surrounded by murderous patrons proved.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: McCallister's daughter, because Status Quo Is God.

Alternative Title(s): The Master