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Cult TV: The Master Episode 5 – ‘High Rollers’

September 9, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
The Master

Cult TV Issue #10: The Master Episode 5

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Cult TV. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.

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Okay, so I had planned on revealing my picks for who I think should star in a theoretical reboot of The Master, but I’m going to hold off on that until next time. Instead, I want to make everyone aware, just in case you didn’t hear about it, that the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome are going to release a new 1980’s ninja movie at some point soon called New York Ninja.

Now, this “1980’s ninja movie” is the real deal, an actual 1980’s ninja movie that was filmed in 1984 but for whatever reason was abandoned. 37 years later, Vinegar Syndrome acquired the rights to the movie and whatever was shot and completed the movie. Because the sound shot for the movie was lost, Vinegar Syndrome created a new sound mix for the movie and dubbed in the voices of people like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Berryman, Linnea Quigley, and Leon Isaac Kennedy, among others. Vinegar Syndrome released a trailer and full press release for the movie last week: here’s the press release, and you can check out the trailer below:

Does that look goddamn awesome or what?

New York Ninja is set to play at some festivals this fall, according to the press release, and then, presumably, the movie will get a big deal home video release like only the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome can give us. Heck, even if the movie doesn’t turn out to be awesome or even good, you know that the Blu-ray release will kick ass. Vinegar Syndrome always delivers with its home video releases. Always.

So, after checking out that trailer, who else is now super excited about New York Ninja?

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Here are the links to reviews for the first four episodes of The Master, just in case you missed them for some reason (or want to read them again):

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3
Episode 4

And now, onto the fifth episode of The Master.

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Episode 5: “High Rollers”

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Director: Peter Crane
Writer: Susan Woollen

“High Rollers” is yet another episode of The Master that doesn’t have real deal ninja badass Sho Kosugi in it, despite being featured in the opening credits. The first minute or so of the show seems to suggest that Kosugi’s Okasa will be in the episode as we see the “Okasa goes after McCallister as McCallister tries to leave Japan” thing from the first episode and Max’s opening narration makes it sound like Okasa is lurking somewhere and will jump out at any moment, but it’s just bait and switch. There’s no Okasa in “High Rollers.” There should have been, though, because the episode sure as hell could have used him.

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So “High Rollers” has Lee Van Cleef’s John Peter McCallister and Timothy Van Patten’s Max Keller heading to Las Vegas, just as was sort of promised at the end of the episode 4, “Hostages.” First, though, Max has to learn yet another “ninja lesson,” which is all about how to climb things and then descend from high places (it’s like Max is learning how to climb up a mountain and then climb down the same mountain). As tends to happen with these “ninja lessons,” Max will use the skills learned later on in the episode at the exact moment he needs to use those skills. Before McCallister and Max actually get to Las Vegas they get run off the road by an asshole in a sports car of some sort. This event, as you would expect it to, pisses off both McCallister and Max, and when they finally do make it into Vegas they go looking for the car (McCallister notices a bumper sticker with a casino name on it on the car so that’s where they go first). Amazingly, Max knows someone who works at that very casino. Tracy (Terri Treas).

So Max goes to see Tracy and her daughter Suzie (Angela Lee) and McCallister goes looking for the car. Max eventually runs into Tracy, who is a dancer of some sort at the casino, and she’s being accosted by a guy (I can’t remember if it’s Blake, played by Art Hindle, or Craig, played by Edward Edwards. It doesn’t really matter because both Blake and Craig are bad guys), and McCallister finds the car and opens the car’s trunk to find explosives (McCallister opens the trunk with a ninja throwing star). McCallister is then attacked by a car in the casino’s parking garage, and it’s at that moment that McCallister decides that he’s going to have to get involved in whatever the hell is going on at the casino. And something has to be up because no one has explosives in their car trunk like that. So what the hell is going on?

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Blake and Craig, along with Shana (Sandra Kronemeyer) and some other guys, are in the midst of planning a big hooha robbery at the casino. This is going to be a big score for Blake and Craig as they’ve been badass mercenaries since leaving the military (they were in Special Forces or some shit during the Vietnam War) and it’s goddamn time that they collected for themselves. Their big plan hinges on using Tracy to seduce the casino’s manager so they can get a key from him that will allow them to steal a huge chunk of the casino’s money (presumably they’re not interested in stealing all of the casino’s money because that would involve an army of people and it would be difficult to escape with tens of millions of dollars in cash. A few million will be more than enough). And they also plan on kidnapping Suzie so Tracy won’t back out of the scheme. Blake and Craig, of course, didn’t plan on the ninja tag team of McCallister and Max showing up and trying to stop them.

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So McCallister and Max gear up and go looking for Suzie while Tracy does what Blake and Craig want her to do. McCallister and Max are almost immediately captured, tied up, and then left for dead in a warehouse that Blake and Craig set on fire. Well, shit, that was easy, wasn’t it? It turns out McCallister and Max were no threat at all (well, for like five minutes because McCallister and Max manage to escape the big fire and vow revenge because they’re goddamn ninjas). Tracy eventually gets the necessary key and Blake and Craig jack the casino. It’s funny how, despite stealing millions of dollars and causing some serious damage inside of the casino, the casino finds a way to keep operating (they’re out of business for like an hour). The casino also doesn’t send out a team of their own badasses to find the stolen money. The casino just reopens and people keep coming in to gamble.

It’s at this point that we find out that Blake and Craig have run off to an abandoned town that’s out in the desert, a sort of old western town that would have had cowboys and whatnot in it back when it was an actual town. They have Suzie there with them, and they’re waiting for a helicopter to come get them. Their big scheme almost worked perfectly.

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Almost. Not only do Blake and Craig have two pissed off ninjas coming after them, but Shana has turned on them and become Suzie’s sort of surrogate mother (she gets upset with the guys when they hint that they plan on killing Suzie, an act that Shana apparently didn’t sign up for). So Blake and Craig decide to take Shana’s cut for themselves and leave her to die in the town (they leave her tied up and gagged in one of the town’s buildings, presumably to die slowly from the elements. That’s pretty fucked up when you think about it).

The helicopter arrives (Charles Boswell plays the helicopter pilot and fellow ‘Nam vet Weston) and Blake and Craig get ready to leave. And that’s when McCallister and Max arrive and start kicking ass. We get some decent enough hand-to-hand stuff, some running, and a truly ridiculous bit where McCallister jumps over the helicopter (the helicopter is still on the ground, he doesn’t jump over the chopper while it’s in the air. That would definitely happen in a modern remake of the episode because of CGI). Suzie is rescued, and Shana is set free.

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Now, what happens to Shana after all of this? The episode doesn’t say. We see Shana hug Suzie once McCallister and Max vanquish the bad guys, but when we see McCallister and Max with Tracy and Suzie back at the casino Shana is nowhere to be found. Was she taken away by the police along with Blake and Craig and Weston? It’s an odd dangling plot thread considering what happens. Does Shana get a plea deal for cooperating with the cops after everyone is arrested? I’d like to know, goddamnit.

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There are two odd moments in the episode that will blow your mind if you start to think about them. The first odd moment involves Suzie talking about ninjas and ninja movies when Max and Tracy talk and Suzie mentions Revenge of the Ninja. Yes, Revenge of the Ninja, the greatest ninja movie ever made. A movie that stars Sho Kosugi. How is that possible? Do you think, maybe, that Revenge of the Ninja in the world of The Master stars someone else? Or do you think it’s possible that, hey, Sho Kosugi and Okasa look alike but they’re obviously two very different people (one’s an actor and one’s a real life ninja assassin)?

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The second odd moment involves McCallister looking at the ghost town from a distance and talking about how he can “feel” the Old West. Lee Van Cleef. Feeling the Old West. Is it possible that McCallister is a sort of descendent of one of Lee Van Cleef’s western characters? See what I mean by all of this being mind-blowing?

Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten both do a good job in the episode but there are moments where it seems like they’re not as engaged as in previous episodes. I don’t know if you can call it “they’re comfortable with what they’re doing at this point in the show because they’ve figured out their characters” but that’s what it seems like. As for the bad guys, they’re a bunch of assholes, yes, but they’re not very good mercenaries. Who the hell would hire them when they’re pretty sloppy while doing their job? Why the hell didn’t they just shoot Max and McCallister when they had the chance? And why didn’t they come up with a less elaborate scheme to rob the casino? And shouldn’t they have been on the same page throughout the story? They’re not together at all at the beginning of the episode. They could break up at any second. Did they act like this during paying jobs?

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“High Rollers” has its moments. It’s watchable, yes, but it’s not great. Okasa should have been in the episode. Think of the ninja fight that could have happened inside of the casino? That would have been awesome. Maybe Okasa will show up in episode 6?

I still don’t get why Kosugi wasn’t in every episode of the show. Why the hell didn’t NBC have the goddamn ninja in their ninja show? It just makes no sense.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Next issue: The Master Episode 6: “Fat Tuesday”

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The Master Episode 5: “High Rollers” IMDB page

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Cult TV, Bryan Kristopowitz