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Cult TV: The Master Episode 9 – ‘Kunoichi’

March 18, 2022 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Cult TV - The Master Image Credit: Kino Lorber

Cult TV Issue #14: The Master Episode 9

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

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

What classic ninja movie do you think would make for a better potential TV show, Revenge of the Ninja or American Ninja?

I’ve actually been thinking about this for the last few days and, in the big scheme of things, I think it would depend on what type of show you would want to make out of each property. If you were doing a sort of episodic, weekly TV show, American Ninja would probably make for a better ongoing TV show. There’s more plot to exploit, especially with exploring Joe’s backstory and finding out who exactly he is. You also have four sequels to mine for future plot lines. If you wanted to do a sort of “streaming mini-series” type thing, Revenge of the Ninja would likely work best for that. The opening of the movie could be the first episode (ninjas attack Cho’s family and then, after killing as many ninjas as he can, he decides to take his family to America). Heck, you could probably make a full episode out of every twenty minutes of the movie, with the last episode being the final fight between Cho and Braden. That would kick so much ass.

I’m actually surprised that no one has tried to make American Ninja into a TV show. I’m surprised that no one in the 1980’s or the early 1990’s tried to do it. I can totally see American Ninja as a syndicated property you’d watch on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings after Super Force and reruns of Knight Rider.

Eh. Missed opportunities.

Here are the links to reviews for the first eight 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

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

And now, onto the ninth episode of The Master.


Episode 9: “Kunoichi”

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

Director: Gordon Hessler
Writer: Susan Woollen

I was all ready to say that “Kunoichi” is a sort of bittersweet episode of The Master as it’s the last episode where Sho Kosugi appears as the evil ninja Okasa. As I’ve said multiple times now (and I’m sure you’re sick of me talking about it), it just boggles my mind that Kosugi wasn’t the star of the show, that the show wasn’t about him but was instead stars Lee Van Cleef. Yes, Lee Van Cleef is awesome and all, but is he an actual martial arts badass? Is he the ninja like Sho Kosugi? Of course not. So why make a ninja TV show in the 1980’s, in the midst of the big hooha ninja pop culture thing, and not have Sho Kosugi as the big star? It just makes no sense.

I was all ready to say that. But it looks like there’s at least one more episode after “Kunoichi” where Kosugi’s Okasa appears as an actual character in the episode’s story and not just in the opening titles and then the “plot of the entire show” recap that starts every episode. So that’s something to look forward to. More Sho Kosugi. Fuck yeah.

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

Okay, so “Kunoichi” has John Peter McCallister (Lee Van Cleef) and his ninja protégé Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) heading to Washington D.C. to help Brian Elkwood (Jack Kelly), McCallister’s old Korean war buddy that now works for the President of the United States. McCallister hasn’t seen Elkwood in years and has no idea why Elkwood needs his help (Elkwood sent him a message that his life is in danger but he didn’t give specifics) but McCallister is going to do whatever he can to help him regardless. McCallister and Elkwood were apparently prisoners of war and formed a bond after that experience. Unfortunately for McCallister Elkwood doesn’t feel the same. Elkwood, in fact, hates McCallister and what he has become (a ninja). Elkwood wants nothing to do with his old friend.

Wait, what? McCallister is coming to Washington to help his friend, a friend who wants nothing to do with him? What the hell is that all about? Elkwood believes that McCallister has been sending him letters and bragging about his criminal ninja exploits. McCallister, of course, hasn’t been sending Elkwood anything. It’s all a big hooha ruse by Okasa, who is also in Washington D.C. preparing his own ninja student to perform an assassination.

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

As soon as McCallister arrives in D.C., he (well, one of Lee Van Cleef’s stunt doubles) helps a woman named Allison Grant (Kelly Harmon) fight off some muggers, which is great because Allison just so happens to be Elkwood’s assistant. As soon as Allison reveals who she is and McCallister reveals who he is, she sets up a meeting with the two old friends. That meeting, at a swanky diplomatic/Washington insider cocktail party, doesn’t go well at all (Elkwood tells McCallister to get the hell out of there). McCallister decides right then and there to find out what is really going on by breaking into Elkwood’s residence in the middle of the night so he can look at the letters he didn’t send to Elkwood. After using some sort of ninja nerve pinch on a guard dog and knocking out some guards with ninja smoke, McCallister, in full ninja gear, infiltrates Elkwood’s home and looks for the letters. McCallister confronts his old friend Elkwood again and they find out what’s really going on. It’s all a big scheme by Okasa.

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

Now, while all of that is going on, Okasa sneaks into McCallister’s hotel room, fights Keller in a pretty nifty fight (Keller gets in some good shots but he’s no match for Okasa), steals one of McCallister’s ninja weapons, and heads back to Elkwood’s residence (this is a really, truly weird sequence as we see Okasa repel down from the hotel room, collect his ninja climbing rope, and then he gets into his nondescript sedan and drives off while still wearing his awesome chainmail ninja headgear). Back at Elkwood’s residence, Okasa’s ninja student shows up, knocks out Elkwood with some ninja smoke, and McCallister fights Okasa’s student in a terrific little ninja brawl. The fight ends in a draw, and then the cops show up and arrest McCallister, thinking he just attacked a U.S. government official.

So then some stuff happens, McCallister is interrogated by the cops (and, man, the cops manage to uncover all sorts of information on McCallister, his time in Japan, and the whole ninja thing), and McCallister manages to contact Allison and tells her to find Keller so he can help him. Now, Keller by this point knows all about Okasa’s assassination scheme as he knows who Okasa is working for (Keller discovers this info after chasing Okasa to a house and stumbling onto Okasa talking with his employer). So Keller finds out that McCallister is being sent to a federal prison, finds out how the cops are going to bring McCallister there, and then uses his ninja skills to attack a police van in one of the greatest “breaking a guy out of police custody” sequences in TV and movie history (the scene is amazing and that includes the altered version of the The Master opening titles theme used during it).

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

So then some more stuff happens, we find out who Okasa’s ninja student is (this revelation happens on a ninja TV show the same year Sho Kosugi appears in a badass ninja movie featuring a female ninja), and McCalllister is captured again. He, of course, eventually escapes and he makes an effort to foil Okasa’s big assassination scheme.

“Kunoichi” is a great episode of The Master that would have been even better if it was longer/a two-parter. The assassination/government intrigue plot is generally well done and it shows how ninjas can be mercenaries. And the action and fight scenes we get are phenomenal and several notches;;\ above previous fight scenes in the show. I’d suspect that that’s because Kosugi, who also served as the show’s fight choreographer and ninja consultant, is actually a part of the episode. The fights probably wouldn’t be as good if Kosugi’s Okasa wasn’t a part of the story. The final fight is a bit of a letdown, but then that’s why I think the story should have been a two-parter. A longer story would have allowed for a more elaborate/cooler fight between McCallister and Okasa’s student.

I am a little disturbed by the sequence where we see a ninja use a gun. Yes, it’s Okasa’s student using the gun and you expect a “bad guy ninja” to use non-ninja weapons to gain an advantage, but it’s still weird. Ninjas shouldn’t use guns unless it’s Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe or if a ninja needs to use a machine gun or something to break through a wall. And the only acceptable ninja gun is an Uzi. What’s the deal with Okasa’s student using a .38 revolver?

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

The big reveal as to who Okasa’s student is isn’t all that surprising, at least when you find yourself thinking about it. But watching the episode for the first time, the reveal was actually shocking. A female ninja! I really thought it was going to end up being someone else. I would like to know if the presence of a female ninja in this episode led to Kosugi and ninja fans being upset. Some people are still upset to this day about Lucinda Dickey’s Christie being possessed by the evil ninja in Ninja III: The Domination. “Kunoichi,” as far as I can tell, aired on TV before Ninja III was released in theaters, so it’s not like the idea of a female ninja was that weird or unprecedented. So what’s the deal here? Did anyone care?

Oh, and Okasa’s student wears a gray ninja outfit, which is what the possessed Christie wore in Ninja III. Is gray a “female ninja” color or is that all just a big coincidence?

“Kunoichi” is a very good episode of The Master. It’s a fine example of what the show could be when it has a good story and a heavy dose of actual Sho Kosugi in it. That’s the key, man, it really is.

And now I am so glad that there’s at least one more Okasa episode.

Image Credit: Kino Lorber

I do want to briefly mention that, as I expected, Tara Buckman’s Cat Sinclair, who was working with McCallister and Keller in the last episode, is nowhere to be found here in “Kunoichi.” We don’t see her, no one talks about her, it’s like she didn’t participate in McCallister’s and Keller’s exploits in New York City. So what the hell happened to her? Do you think she would have popped up again if the show had received a second season? We really need the fine folks at Kino Lorber to put together a major, special features laden home video edition of The Master like it did with Kolchak, the Night Stalker. This kind of behind-the-scenes stuff is worth knowing, and there have to be people out there who know. How the heck can we get Kino Lorber to do this?

Rating: 4.5/5


Next issue: The Master Episode 10: “The Java Tiger”

Image Credit: Kino Lorber


The Master Episode 9: “Kunoichi” IMDB page

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