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Sampo & Erhardt

Sci-Fi Archives

Visit our archives of the MST3K pages previously hosted by the Sci-Fi Channel's SCIFI.COM.

Goodbye Sci-Fi

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett reflect on MST3K's final broadcast.

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Episode guide: 322- Master Ninja I

Plot: (1984 TV episodes; 1991 combined movie) An occidental ninja, searching for his long-lost daughter, joins forces with a mush-mouthed drifter to help save an airport, and then a nightclub, from thugs, while evading the ninjas who have been sent to kill him.

First shown: 1/11/92
Opening: The bots build a model muscle car, and it’s a bad influence on Gypsy
Invention exchange: The Mads demonstrate their boil-in-a-bag IVs, while J&tB show off their pop-up books for adults
Host segment 1: Crow presents “The Van Patten Project”
Host segment 2: J&tB brawl to Master Ninja’s many theme songs
Host segment 3: J&tB explore other kinds of nunchuks
End: Song: J&tB sing the “Master Ninja Theme Song” while Joel reads a letter; Frank gets even with Dr. F
Stinger: “To them it’s some kind of ritual”
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (160 votes, average: 4.59 out of 5)


• I’m going to fall back on the “good-not-great” assessment for this one. The movie is reasonably watchable while being very riffable (did nobody have the nerve to tell Timothy to slow down and enunciate?). Most of the segments are fun (though the nunchucks one goes nowhere), and the stupidity of the movie brings out some solid, if not dazzlingly brilliant, riffing.
• This episode was included in Shout’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Vol XX.”
• The exact year of this “movie” is unclear. Trans World Entertainment came out with VHS tapes in 1985 that featured these two episodes and it’s called “Master Ninja I,” but I don’t know if they’d been stitched together to form a movie, or whether Film Ventures International did that when they came out with their version in 1991. In the end I decided to go with the copyright date on the screen.
• These two episodes aired on NBC on Jan. 20 and Jan. 27, 1984. The series was called “The Master.” The individual episodes were titled “Max” and “Out-of-Time-Step,” respectively.
• In the invention exchange, the script does not call for them to open the “Naked Lunch” book–so the prop guys didn’t bother making something that opens. Unfortunately, that makes it not look very much like a book.
• Callback: “He learned too late that man is a feeling creature…” (It Conquered the World) “I’m a ninja warrior!” (paraphrase of a line from “Viking Women.”
• Crow’s crack about “check your career!” came before Timothy became a very successful and award-winning director.
• In the first barroom scene, after being harassed by the sheriff, Lee proceeds to trash the place. Why? What did the owner of the bar do to Lee to deserve all that damage? Does the sheriff own the bar? If so, it’s not established.
• I like the way Crow ZOOMS out of the theater as he heads into the segment 1, hurrying to prepare his presentation.
• One small problem with segment 1: Timothy is not Dick’s son. He’s Dick’s half brother.
• In the theater segment after segment 1, Crow’s net falls off. They keep going.
• They mispronounce Clu Gulagher’s last name twice.
• We get another reference to “Bonnie, your Time/Life operator.” This commercial must have permeated somebody’s consciousness.
• Once again there’s a bit that makes a reference to a portion of the movie we haven’t seen yet. At the end of segment 2 we see Frank, with top hat and cane, saying “It’s show ti-…” We have no idea what he means until we return to the movie and get the second plot about the aging hoofer.
• The second episode—er, I mean, portion—of the movie presents yet another modern night club with an enormous dance floor on which dancers perform but do NOT take off their clothes (see “Flashdance” as the prime example). I contend such places DO NOT EXIST. Most night clubs, if they have live shows, have a TINY stage so they can jam as many tables in as possible. And NOBODY dances in a night club and keeps their clothes on.
• Segment 3 features yet another plea for people to write in, (remember “ways to off Gaos”?) and once again we never hear anything more about it. Did nobody write in?
• Cast and crew roundup: These people all also worked on “Master Ninja II”: executive producer Michael R. Sloan, episode director Ray Austin, special effects guy Phil Cory, stunt coordinator/ninja choreographer/co-star Sho Kosugi, stunt coordinator Gary Charles Davis and theme song composer Bill Conti. Sound guy Glen Glenn (creative parents, Glen!) not only worked on Master Ninja II, but also “The Corpse Vanishes” and “Hangar 18.” And our old pal Karl Michael Demer is back with more “music.” In front of the camera, of course Lee and Timothy and Sho Kosugi will be back. In addition we’ll meet Clu Gulager (who they call “Gallagher” all through this) in “San Francisco International.” And Bill McKinney (who did a nice interview on the Shout! Factory DVD) will be back in “Final Justice.”
• CreditsWatch: Frank’s name appears along with Mike in the “additional music” credit. There’s also an additional contributing writer: Mike Gandolfi. Trace and Frank are still “villians” and Dr. F’s last name is still “Forrestor.”
• Fave riff: “Hey mister, your ninja’s dragging!” Honorable mention: “I just passed wind in my suit. I ask you, as a point of honor, give me a second.”

121 Replies to “Episode guide: 322- Master Ninja I”

  1. Bruce Boxliker says:

    ‘You can throw your star at the man who drives the car!’

    Still one of my favorite riffs from any MST3k episode. Definitely one of my favorite episodes of them all, too.

    I actually remember seeing some of The Master on VHS (or maybe I actually saw it on TV, can’t remember for certain) back in the 80s, when I was scrounging for every ninja / kung-fu / whatever martial arts movies I could find. It wasn’t easy (especially in Kansas City) until Jacki Chan hit big in the US (there was a time I thought American Ninja I was the greatest martial arts movie ever made). Then every video rental place was flooded with martial arts movies (much to my delight).
    Sho Kosugi really is an incredibly talented martial artist. Too bad he only appeared in 5 episodes of The Master (according to IMDB, anyway). But I guess you don’t want the series main antagonist showing up every single episode.

    @51 – Bombastic Biscuit Boy
    A slight plot point: So does anyone know if Max actually killed Clu Gallagher in the first epi…I mean, first half of the movie? How would you off someone with a shruiken, anyways? He was evil and all, but isn’t that a little drastic?

    Pretty sure he murdered him. Vigilante Justice was perfectly acceptable in 80’s action TV. You can easily kill a person with a well thrown shuriken. It might be a little harder to do so in the chest, unless you get it between the ribs. Best target for a shuriken would be the throat – kills your target & keeps them from yelling out.

    [Throws smoke bomb and vanishes into the night…]


  2. Prime Minister Jm J. Bullock (pondoscp) says:

    You can’t bully Timothy Van Patten. He’s a NINJA.

    Reminds me of an old story about Karloff being asked how he felt about creature feature hosts “mocking” his movies. Did he mind?
    “Not at all, my dear. You’ve brought me back to life.”


  3. Cornjob says:

    See posts #80, #88 for my previous input. Coincidentally I’ve been watching some of Sho and Kane Kosugi’s movies lately. Always amazing watching them move. They don’t need no stinking wires or CGI.

    I’d have to recommend Ninja 3: The Domination as Sho’s best movie from the 80’s. It’s even got a whole plot involving an evil demonic ninja that possesses a hot aerobics instructor.

    Too bad they couldn’t let Sho play the Lee Van Cleef role in The Master. That alone could have made the show a winner. Someone who could talk in the Van Patton role would have helped.

    And of course, we all have to admit that Tim has done well.


  4. thequietman says:

    “When you’ve been hospitalized as many times as I have…”

    I was looking forward to seeing this one again, and I wasn’t disappointed. I can definitely understand why so many love this episode. Enough action to keep everyone awake, and full of opportunities for riffs that ‘the right people will get’ as well as riffs that just make you laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

    Bill McKinney: This is the sheriff’s office…
    Crow: “Office”? That’s a car!


  5. Memorable Riffs:
    Crow: “Meanwhile, in Illinois, USA.”

    Crow: “Wow, he got paid to kiss Demi Moore!”

    Servo: “The way you sing off-key!”

    Joel: “… and an agent who can’t guarantee a stunt double.”

    Crow: “Meanwhile, Timothy’s having a Vietnam flashback.”

    Servo: “I hope she’s into big-ass medallions.”

    Servo: “Miss, could we please get some bread or something?”

    Crow: “Down in front, old man!”

    (mirror breaks)
    Joel: “Uh-oh! Seven years bad acting!”

    Joel: “I gotta go to the little ninja’s room!”

    Servo: “Sheesh, check out the chrome domes in this scene.”

    Fav. Riff:
    Joel: “Hey! I bought that chair, and you’re gonna use it!”

    – Gypsy’s lips are now black. Maybe she became a Tim Burton fan.

    – Through the passage of time, the term “adult books” means something different today. *sigh*

    – I always found it odd that Demi Moore just abruptly drops out of the film 20 minutes in.

    – For the 2nd episode in a row, Crow gets pulled off-camera by Joel to be punished. Was this some running gag the brains were attempting?

    – It’s funny how Crow’s net just suddenly falls off, and they keep going.

    – In Segment 2, Dr. F tells Frank to “send them the movie”. Huh? Didn’t he, like, already do that?

    – Although Crow says it’s “very good”, I think Servo does one of the worst Barry White impressions I’ve ever heard. Sounded more like Dr. Claw.

    – Dated Riff: Joel mentions the wheelchair girl as being dressed like she works at Arby’s. Employees at Arby’s haven’t dressed that way in YEARS.

    – I think if this movie were to be featured on Rifftrax, or Cinematic Titanic, we’d hear quite a few Diabolik jokes.

    Best Segment: The Nunchucks segment is silly.
    Worst Segment: The closing segment offers nothing.

    Overall: A very slow beginning, but picks up eventually. Not many really good riffs. ** 1/2


  6. jaybird3rd says:

    Maybe I’m imagining things, but is Clu Gulager wearing black eyeliner in this? It makes him look a little like a sinister Joe Biden. I agree with the ACEG about the tired “corrupt developer / crooked cops” plot contrivance; even at the time this show was written, it was already getting old.

    This episode (and “Master Ninja II”) are in my regular rotation. I think they dig into Timothy Van Patten a little too hard, but the “movie” is watchable enough and the riffing manages to maintain its momentum. Somehow, the fact that the “movie” is two TV episodes edited together makes it easier to watch for me; the change to a different story in the second half keeps it from feeling too drawn out. I think I prefer “Master Ninja II,” but both were good choices for MST3K, and I wish they’d done “Master Ninja III” as they apparently intended to.

    One recent item of note about “The Prancing Ninny” “Dancing Pirate,” the 1936 film featured in the second half. Apparently, the only known original nitrate 35MM Technicolor print has been discovered in remarkably good condition this past summer and is being remastered in HD. Up until now, the only copies available were the scratchy black-and-white transfers seen in “Master Ninja I” and on bargain-bin DVD releases. As a few others have said, it’s interesting that Charles Collins (who played Charlie Pattersen) really was the same actor who starred in “Dancing Pirate” nearly fifty years before. It makes me wonder how that happened: according to the IMDb, Collins worked as a talent agent after his acting career failed to materialize. His appearance in “The Master” was his first acting role in about thirty years, and his last.

    Timothy Van Patten was interviewed for the Archive of American Television in 2009, and he briefly mentioned “The Master” (it’s about six minutes into Part 2, for those who want to check it out). To summarize, he said that it was a “mid-80s pay day” that he thought might be fun, but in retrospect, the writing “wasn’t really there” and he didn’t think he was particularly good in it. He was already getting more interested in directing at the time he was working on “The Master,” and hearing him talk about it twenty-five years later, I really got the impression that he sees it as a minor chapter in his career, one of many experiences that would inform his later work. After seeing his entire interview, he’s clearly somebody who’s had to work hard and pay his dues, and I’m very glad that he’s enjoyed such tremendous success as a director.


  7. touches no one's life, then leaves says:

    LVC: “There was something about the tranquility….”
    Joel: “The tranquility of post-war Japan?”

    Seriously, what is the deal with Japan as like the philosophical peace center of the world OSLT, anyway? Not just once but again and again and again throughout western civilization’s popular culture. I mean, I’m sure it’s quite nice in some places but there are lots of OTHER nice places in the world, too.

    Meanwhile, in Japan itself, giant monsters are destroying the same cities over and over again and “rape movies” is a legitimate film genre and schoolboys and schoolgirls are engaging in lethal armed combat against each other on an island and…


  8. Sitting Duck says:

    Bruce Boxliker #101: Pretty sure he murdered him. Vigilante Justice was perfectly acceptable in 80’s action TV.

    While vigilante justice might have been acceptable, killing not so much. Recall how no one on The A-Team could hit the broad side of a barn while inside the barn.

    @ #107: I imagine it’s primarily the Oriental exoticism.


  9. Thomas K. Dye says:

    Also, I hate to bring this up, but… were there any GOOD Asian characters in this or II? Even Lee’s one mentioned “student” turned to the dark side. Ah, the eighties.


  10. Dr. Frankenkeister says:

    The host segment with Frank launching into “It’s Show…time” and having Dr. F kill it before it gets started and Frank sadly trudging away kills me every single time. I could watch that whole segment on a loop and be entertained for hours.


  11. EricJ says:

    Thomas K. Dye:
    Ah, the eighties.

    Yes, until their “gun-toting” Sailor Moon came along in the 90’s to bring us anime, our images of Japan were ROOTED in wartime images (and the restaurants), from the 50’s all the way up through the real-estate-boom Japan-fear 80’s of paranoid Michael Crichton movies….We barely even had sushi back then.
    The Japanese, we believed, still lived in bamboo and paper houses, samurais were still regularly employed, housewives dressed like geishas, wig and makeup included, the men dressed in salaryman suits and snapped cameras, and Godzilla attacks were a pretty much common occurrence.
    Let’s just call them the Courtship of Eddie’s Father years–Which explains why the Revenge of the Ninja craze could catch on in the early 80’s, we thought it was still a cool career choice at the time.

    (And yes, another fan who cracks up at “It’s SHOW…” :) )


  12. Mr. Krasker says:

    I’m amazed at how many people love this “movie.” To me, it represents pure pain, although possibly not as intensely hatable as Riding With Death.

    Ah well, it’s good that not everyone hates it as much as me.


  13. Cornjob says:

    I only did my training for about a year, but I don’t remember my sensei ever mentioning anything about destroying a public establishment if someone touches your sword without permission. Maybe that’s black belt level stuff. My trainer did have a lot to say about being inconspicuous and not getting into pointless fights.

    You might be surprised to know that many MST3K episodes have ninjas in them. You just can’t see them because they’re hiding so well. Of course it’s easier to hide in a black and white movie than in color.


  14. Lex says:

    I don’t remember seeing ‘The Master’ show when it aired, but I watched quite a bit of television back then, so who knows? I do remember Misfits of Science and that girl from the Springsteen video who was on it.


  15. touches no one's life, then leaves says:

    Not to mention Courtney Cox, although I just did.

    IMHO “Misfits of Science” had a LOT more potential than it ultimately demonstrated. The persistent use of plots that had nothing to do with the premise (hey, NBC, the A-Team helped out random people with borderline realistic problems because they got PAID to do so (at least, ideally), it’s not something that just everybody goes around doing) didn’t do it any services. So it goes.


  16. JCC says:

    Crow: Eight-ball, corner–
    * Tom clears his throat *
    Crow: Well you know the rest!

    I don’t! Can someone fill me in? Is it some dirty joke? Google isn’t helping me here.


  17. Tad Eustace Ghostal says:

    “Master Ninja I” and “II” are interchangeable to me. Both are excellent episodes featuring the best that goofy made-for-TV movies have to offer…leftover stars, barely microwaved enough to be enjoyable, incredibly silly plots/dialogue, and lame music. Max Keller is one of the all time greatest heroes in an MST’d movie, and his legacy carried on through the Comedy Central years. (Remember in the last CC episode, “Laserblast”, when our hero is driving a van and Crow shouts “Hi! I’m Max Keller!”) It’s also funny that the filmmakers tried to make Max all these things he’s not: clever, tough, appealing to women, not having a speech impediment, etc.

    I respect Mr. Sampo’s opinion on all things MSTie, as he’s been a fan longer than I’ve been alive…but I have to say he’s kinda underrating this one and its predecessor! My biggest issue with the Joel episodes are that they tend to be a bit dated and the references don’t always hold up…or the riffing isn’t always very direct. But I think these Master Ninja eps could stand up with much of the best of the Mike years in its modernity. Modernity. Is that a word?

    My favorite moments:
    – “Hi! I’m Max Keller.” Joel: I’m a seagull!
    – The entirety of the scene where Lee Van Cleef does his ninja tricks in that redneck bar. Joel is hilarious in that scene: “Um, that UNSCREWS!” “aw the ceiling started falling before he kicked it”
    – Frank: “It’s showtime!” Shot down by Forrester.


  18. 1 adam 12 says:

    “Whoa, smells like urine and cedar chips in here.” Slays me every time.


  19. Johnny's nonchalance says:

    I tawt I taw a gwade B actor.

    I did! I did!

    It’s Wee Van Cweef



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  21. mnenoch says:

    This is one of my favorite episodes. While it is not as classic as many other episodes the movie itself just makes perfect fodder and is light funny film. Something about the ridiculousness of Lee Van Cleef being a master ninja and Tim being his student is just hilarious. I know I’ve read about them watching the third episode of these during Season 7, man I would have loved to have seen Mike and the bots take on another one of these.

    My brother watched this with me for the first time just a few weeks ago and during the end of the first episode where Sho does a back flip and Tom riffs “Make em laugh, make em laugh” had us both in tears for hours.


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