SAKURA KILLERS (1987) left me with such a warm ninja afterglow that I decided to see what else the filmmakers had done. We describe that here as Video Junkie Side Effect # 36 – ninja nightmare. This led me to SAKURA co-director Dusty Nelson’s WHITE PHANTOM and the VHS sleeve had all the 1980s trappings of a classic. Ninja silhouette? Check. White guy with sword? Check. Odd subtitle? Check. Semi-big star with their name in a box? Check. Hold on a sec, what does that say there *looks closer* “and Bo Svenson as The Colonel.” Holy crap! Is this somehow related to Nelson’s SAKURA KILLERS where we got Chuck Conners as the Colonel? I’ll have more thoughts on that later in the review.
WHITE PHANTOM opens with a group of camouflaged ninjas stealing a small case of plutonium from a transport vehicle in broad daylight in California. We know this because of the huge close up on a California license plate. It is a really intricate plan that involves pulling the hamburger-eating driver from the cab of the truck. Back in his office in China (!), The Colonel (Svenson) receives word of the heist and the top suspect is the Sakura family (another carry over from SAKURA KILLERS, duh!). Selected for the job of locating this stolen nuke material is Mai Lin (Page Leong), an undercover agent/dancer who poses as a stripper. Yes, she is the top choice and her first onscreen routine involves her stripping out of a ninja outfit (don’t’ get your hopes up as the film has no nudity). Maybe she did this to please her boyfriend Hanzo (Jimmy Lee), a real-life ninja who is also the top son in the Sakura family. What a coincidence!
Also in the crowd for this ninja strip-o-rama is Willi (Jay Roberts, Jr.), a drunken American playboy who is prone to playing the harmonica. Is there any worse kind of person? Willi also just happens to be a white ninja. No, really, he dresses all in white whereas Hanzo is all in black. Ah, the complex symbolism of a 1930s b-western. As Hanzo’s father, whose face is never shown, explains, the white ninjas are a “renegade clan whose only weakness is compassion.” Anyway, Hanzo’s job is to sell off the plutonium but he bungles that because his girlfriend/spy Mai Lin tells the Colonel when and where the sale is going down (shocker: it is by the water at night). Shoved into the film are random scenes of the white ninja taking out members of Hanzo’s crew. Who on earth could this man be? Naturally, Willi and Mai Lin begin to fall in love too. Why? Because he is the film’s hero and she is a chick. Duh! But not before she berates him as “a drifter who spends his time playing basketball and sleeping with whores.” Wait, did she just call him Dennis Rodman? But when Mai Lin is killed onstage during a James Bond-esque strip routine by Hanzo, it is on. After all, these lovebirds have known each other a full three or more days and slept together. Is there any deeper love? So Willi heads to the Sakura family mountaintop home to get his revenge. Oh, and do something about that plutonium just sitting around.