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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. To them it's some kind of ritual."
—Max Keller, perp-sweating a corrupt sheriff.
The Master was a short-lived action-adventure series that aired on NBC in 1984, starring Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, and martial artist/actor Sho Kosugi, taking advantage of the Ninja fad of The Eighties. The series was repackaged as the Master Ninja movies for release on VHS.
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 assasinate 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 two films 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:
- Adventure Towns: One per week.
- Artistic License History: Yeah. Post-war Japan was so calm and tranquil.
- Body Double: Very obviously so.
- Casting Gag: George Lazenby playing a British secret agent.
- 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.
- 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.
- Girl of the Week: The first episode had none other than a very young Demi Moore.
- The first episode of Master Ninja II featured a young Crystal Bernard.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Max's fighting style.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Timothy Van Patten went from an wooden and incomprehensible actor to Tim Van Patten, HBO's house director, helming numerous episodes of The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Sex and the City, The Pacific, and Boardwalk Empire, and the series premiere of Game of Thrones. He co-wrote one of the most famous episodes of The Sopranos (the one where Christopher and Paulie get lost chasing the Russian through the woods,) for which he won a Writer's Guild of America award. He can put that next to his Emmy, Edgar Allen Poe Award, and two Director's Guild of America awards. You can see how he looks and sounds now (bald with a goatee and only the slightest trace of his mumble) in this behind the scenes look at Boardwalk Empire.
- Sho Kosugi was the martial arts star of the mid-1980's, in such films as Enter the Ninja.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Max
- Master of Disguise: Okasa, as shown in the pilot episode.
- Ninja Log: "Realistic" version, done with an electrical transformer. Electrocution ensues.
- Posters 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.
- 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.
- San Francisco: The second half of the first movie is set there, specifically Chinatown.
- Shout-Out: The episode about the hostages is basically an hour-long Shout-Out to various spy movies and series.
- Stunt Double: A very obvious one for Lee Van Cleef.
- Team Pet: The hamster.
- 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.
- 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.