Hong Kong Digital is sponsored by Poker Industries. Please see the Hong Kong Digital home page for a special offer from Poker Industries to Hong Kong Digital readers.

Issue #176a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES September 8th, 2003

Kunoichi Lady Ninja
(1998; King Records/Marubeni/Tohokushinsha)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Japanese: Kunoichi ninpo cho Yagyu Gaiden

English: Kunoichi, the Lady Ninja: Yagyu Gaiden

Hollywood is evidently not the only place where the Hong Kong style of action is catching on. This Japanese period effort compliments its customary instances of blood spurting swordplay with some wire-enhanced HK-style combat that contributes further to an already unusual atmosphere. A group of Katoh clan killers called The 7 Spears invade a convent, slaughtering most of the nuns. The seven survivors pledge to get revenge and reclaim their heritage as kunoichi (female ninjas). Led by Ochie (ZEIRAM I & 2's Yuko Moriyama; image), the women are accompanied on the road of vengeance by legendary one-eyed samurai Jubei Yagyu (Hitoshi Ozawa, who also co-wrote and directed).

This is the seventh instalment in a 1990s series of KUNOICHI pictures and presumably got picked up for stateside release because of the striking Moriyama, who has developed a cult following in the West via her work for Keita Amamiya. Those unfamiliar with the series might find sections of this one hard to follow, while novice viewers who can keep track might still be disoriented by the coupling of a fairly serious genre plotline with outlandish, sexually oriented side elements, like the "Nipple Shock Wave" and "Returning Echo" (which is reminiscent of one of Keiko Mask's uniquely female talents). Then, there are the flagrantly campy villains, notably, a male/female hybrid obviously inspired by Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia's "Invincible Asia," and a Monkey King-like thug who can pop out his "Eyeballs from Hell" and transform them into a pair of additional killers!

Thanks to all of the earthbound and aerial battles, colorful costumes, and scantily clad ninja girls splashing across the screen, the film holds one's attention more through anticipation of just what bizarre sight it will come up with next; the machinations of the storyline eventually seem incidental. The ambitions of director Ozawa (SCORE 2: THE BIG FIGHT) are partially thwarted by the budget, resulting in some imperfect FX, but he does manage to generate a fair amount of atmosphere along the way and the various battles are entertaining, if not especially well staged.

Cover art courtesy Tokyo Shock.

Yuko Moriyama. Image courtesy Tokyo Shock.

Hitoshi Ozawa. Image courtesy Tokyo Shock.
Tokyo Shock #TSDVD-0302 (U.S. label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Sync Sound Japanese and Dubbed English Language Tracks

Optional English Subtitles

10 Chapters -- 5 Illustrated in the Menu With Grabs

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (1.85:1)

Coded for Region 1 Only

NTSC Format

107 Minutes

Contains brutal violence, nudity, mild sexual content, and mild sexual violence

DVD menu courtesy Tokyo Shock.

Not Available


The presentation is not perfect but hues are vibrant (particularly the all-important reds) and the transfer contains no flaws serious enough to cause a distraction. No 5.1 option is available but the stereo mix is lively and forceful enough to do the movie justice. However, this Japanese audio element was apparently prepared originally for a HK release of the movie, as the opening and closing narration (over a series of traditional paintings) is in Cantonese. (The disc defaults to a monaural English dub that, needless to say, should be avoided at all costs.) The original trailer is included, along with some ineptly videotaped but enjoyable bits featuring the director and cast at a pair of screenings. Ozawa also provides a jokey introduction to the disc and we even get to see him repeatedly flub same in a series of outtakes. Thankfully, all of the supplements have optional English subs. The 107 minute running time above includes a minute and a half of translated credits added on to the end of the picture. Only the first five of the ten chapters are illustrated in the menu; apparently, someone left out the button that allows the user to advance to the next page.

KUNOICHI LADY NINJA is available at Poker Industries.

Having problems printing this review with Netscape? Go to the File option in the Netscape Task Bar, click the Page Setup from the sub-menu and make sure that in the Page Options listings, the Black Text box is clicked. This should resolve the "no text" printing problem.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2003. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com