Issue #223           HOME          E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com        BACK ISSUES             August 2nd, 2004

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Ninjamania!

A LIFE OF NINJA (1982)
Rating: 5/10
Cantonese: Mong ming yan je
Mandarin: Wang ming ren zhe
English: Exiled Ninja


NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP (1983)
Rating: 6/10
Cantonese: Sut si san chuen
Mandarin: Shu shi shen chuan
English: Legend of the Master
Alternate English Title: The Hero Defeating Japs (sic)


THE SUPER NINJA (1984)
Rating: 2/10


NINJA HUNTER (1986)
Rating: 4/10
Cantonese: Yan je dai kuet dau
Mandarin: Ren zhe da jue dou
English: Ninja Big Brawl
Alternate English Title: Wu Tang v Ninja (sic)


NINJA VS. NINJA (1987)
Rating: 1/10


As John Candy's malapropism-dropping Tommy Shanks character from SCTV might put it, there are so many ninja movies on the market these days, you could shake a stick at them. Of course, as any martial arts fan knows, 98% of these things are unmitigated disasters good only for unintentional laughs. That said, even the schlockiest ninja films can exert a strange appeal if your brain chemicals are in the proper degree of disorder. Here are five examples from Tai Seng's Martial Arts Theater line; all are derived from elderly Ocean Shores masters, so rotten dubbing and sloppy cropping are the order of the day.

Up first is Lee Tso-nam's A LIFE OF NINJA (sic), one of the more schizophrenic entries in the genre. On the one hand, it takes pains to present some aspects of ninjitsu with a degree of realism but also injects exploitation elements that are laughably spurious (like the heretofore unknown art of female ninja mud wrestling), making for a lively and enjoyable trash actioner. Working exclusively for high paying clientele, the Eiga Ninja Clan leader (Yasuaki Kurota) dispatches his assassins on various assignments. One of their victims was eliminated via a poison commonly utilized by ninjas hundreds of years ago, so the

police seek the help of martial arts teacher Chow Hau-wei (Chen Kuan-tai), who is an authority on this secret society and their methods. Chow agrees to help, dividing his time between the investigation and comely Sung Chi-mei (GOLDEN QUEENS COMMANDO's Elsa Yang Hui-shan), a spoiled rich girl determined to become a master swordswoman. Members of Chi-mei's family are being targeted and eliminated by the Eiga, with her brother-in-law, Chan Ming-fu (Chan Hung-lit), hiring Chow on as a bodyguard. Chow finally reveals to the police that he himself was trained in ninja techniques as a teenager and seeks to bring about the end of the Eiga leader in retribution for the murder of his teacher.

Yasuaki Kurota Chen Kuan-tai Elsa Yang

This Taiwanese production pulls out all the stops, blending together the expected ninja combat (often augmented with Chinese fantasy action wirework), gratuitous nudity, ripe melodrama, and a number of goofy digressions (like an appearance by wrestling champ Wong Kin-mi, who must be the slowest and bulkiest ninja in recorded history). The patchwork soundtrack includes cues pilfered from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, THE ROAD WARRIOR, and SORCERER. The presentation is cropped (sometimes awkwardly) from 2.35:1 and slightly squeezed. Colors and contrasts are passable but sections are grainy and/or overly bright. The sound is shrill but bearable. The print is moderately battered and the wear occasionally induces some gatefloat. Ric Meyers’ audio commentary is easily his best to date. Using the pseudonym "Wade Barker," Meyers wrote 12 "Ninja Master" novels and the research he did for that assignment left him with plenty of facts to impart here. In addition to relating the history of the ninja and their antecedents, he provides excellent background on the events in Japan that brought about their existence. Meyers makes a few mistakes along the way (most notably, his assertion that co-star Chan Hung-lit directed the Ti Lung/Pearl Chang Ling film INHERITOR OF KUNG FU) and signs off well before the final fade but this is a satisfying talk well worth a listen.


Around the time that Shaw Brothers decided to stop producing kung fu movies, Phillip Kwok Tsui arranged financing from Taiwanese producer Mark Wu Dan and got some of director Chang Cheh's regular stars together for NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP, which compares fairly well to their previous HK productions. The story unfolds during The Ming Dynasty, as Japanese pirates wreak havoc along the Chinese coast, laying waste to entire towns. The situation becomes even more desperate when bands of ninjas start appearing and target the Chinese military commander, General Chi (Ti Lung). The Master of the Three Arts (who possesses a book illustrating various ninjitsu

techniques) is the only one who can combat this new enemy, so he pledges that his students Chau (Chiang Sheng), Mao (Kwok), and Tung (Lu Feng), will join Chi's army in their fight to wipe out the killers. Meanwhile, the ninja leader (Yasuaki Kurota) has dispatched further assassins to eliminate the General, with two having managed to infiltrate his palace.

Ti Lung Phillip Kwok Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok

In contrast to the Shaw films, a large portion of the action here takes place outside, rather than in the studio, giving this a very different look and feel right off the top. Kwok largely dispenses with Chang's familiar theme of male bonding, concentrating on action instead. The plot is routine, recycling components from THE FIVE VENOMS and FIVE ELEMENT NINJA (aka SUPER NINJAS), and strongman Lo Mang is missed, but there are some effective setpieces and the end result is solid, if unremarkable, genre fare. The presentation is marred by some harsh contrasts but hues are generally good and the print displays an acceptable amount of wear and tear. The audio is quite harsh and best left at low volume. Ric Meyers and actor/choreographer Bobby Samuels provide a commentary, discussing the history of the genre, the leads here, and Chang Cheh. A few minor errors pop up but, overall, this is an interesting talk that stays on topic more often than not.


Set in present day America, Dennis Wu Kuo-jen's THE SUPER NINJA finds Chinese cop John (Alexander Lou, who looks like a young Danny Lee Sau-yin) and his African American partner, Spencer, trying to keep the streets clean, in spite of their conniving, racist superior. John is framed for drug possession by the evil Five Element Ninja gang and suffers through police interrogation abuse so comically brutal, it makes the Abner Louima plunger violation seem about as vexing as The Spanish Inquisition's "Comfy Chair" torture from MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS. Escaping from incarceration, John dodges his former co-workers by adopting a Rambo persona (can't hurt

to rip off another hit movie at the same time, right?), while also pursuing the ninjas. In addition to being a seemingly indestructible police officer, John is also (surprise!) a ninja himself and his teacher is all too familiar with The Elements, an evil, reputedly invincible clan that has endured throughout the centuries. When the villains kidnap John's girlfriend, he and Spencer travel to Hong Kong for a final showdown. The action is laughably undercranked and, as is almost invariably the case in productions of this calibre, the ninjas' mystic abilities are presented in such a nonsensical fashion, they come off looking far more silly than menacing. THE SUPER NINJA also continues the venerable Chinese tradition of using the worst caucasian players imaginable; the poor black actors, meanwhile, are looped with the most exaggerated deliveries this side of Willie "Sleep 'N' Eat" Best. The dialogue is so mind-bendingly horrible, one could quote it for days (when confronted by the Five Elements' leader, John's girlfriend defiantly exclaims "You can't frighten me in your stupid clothes! You're a creep!") and the stilted yet cartoonish voices quickly become headache-inducing. The equally preposterous soundtrack includes music swiped from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, PHANTASM, STAR WARS, and the shower murder sequence in PSYCHO!

Alexander Lou Alexander Lou Jack Long

The presentation looks awful, with a soft image, blooming whites, poor contrasts, drained colors, and overly dark night sequences. Worst of all, there is an odd pattern in the image for the entire running time, indicating that there was something seriously wrong with the telecine the transfer was done on. There are a few brief sound dropouts but the audio is otherwise fine.


Dennis Wu Kuo-jen also helmed NINJA HUNTER, a pedigree that does not exactly imbue one with a great degree of confidence. While no better as a movie than THE SUPER NINJA, NINJA HUNTER at least turns out to be a great deal more fun, with all manner of action and supernatural silliness filling the screen. While most ninja movies unfold in modern times, this one is a period effort concerning the long standing rivalry between Shaolin and Wu Tang. After losing a duel to a Shaolin adversary, Master White (Jack Long Shi-gu), the abbott of Wu Tang, revitalizes himself by draining the Yin essence from two young maidens. Now possessing near-invincible martial abilities,

White strikes up an alliance with the Yi Ho Ninja Clan in order to decimate Shaolin. With the temple reduced to a smouldering ruin, Shaolin seems finished but, a decade later, young martial artists Wen (Alexander Lou) and Bao endure rigid training so that they will be able to overcome White's supernaturally enhanced skills.

Jack Long Alexander Lou Jack Long

Some of the kung fu is well-staged but most of it is undercranked and that, combined with the usual goofy depiction of ninjitsu, makes it awfully hard to keep a straight face. There are also some wonderfully campy elements, like a poisonous zombie attack, a public park doubling for a ninja training camp, adversaries who can transform into lethal flying carpets, and White's method of draining his victims, which leaves them in the throes of steaming (literally) sexual ecstasy! The dubbers apparently decided to have some fun with this assignment, hence fighting techniques with names like "Shaolin Finger Jab," sterling dialogue along the lines of "Brother, where is the old schmuck?" and characters pronouncing the name Wen Ding as "Wing Ding." Some nudity has been awkwardly deleted from this version (though numerous shots of girls in diaphanous gowns remain) and the soundtrack includes music filched from PHANTASM, PSYCHO, THIEF, WAVELENGTH, THE ROAD WARRIOR and Tangerine Dream's POLAND and LE PARC albums. An unauthorized version of the film was released by Arena/Xenon as WU TANG V NINJA (sic), a title that makes even less sense than the storyline. The mildly squeezed picture is pale, overly bright, and hazy, with the usual lethargic scanning. The splice line is occasionally visible and the sound is adequate.


One only need view a few minutes of Cheung Nik's NINJA VS. NINJA to detect that it is another one of those infamous HK composites, with new footage of caucasian (and, in this case, African American) ninjas dropped into an old movie that had little or nothing to do with the genre (for more on the background of this devious practice, consult the ROBO VAMPIRE review in issue #108). The donor movie here is an action thriller starring Norman Tsui Siu-keung as a CIA agent whose police officer friend is murdered. Shortly thereafter, a bomb blast injures Tsui's wife and young son, leaving both in critical condition. Tsui's investigation leads him to a mildly retarded

man, whose growing obsession with a TV starlet is driving him completely over the edge. The lunatic's adopted brother (Wilson Tong Wai-shing) is a ruthless hitman who has perfected the iron skin technique, making him invulnerable to attack from knives. When the police are able to dispose of Tong with a few good old-fashioned bullets, the younger brother builds a homemade bomb and takes Tsui's son hostage.

Norman Tsui Wilson Tong Donald Kong

The new version reveals that ninjas are responsible for all of this malfeasance but good luck trying to figure out the point behind their actions. The person who wrote the synopsis on the packaging was apparently in the same boat as the description bears no correlation at all to what unfolds here! In any event, while some of these patchwork messes are highly enjoyable for all the wrong reasons, NINJA VS. NINJA is excruciating drivel that will entertain no one. The score includes music, uh, borrowed from SORCERER, WAVELENGTH, STREETS OF FIRE, BLADE RUNNER (a bad cover version of the main title), and several Tangerine Dream albums, and a very young Shing Fui-on appears briefly as a hostage taker. The cropped/squeezed transfer is far too bright and quite grainy at times, while the dubbing is even more disembodied and inept than usual. Dropouts are also commonplace on the master tape.

Images in this review courtesy of Tai Seng Entertainment. To read captions, hover mouse over image.


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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

A LIFE OF NINJA

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Tai Seng Entertainment #86604
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Dubbed in English
  • 8 Chapters
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1 cropped from 2.35)
  • 88 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: R 18+
  • Great Britain: 18 (cut)
  • Ontario: R
  • Quebec: 13+

NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP


DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Tai Seng Entertainment #84094
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Dubbed in English
  • 8 Chapters
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1 cropped from 2.35)
  • 91 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: 15 (cut)
  • Nova Scotia: 14
  • Ontario: R
  • Singapore: PG (cut)

THE SUPER NINJA


DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Tai Seng Entertainment #86704
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Dubbed in English
  • 8 Chapters
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1 cropped from 2.35)
  • 91 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG (cut)

NINJA HUNTER


DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Tai Seng Entertainment #86634
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Dubbed in English
  • 8 Chapters
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1 cropped from 2.35)
  • 91 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG (cut)

NINJA VS. NINJA


DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Tai Seng Entertainment #86574
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Dubbed in English
  • 8 Chapters
  • Fullscreen (1.33:1 cropped from 2.35)
  • 77 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Quebec: 13+

FILM REVIEW RATINGS KEY:

  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful