First up, let’s get the low-hanging comedy fruit out of the way – one ninja doesn’t die 9 times, and 9 ninjas don’t die. Heck, even if they were on about the number of different ways a ninja has to kill someone, I could only count 7 different ways used in the film. There are, at the most generous possible count, 5 ninjas in this film. One of them is only seen in a flashback (and doesn’t die), one of them is the hero (and doesn’t die) and two of them are dispatched so quickly that I wouldn’t think of putting their plight in the title of the film. “3 Deaths of the Bad Ninjas” isn’t quite as punchy a title, though. The really sad thing about all this? I genuinely spent some time trying to work some aspect of the film into the confusing numbering system.
I wanted to write notes during the course of this film, but the only pad and pen in the living room were with my wife. She told me I could only borrow them if I agreed to write “horrible” every third word. Considering we’d only seen about 4 minutes of the film at that point, her judgement was bold (but entirely accurate, as it turns out).
A brief summary of the career of director Godfrey Ho. He started off normal, under the banner of the great Shaw Brothers, but then branched out on his own. When coming to work at his new studio, he noticed there were lots of half-finished films lying around, where filming had stopped for any number of reasons. Why bother writing and shooting an entire film, thought Godfrey, when I can just splice in cool ninja fights with this pre-existing footage, and do a bit of dubbing to try and make sense of the whole thing? So that’s what he did, and the 1980s were incredibly prolific for the man- he claims to not remember how many films he’s directed, but taking all his alter-egos into account (to try and fool people into thinking his company employed more people) there’s at least 115.
It starts off bold. Sho Kosugi, whose career very briefly intersected with that of Jean Claude Van Damme early in JCVD’s career, is training. Now, most films would leave the training montage til later, but this is not most films. The basic thing I got from this scene is that if you are trying to do crimes in the vicinity of Sho Kosugi, and are made entirely from watermelon, then you’re going to have a bad time. But we don’t get time to be too baffled by this before…the opening credits! Ever wondered what the world’s stupidest James Bond credits would look like? Three women gyrate around while Sho does his kung fu stylings around them. All the while, a song called “Keep On Dancing” – an admirable idea, no doubt, but possibly not the most appropriate music to start off what promises to be a fast-paced ninja thriller.
On top of all this visual feast, the credits come up, and we learn that there are two awesomely-named characters in this film – “Alby the Cruel” and “Colonel Honey Hump”. It’s around this time that I started to wonder – is this supposed to be a comedy? Did Godfrey Ho decide to poke a little fun at his own genre? On reflection…probably not. There are bits we’re probably supposed to laugh at, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing.
Anyway, on to the film. We’re introduced to a prisoner, who breaks the arm of a guard who tries to give him food and spends every other moment chuckling to himself. Then we get our heroes – Sho is swimming, while his white partner is sunning himself with a woman, in her underwear (an unusual choice for a pool party with at least one man you’re not intimate with). Perhaps because he’s all alone, Sho gets sad and then has a flashback, which I’d lay good money on being footage from an entirely different film. He’s trained as a ninja, but because of some reason or other, is told he can’t be a proper ninja and must leave the training academy.
But never mind those guys! We’ve got Alby the Cruel and Colonel Honey Hump coming up! Alby is simultaneously this film’s villain and its comic relief, “hilariously” overacting while getting caught in a chain used to hold his pet monkey – while Honey Hump is in charge of a bunch of hot female guards. At one point, he threatens her, and her gang hold their guns to Alby’s head…but then go back to taking orders from him. His contribution to this whole shebang seems fairly minimal, if I’m being honest, so they probably should have just bumped him off and gone through with the plan themselves.
Our three heroes are now on the case. There was a delay between me watching the film and writing this review, and I’ve just realised I’ve got no idea what Alby the Cruel’s endgame was. I know the big laughing idiot gets sprung from prison, but I’ve got no idea why. Is there a bomb? It’s not really important, but I know sometimes readers like this stuff. Tell you what, I’ll go and cheat off another review of this film, then I’ll get back to you in a later paragraph with the information you require.
Midgets! We get to see our heroes whup on some midget ass, and it’s handled every bit as sensitively as you’d imagine. Still, this almost seems sensible compared to the next scene, where Alby’s minions steal heart medication from a small child and just throw it away. Oh, the fact an elderly-ish white woman has a small Oriental daughter just isn’t commented on.
Next up is local police chief, former tennis superstar and son of the producer Vijay Amritaj, who was also in a James Bond film, oddly enough (it was one of the Roger Moore ones, after everyone involved had stopped caring). He helps them out…and then my notes descend into illegibility. “ Sam or Dad: poacher?” is what it looks like, and frankly I’m not prepared to watch this film again to trigger my memory. Besides, this review is already too long! Let’s get on with it!
This film breaks a record for the most number of shots of a helicopter landing in any film. It’s like Godfrey Ho borrowed one off his mate, who said “you can only take it 50 feet into the air”, so he just filmed it landing in a bunch of different locations. Similarly pointless is a huge chase scene between that weird laughing giant from earlier in the film and our heroes – he escapes through a whorehouse, then just wanders the streets laughing and not really being in a hurry to go anywhere.
The film meanders towards its conclusion after this – someone gets glued to the ground, Sho’s two real-life kids save the hostages, the heroes gleefully slaughter their way through the enemy camp…you know, the usual. Will Alby The Cruel act in a cruel manner towards anyone? Will the absolute lack of sexual tension between the white lead hero guy and the female communications officer bubble over into passion, after white hero is betrayed by his girlfriend? Will the kid who’s gone without heart medication survive? Actually, I don’t remember the last one, but I presume so.
In conclusion: there’s a lot of other sites who seem to have done reviews of this film, and they bothered learning the names of the characters and not losing the will to live about halfway through. Ooh, ladida, Badmovies.org! But I hope you’ve enjoyed this one, and if I’ve provided you with even a modicum of entertainment then I’ve done a better job than this film has.