The ISCFC has already tackled “9 Deaths of the Ninja”, but it’s time to move on to what could be Godfrey Ho’s great classic.
I think we’re going to launch a new section for the site called “Youtube Film Club”, only for films available in their entirety on Youtube. You can watch the film and then read my spoiler-filled review, or just read it (because chances are it won’t be any good). This is the third film I’ve given you the opportunity to watch and then read about, so strap yourself in and let’s go.
It’s the 20th anniversary of the ninja group’s ascent to power- over what, we’re never told. But they’re in charge, and have been for all that time, partly thanks to a Golden Ninja Warrior statue which permits its holder to be indestructible. To prove it, Boss Ninja takes on his three lieutenants, they strike him and the swords bounce off. In your face, lieutenants! Also, all the ninjas have mascara on, for reasons which are unknown to my humble Western brain. What my brain does know, though, is not to play the “golden ninja warrior” drinking game, that every time someone says that phrase in full, take a shot. You would be distinctly ill by the 30 minute mark and dead by the hour (although you’d miss the last third of this film, so it’s not all bad).
Unfortunately for the Boss Ninja, the minute his back is turned three of his underlings steal the statue and leg it. The statue naturally divides into three pieces, so they take their pieces and go their separate ways. A sign flashes up saying “2 years later” and the main piece of the statue is immediately stolen by…well, it’s really quite unclear. I’m seriously not saying this for effect, readers.
So, we’ve got a magic invulnerability-providing statue in three pieces, and we’ve got a gang of ninjas who want their statue back. But more importantly, we now have Richard Harrison. Much like every Godfrey Ho review, I need to tell you a little about Harrison – an extremely busy actor through the 50s, 60s and 70s, a series of odd career choices left him acting in Z-movies in the Far East, and as he and Ho knew each other from way back, Harrison made a few films with Ho in the 80s. However, Ho was the master of making his footage work for him, and used the footage he’d shot of Harrison to splice into a number of other films, such as this one. Harrison wasn’t a huge star by any stretch, and was distinctly unhappy with the way he was treated, so it really makes no sense on any level.
Harrison plays a ninja whose outfit is camo – which is an interesting choice, if a bit of a waste of time inside his apartment, which is where he spends 90% of his time in this movie. Early on, his wife / girlfriend / whoever (who cares, it’s never explained) is cooking crabs, and we get an amazing scene which can be roughly summed up by “ever wondered what the lobster scene in Annie Hall would look like if Woody Allen was played by a fading B-movie star with a huge moustache and mascara, and he tried to kill the crabs with a ninja throwing star?”
Harrison has…I can’t quite believe I’m writing this…a Garfield phone, so he has a variety of conversations with his “assistant”, Jaguar Wong, using Garfield, one of the odder visuals you’ll ever see. Jaguar, who’s the real star of the film, tries to track down the sister of the guy who was killed near the beginning of the film for his third of the golden ninja warrior (take a shot)…I hope you’re confused by this point, because I was. It’s at least two films spliced together, and there’s quite a lot of both of them, and the only way they’re tied together is by extra dubbed-in dialogue and that damned magnificent phone.
The third ninja thief from the beginning of the film has some beautiful scenes too. My biggest laugh came when we see him eating breakfast, which is a large slice of watermelon. He’s just sat there, at a huge empty table, carving up a solitary slice of watermelon, and for some reason it made me roar with laughter. He’s attacked by a bad ninja who can shoot fire, and amazingly, the end of his sword has a button you can press that turns it into a fire extinguisher. If you don’t love this scene, I don’t want to know you.
It’s not all fight fight fight, though, and we get a love scene a fair ways into the film, soundtracked by Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. I’m willing to bet every penny I ever earned that a film so cheap it couldn’t even afford all its own footage was not willing to pay whatever Pink Floyd was charging. And you also get the eponymous “Ninja terminator”, introduced in a way that gives the impression the filmmakers were a little embarrassed at how little the title had to do with the film.
I think unpacking the ways this film fails might be interesting. It had a lot of hurdles to clear, and it unfortunately knocked every single one of them down, before dying 10 feet before the finish line.
Fight scenes – I’m no expert on martial arts fight scenes, but I’ve seen my fair share, and this is the first one where I’ve ever really thought “wow, these scenes suck”. Jaguar doesn’t get a single blow landed on him until the very last fight; and there’s no sense why he’s so much better a fighter than everyone else he meets. There’s also a lot of daylight between fist and body while some of the very loud shots are being landed.
Dubbing – one of the dubbing guys was having a laugh, I think, because he kept popping up as minor characters with the stupidest accents imaginable. He’s the only person who earned his wage for this film. There are endless references to “Jack’s sister Jill” (rather than just calling her Jill, for heavens sake) and the golden ninja warrior, of course.
Directing – I’m not entirely sure this film was directed. No attempt is made to provide a decent ending to the film – it doesn’t so much wrap up as get to a point where they ran out of film and said “ah, this’ll do”.
Editing – I’m grudgingly respectful they made this, out of the scrag-ends of other films, and got it to the point where I can sum up the plot, just about, without wanting to shoot myself.
Acting – Harrison has the look of a man who’s only making films in the Far East because there’s a guy in the USA he owes money to. Jaguar decided “cocky asshole” was the way to go with his dramatic leading man portrayal. Everyone else I give a pass to, because the awful dubbing ruined any chance they might have had.
So, a pyramid of garbage. For fun, see how much impact the motivation of the thieves at the beginning of the film has on the way the plot goes (hint: none at all). You’ll be impressed at the way the film ends, because it’s so abrupt, you’re halfway through the credits before you realise “hold on, those two storylines were never close to coming together! What the hell?” And Godfrey Ho films are at least entertaining to watch – there’s an absolute shedload of filler, though, so you’ll need a good group of friends to help keep you awake through it. Me, I have a notepad and a cat that jumps on me every ten minutes.