Watching “Jungle Wolf” was so much fun, I decided to pop on another Ron Marchini movie. For those of you reading this for the first time, perhaps with a battered old VHS In your hands and a desire to know if it’s any good or not, Marchini was a highly ranked martial artist, closely losing a fight to Chuck Norris at a big tournament in 1964, before going on to be a top-level competitor for the next decade, popularise a new form of karate, write several books about it, and also spend 10 years making movies. He wasn’t just a star, oh no, he also wrote, directed and produced most of them too.
This one, though, was very early in his run, and not only did he not have any hand in the making, he was also dubbed! Yes, this is a classic Hong Kong movie trick, where not only did they not record live sound (leaving almost every scene feeling weirdly quiet, no background noise at all) but they didn’t get all the original actors to voice their on-screen characters. At one end of the scale is a guy like Chow Yun-Fat, who dubs his own dialogue in multiple languages, and the other is a guy like Marchini, who looks slightly more relaxed now he knows he doesn’t have to act dialogue, or even remember it all.
This is a proper ninja movie. None of your normal kung-fu movies dressed up with a black robe, this emphasises their almost supernatural abilities, plus all the tricks and “gadgets” they have up their sleeves, and shows how compared to normal martial artists, their skills are hugely superior. The opening scene is perhaps inadvertently hilarious, as we’re treated to multiple scenes of a group of ninjas doing all sorts of synchronised moves – like, one of them will jump through a window, then a second later another will jump through the next window, and so on down the line. Their leaping about is delightful, and it turns out they’re in this large building to steal some top-secret formula…more on that later.
Marchini is Steve (a different Steve to the one he played in the “Jungle Wolf” series…I think), and he’s just some cop’s buddy who lives on his own, doing fancy martial arts training (dodging stuff while blindfolded, leaping from pole to pole, etc.) while wearing a hoodie promoting the real-life renbukai brand of karate that he helped to popularise in the USA. Lt Kevin Washington is his cop buddy, investigating the theft, and after interviewing the colourful local hobo, suspects ninjas. His dumbass captain doesn’t even recognise the word “ninja”, much less believe in their existence, so it’s pretty much down to him and Steve to investigate and apprehend the ninja gang and stop them from unleashing their army of mind-controlled zombies on the world.
I’ve made it sound like it has more plot than it really does. It’s absolutely bonkers, though, with a huge portion of it being ninjas doing wacky ninja things, like tunnelling, disappearing in puffs of smoke, leaping enormous distances, being invulnerable to normal, non-ninja attacks, and so on. We also get tons of dialogue about the ways of the ninja, which is fun if completely incomprehensible…the fights are well-choreographed by Ken Watanabe, who also plays villain “Kuroda”. No, not the future Oscar nominee and all around handsome superstar, although I didn’t realise that and spent half the film trying to figure out which guy he was. His choice of wearing a Halloween-style devil mask throughout the final fight is the icing on the bonkers cake. Oh, there’s a white co-villain who looks like a greasy, overweight Anthony Quinn too, which doesn’t help when it comes to trying to figure out what’s going on.
One of the many curious choices “Ninja Warriors” makes is pretending it’s set in the USA. Every single extra is Japanese, so it just looks like a group of wealthy scumbag Americans have chosen to surround themselves with Asians and only Asians. Or perhaps that’s just part of this film’s wacky charm, and much like all the other Marchini movies we’ve watched, it’s an easy and fun watch. Plot and motivation are but minor inconveniences! We’re here to watch ninjas mess stuff up, and do cool ninja things! And to see our hero kick an absolute ton of ass!
What we certainly didn’t watch this movie for was any resolution to the “villain creating brainwashed zombies” plotline. Unless I was a lot drunker than I thought, they don’t successfully create a single zombie, or even get all that close really. I think if you promise something that awesome at the beginning of your movie, then you ought to be legally obliged to follow up on it at the end. There’s also head-scratching to be done about the subplot involving the female cop subbing in for the tennis player (who also knows about the secret formula, apparently), which could be removed utterly and would leave the film making substantially more sense.
Director John Lloyd (not the British comedy John Lloyd, sadly) also did “Fighting Spirit”, aka one of the two different movies titled “King Of The Kickboxers 2”, where Loren Avedon’s friend’s ghost helps him to become a badass martial artist. Amazing! He knew how to make a movie that ripped along and made absolutely zero sense, and for that we must commend him. Bravo sir!
Rating: thumbs up
PS. This movie has perhaps the greatest IMDB description of all time. “Document-stealing killer super ninjas are up to no good. A more robust and secure records management system could have discouraged such behavior.”
PPS. This was released on VHS as part of a series called “Sybil Danning’s Adventure Video”. You can check out her amazing intro here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRtduHnGb7E – there’s nothing I don’t love about this movie!