Justice Ninja Style (1989)

The ISCFC loves regional genre cinema – those movies that existed in the early days of VHS and video rental stores, when seemingly anything could turn a small profit. We’ve covered many of them and hope to cover many more, so it was with great delight I found the St Louis Video Society and their recent showing of a local movie so obscure it doesn’t even have an IMDB page, the amazing “Justice Ninja Style”.

This gem was filmed in DeSoto, a little drive out of St Louis in what would politely be referred to as rural Missouri, and is the brainchild of one Ron White, an apparent 10th dan black belt in karate. He’s written a few books, including one with the excellent title “So You Want To Be A Private Detective”, and was featured in a local news story as one of the Navy SEALs who took photos of Castro’s missile sites for JFK in the early 60s. Anyone who remembers Frank Dux, the serial fabricator whose story inspired “Bloodsport”, will realise where this is going…some, most or all of his claims are false, and while I have no particular reason to doubt he’s a martial artist, I’m not 100% sure I’d trust him on any of the other stuff. What is it with martial artists who feel the need to make themselves into superheroes?

Anyway, Mr White wrote five movies (although this appears to be the only one that was produced), and made at least one other video called “How To Be A Ninja” which has generated hearty laughs from those fortunate enough to have found a copy. But we must limit our laughter to this one magnificent movie, made with the full help of pretty much the entire town of DeSoto, many of whom are extras. We start off with a couple of ladies off for a drive in beautiful-ish rural-ish Missouri, only they get a flat tire and are forced to stop at the side of the road. Right here is where things go crazy. Carol goes off to find a mechanic, while Shelly decides to sun herself and wait for a friendly local to drive past – sadly, they meet a couple of local deputies, one of whom, George, has long had a thing for her. Well, he immediately tries to rape her and when she rebuffs him he hits her with his nightstick and she dies! Of course, George isn’t prepared to admit his murder, so he gets very lucky when running past is local martial arts instructor Brad, who he gets to hold the murder weapon, then arrests. Lurking in the shadows (well, behind a few trees) is a mysterious black-clad figure, who sees all but is invisible to the untrained eye.

Brad is locked up in jail but escapes thanks to the ninja, whose presence in the woods and interest in Brad’s case is never once made clear; he must try and clear his name with the help of a fellow instructor, Dan, and Carol, who he convinces of his innocence. And that’s about all the plot you need – there’s lots of running round the town and the surrounding wilderness, a few fight scenes and lots and lots of the sort of baffling decisions that only get made in movies like this.

My favourite is, perhaps, the way that Dan and Carol don’t seem to be all that bothered by their predicaments. Carol is laughing and joking with her friends mere hours after seeing Shelly’s corpse; and Dan finds the whole experience amusing, giggling at the exploits of his ninja saviour and giving Carol a friendly slap on the ass when she succumbs to his manly charms. Despite, you know, being on the run with a murder charge hanging over his head. I feel like he was maybe written as a teenager and literally no-one bothered to correct those parts of the script – although this sounds like I’m giving someone way too much credit (I don’t think the script had that much complexity to it).

I’m also a fan of the odd credit, and this one has a couple of doozies. First up is a gentleman by the name of James Flippo, credited as (Willie Nelson “Look a Like”); then you have Ron Pryor as (yells “Ninja”) and Joann Joseph as (Girl says “Fire”). It is my dream to have this sort of credit for myself, one day.

We, of course, shouldn’t expect great, or even good, from a movie that’s so obscure the only references to it online are local ones – whose entire cast and crew never made another movie, even (unless you count White’s ninja instructional). But you can certainly expect entertainment, and “Justice Ninja Style” supplies that in droves. It’s never boring, everyone involved gives it their all (the evil deputy is even a half-decent actor) and the music! Kudos to the person who noodled on a keyboard for a few hours to create the soundtrack to “Justice Ninja Style”, as it’s amazing. Well, not terrible, which is sort of the same thing at this level.

Most of the background information about this movie came from an Inside STL article which you can read here – http://insidestl.com/small-town-shinobi-a-history-of-justice-ninja-style-2/1942940 . Although it would have you believe all White’s stories are true, it did lead me to an interesting discovery which I’d like to share with you – this $20,000 movie was initially released on VHS and barely made it past 70 minutes of run-time; then “the studio” (sleazy backers do occasionally offer to fund reshoots for low budget movies in order to contractually wrest control away from the original creators – ISCFC friend Donald Farmer also suffered this fate with “Vampire Cop”) re-edited, added new scenes and released it as “Ninja, The Ultimate Warrior”, clocking in at 90 glorious minutes. This adds backstory to the deputy, and promotes the ninja to top billing, along with the new name “Liberty King, The Ninja” – a name that is certainly never referenced at any point in the 70 minute original.

Or maybe White needed no prompting, did it himself and lied about it later (the “re-edited by” credit, and the fact he’s now first billed despite hardly being in it, would seem to bear this out)? Anyway, the upshot is you can join me in enjoying one of the strangest and most fun examples of the regional genre movie, as it’s available in its entirety on Youtube.

Watch and enjoy, and if you’re local I hope to see you at the next St Louis Video Society showing on the 30th September.

Rating: thumbs up

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