Ninja: American Warrior (1987)

Someone set up as the hero who dies after a few minutes! People wearing masks so they can appear to be other characters! Two entirely different plotlines running simultaneously! Yes, dear reader, we’re in Godfrey Ho country!

 

Although I’ve given you a potted biography of him several times, I keep finding out new information or thinking of new ways to mock him. Anyway, for a time in the 1980s and early 1990s, Ho worked for a company called Filmark – sadly, their offices burned in 1996, resulting in the deaths of 40 people…and the destruction of the only known list of every movie Ho ever directed under his multiple pseudonyms. Filmark were particularly notorious for buying up movies produced elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, and either splicing in parts of other unfinished movies, or filming new scenes with white actors, with the perception that would make it easier to sell them overseas. As I’ve said before, I think if you were white, could stand upright, and wandered into the Filmark offices on any day in the 1980s, Godfrey Ho would give you work.

 

If you’ve read any of my reviews before, or know anything about Ho, you’ll also remember that the amount of effort put in to make the two halves of movie bear any relation to each other was minimal at best, and non-existent at worst. Often, this produced dull, confusing movies (see reviews passim) but every now and again, the gods shined down on them and some piece of bonkers outsider art was given to the world. I adore “Ninja Terminator” and a few others, and I’m very happy to say that “Ninja: American Warrior” is right up there with the weirdest, most confusing but gosh-darned entertaining of the lot.

(ASIDE: much like “Ninja Terminator”, this movie features at least one song that they 100% didn’t licence officially – that one had “Echoes” by Pink Floyd, this one has “In The City” by Joe Walsh, plus a song from the Warriors soundtrack whose name escapes me. Next time you want to complain about movie piracy, bear this in mind)

 

It starts with a nice normal-looking woman with 80s mom hair fighting a bunch of badass ninjas and pretty easily dispatching them all. She has a bit of trouble, though, with a guy who sets his gloves on fire and fights her with flaming gloves! I guess he treated himself and everything around him with flame-retardant gel before beginning the process, as the dry grass and the rest of his own clothing stays remarkably flame-free, but it’s a fun fight to watch. After beating the last of them, the nice lady says “well, I’m now the best ninja of them all, I just need to fight the Black Cougar Ninja” and, for reasons which any fan of Ho will guess immediately, puts on a rubber mask and a black wig.

 

Boom! Next scene, she’s now an Asian lady, wandering through a large house and again, dispatching everyone she meets. But the Black Cougar Ninja whups her ass with embarrassing ease, and then, which is weird because how did they know she was wearing a mask, they (well, an offscreen hand) pulls it off to reveal the nice lady from the beginning, whose story is over before it even began. The bad guys expect this to be someone by the name of Amazonia, so they’re upset she’s not dead yet, and the Black Cougar Ninja says he’s a master of time-travel ninjutsu (at least, that’s what I think he said) but, don’t worry, this never comes up again.

I did a bit of research about this one, which is weird for me, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out about it. There are two movies called “Queen Bee” and “Queen Bee’s Revenge”, both from 1981, both of which were bought by Filmark and spliced in with fresh footage for re-sale. “Queen Bee” was turned into “Ninja And The Warriors Of Fire”, which has largely the same plot just with a few ninjas in it, and “Queen Bee’s Revenge” was turned into this, which I have been reliably informed bears almost no resemblance to the original’s plot at all.

 

There’s a drug deal which is almost stopped by the dumbest cops of all time, then the bad guys fight back, then the cops win, just letting one bad guy escape, a big blond guy who bears a passing resemblance to Frank Zagarino. Now, all this is new footage, as is a scene where Amazonia meets up with a CIA agent who’s also got some ninja training…seriously, weren’t these supposed to be secret arts? Literally everybody knows how to fight ninja-style in these movies! The CIA agent and Faux Zagarino were friends at one time, in Vietnam together, and there’s some amazing newly shot footage of the two of them rampaging through hordes of Vietcong, getting drunk and ranting about the soldier’s lot, all that.

There’s an unusually large amount of new footage here, so the plot of the original is reduced to a bunch of really cool fights and scenes featuring primary villain, “The Shrew”. She’s the sort of boss who’ll stick a cigarette holder through your throat if you even slightly annoy her, and she inspires this exchange between two good guys.

 

“She’s a mean old cow!”

“I’m not afraid of cows, I’m a real man!”

 

Something get lost in translation, or were there a spate of frightening cows in the 80s? Amazonia is trying to track down the Shrew because not only is she an international drug dealing lunatic, but she also killed her friend, a pretty nice normal guy called Charlie (I think). You’ll forgive me for getting the finer plot details of this insane classic a little confused, I hope?

I don’t want to just recap this movie, as it’s right there at the top of this page, available for all to see on Youtube (and wow, do I recommend you do so). I’ve given you a flavor of the main plot threads, but I want to mention a little about how it ends. If you’ve seen any of the Ho / Filmark movies before, you’ll know they almost always end with an incomprehensible battle in the woods, between multiple ninjas in brightly coloured outfits, ninja being known for their love of colours which don’t blend into the scenery at all. This, of course, happens, but it’s what comes before that that made me laugh – a final showdown between the good guys on one side, and the Shrew along with her goons on the other. I love a good abrupt ending, and going from gunfire to the Shrew being sheepishly marched off in handcuffs in the space of seconds is a doozie.

 

There are so many movies from Godfrey Ho and his cohorts, and almost all of them are weird and terrible and force you to pay extremely close attention to try and figure out what’s going on only to reveal to you that they didn’t care about making things make sense at all. Just casting an eye over his IMDB page a few minutes ago reveals dozens I’d never heard of, and I’m a fairly big fan of the guy.

But “Ninja: American Warrior” is different. It packs in enough plot for two movies, and the new footage shot by Ho is actually pretty good – the Vietnam war stuff, the fights between the CIA guy and the other ninjas…The violent scenes in the “Queen Bee’s Revenge” original are decent too, so there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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