Ninja, The Violent Sorcerer (1982)

Welcome back to our series of Godfrey Ho reviews, dear reader, where we try and puzzle on just why the great man does what he does. His tactic is buying up a movie from elsewhere in the Far East that never got a widespread release, filming some new footage, usually with ninjas or martial artists in it, editing the two together seemingly at random, giving it a ludicrous title and releasing it to the world. If you’ve encountered some of his work, it’s usually in one of those DVDs that packaged 4 movies together and were bundled with cheap DVD players (and are now a mainstay of the bottom, dusty shelf of second-hand shops).

“Ninja, The Violent Sorcerer” is a great title, isn’t it? But it’s no more accurate than any of his others. While there’s a ninja and a violent sorcerer, in it, they aren’t the same person: in fact, the only way the title could work is if they added “Not The” to the beginning.

The plot, though, is classic Godfrey Ho gibberish, and it sort of centres round the world of gambling. Gambling in the Far East looks way more fun than the Western version, as it seems to be more sleight of hand and doing cool card and dice tricks than it does any, er, gambling. The bulk of this movie is from a 1982 Taiwanese effort called “The Stunning Gambling” and is about a guy who wants to be the ultimate gambler, and he kills the previous King Gambler, and the King’s brother or son or something gets revenge. Entirely forgettable, until Ho sprinkles in his incomprehensible extra plot, about two magic dice obtained from the mouths of two dead former gamblers who are now vampires; and how an as-yet unknown member of the dead gambler’s family is a ninja and seeks revenge.

Chinese vampires are a curious lot – also known as “hopping zombies”, or jiangshi, they seem pretty rubbish by Western standards. Pretty much anything can immobilise or kill them, most famously sticking a piece of paper with a spell written on it to their foreheads (although I do wish that would work in, say, the “Twilight” movies). Our friends at “Taliesin Meets The Vampires” (whose screenshots these are, by the way) think they’re tough, but your mileage may vary, I suppose?

So, you get a bit of the gambler king, and how the family of the dead former king gets help from a drunk gambling master, who cleans up his act to help them out. Or something. Honestly, it’s really difficult to focus on. And the ninjas fight the vampires, and I think they get some special new skill or power or spell or something in order to defeat them.

What I think I’m most annoyed by is how Godfrey Ho appears to have made an effort to blend the two movies together. A few dubbing dialogue changes and carefully spliced footage, and it does actually seem like maybe the gambling king is getting help from vampires? But the end of both stories are utterly unrelated, and all the work they’d made to this point (way more than any previous Ho epic that I can think of) just seems annoying. Just make it weird, Godfrey!

I also wanted to briefly talking of the ending, and how it’s similar to so many other cheap kung-fu movies of the era. I’d never really noticed it until now, but I saw it and my eyes were opened. So, you get the final fight, the killing blow is landed, and… “The End”. Hard cut, not even a “hey, we beat the baddie” final line sometimes. It’s like they all got together and decided no-one really cared after that point, so thought there was no point filming stuff to go beyond then.

I think if you’re going to line up a Godfrey Ho series, then this could fit in amongst the genuinely batshit entries like “Ninja Terminator”, “Ninja Squad” or “Death Code Ninja”. Heck, it’s free, so why not?

Rating: thumbs up

Advertisements

Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther (1991)

fe88943a44004d789b9989682d55b694

We have the good person behind Youtube channel “Godfrey Ho Cinema” to thank for this, and several subsequent, reviews. They’ve put up dozens of of the great man’s movies, and as a service to you, dear reader, I’ll watch some, more or all of them, and tell you what’s worth bothering with.

What’s sort of surprising is that Ho was influenced by other things. So far, his movies have existed outside time, sort of vaguely modern kung-fu / ninja efforts, but this one is definitely hugely inspired by John Woo. From pigeons (subbing for doves) in the middle of a battle, to good guy assassins, to elaborate (for Ho) gunplay, to moral ambiguity, it’s just surprising to see Ho try for something like this. It’s even more surprising that it’s not two films bolted together – none of this says it’s good, necessarily, but the sights have been set a little higher.

 

Betty (Sibelle Hui) is in the CIA, despite looking like a suburban mother just back from taking her kids to school. She and her partner discover a counterfeit money ring, and this takes them to Thailand; also on their way there are two assassins, Eileen (Maria Jo) and Amy (Yoko Miyamoto), who are set up doing jobs in Japan and Hong Kong – this has the potential to be a classic Ho mashup, but the three women meet relatively early in proceedings. So, Eileen and Amy are both assigned the same job, to kill the boss of the crime family in charge of the counterfeiting, because his nephew wants to take over…it’s all a bit silly, but it seems Ho is really trying, doing some nice intercutting of the two women’s lives and jobs. Then they’re assigned to kill each other!

3edf5575ac73

Every scene is one of three things. It’s either a bullet-storm, a kung-fu fight, or sex. The sex is plentiful and rather graphic, which ensured its Cat III rating (basically, an 18 / NC-17), with women being stripped completely naked, multiple full frontal shots, while the men keep their trousers on at all times they’re shot below the waist. There’s one scene in a strip club where the only thing in a fairly lengthy shot is the “middle area” of a naked lady, which is more unusual than anything else.

 

Because it would literally be impossible for this time and this culture to make a movie where women were in charge and their thoughts and feelings were paramount, a surprising / annoying amount of the plot is driven by their menfolk. Eileen has a brother who’s just channelling Chow Yun Fat (he’s supposed to be living in France) and a boss who’s unable to shoot any more due to the shakes; and Amy has a boyfriend who’s also an assassin. Although their on-screen time is relatively short, it’s their plotlines which dominate the movie, and the casual indifference the movie shows when Eileen’s brother just straight up murders another main cast member is pretty amazing. Although saying that, Betty stakes a guy out to the ground and is about to run over him with a truck (to get information) but he has a heart attack and dies – no-one gives a damn.

hqdefault

There’s a couple of very curious choices towards the end. Eileen and Amy are taken in and helped by a woman who must have heard the raging gun battle going on on her lawn, yet appears entirely unfazed by it – it turns out she’s a prostitute, who casually picked that line of work to allow her to keep her enormous mansion. After bonding with the two ladies, patching them up and letting them live with her, she says “at least my job is safe, unless the men have AIDS”, delivered the same way you’d talk about changing the sort of milk you used.

 

My favourite, though, is the plight of the brother. He’s sent away to France as a kid, to escape the life of murder that plagues Eileen’s family, but they’re so appallingly racist there, they torture him to the extent he can’t continue at school and decides to become an assassin instead. You know, that old career route!

 

The sex is weird and creepy (you’ve not lived til you’ve seen a guy squeeze milk over a woman’s crotch, from a condom with a hole pricked in the end), the actual hand-to-hand combat is fine, and the gun battles are sub-sub-Woo, but at least they try. They don’t try with the soundtrack, which is just straight lifts from other movies – keep an ear out for the “Halloween” theme, just accompanying some random scene.

vlcsnap-1978889-ect

Unlike so much of Ho’s work, it’s able to focus all its efforts on one goal, and that’s being the best damned B-movie it can be (it’s only missing a car chase, really).  It’s trashy, but it never lets up for a minute, and if you can ignore it’s supposed to be about strong women, but is really driven by the actions and decisions of their men, it’s fun to see such a female centred movie – it’s a whole genre, girls with guns, apparently, although I don’t imagine any of them are much better than this. By a mile, the most coherent Godfrey Ho movie we’ve yet covered, although not quite the most entertaining.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

U.S. Catman: Lethal Track (1990)

mv5bnja3nty4odu2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdi3otk1mde-_v1_uy268_cr30182268_al_

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any of Godfrey Ho’s movies, which means you get the recap of the great man’s career once again. His business model was to buy cheap films from elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, then film a bunch of footage with his stable of white actors, which would be edited into the action he already had. This ungodly concoction was then sold round the world, and it’s a business model that worked, as a conservative estimate of his output has him directing over 130 movies. We’ve covered tons of them, and it’s very difficult to pick a favourite, but if you’d like to dip your toe in, go for “Ninja Terminator”; if you’re feeling brave, go for “Death Code Ninja”.

And if you’re in the mood to be genuinely baffled by a movie, go for “U.S. Catman: Lethal Track”. This is genuinely one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, and reminds me of the book “Infinite Jest”. In that book, one of the characters, James Incandenza, is an experimental filmmaker, and one of his movies begins with two separate stories, but rather than coming together at the end, they just continue getting further apart. “U.S. Catman” could be a James Incandenza movie (although he’d have probably had fewer martial arts fights in his).

 

The beginning is a mini-masterpiece of dumb, as three groups of people come together – the world’s dumbest, laziest delivery drivers, with a radioactive cat in the back; a couple of extremely clean-looking junkies, desperate for a fix after not having had one “for days”; and a couple of guys who’ve evidently just come from a softball game, just having a good time. These guys are Sam and Gus, and they’re the only two we’re interested in, as they protect the drivers from the junkies, but in the process Sam gets scratched by that cat. The “U.S.” in the title is presumably to differentiate Sam from the dozens of other cat-based superheroes that litter the world?

hqdefault

Sam (with an assist from Gus, who’s also apparently an undercover CIA agent) aren’t really the focus of the movie, though, because they’re the white people re-shoots. The bulk of the action is almost stranger, if such a thing were possible, and features Father Cheever, the head of the Cheever Church. He’s a Russian agent, and wants to destabilise the entire world so Russia can take over, as well as maybe being a Satanist, wanting to murder, rape and otherwise brutalise everyone. His plans are magnificent in their scope!

 

It’s around the time we’re introduced to the two young guys who I thought were the same guy, the two old guys who I thought were the same guy, and the young biker woman Frederick who the movie pretends is a guy for the first half, despite it being screamingly obvious it’s just a girl with short hair (the voice they chose for dubbing her is light and feminine, somewhat destroying the illusion) that I wrote “is this just a random collection of scenes?” They’re in a feud of some sort with a gang of criminals who want to destabilise the government, or deal drugs, or something; this gang is led by Bull, the one-eyed villain with very big plans, and several lieutenants who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup, 24 hours after watching it.

vlcsnap-2016-07-02-16h37m36s872

Every fifteen minutes, the drug-dealers vs. random people movie is interrupted with the Catman movie, and it is glorious. Despite him being able to punch through walls and use laser-vision, he helpfully never uses these powers in an actual fight, or indeed any powers relating to typical cat-like activity, perhaps because the effects would’ve been too expensive to film? He just runs about a bit, punching and kicking, oh, and at one point says , “to the cat-computer!”, which I guess qualifies as a joke.

 

It just keeps getting better, though, which is super-unusual for a Godfrey Ho movie. The Russians have a bunch of agents, and they’re the wackiest gang you could imagine. A room full of people, some of them lifting weights, some dancing, some breathing fire…I don’t know what government they’re going to bring down, but I’d sure like to see it! Cheever starts banging on about the anti-Gospel, and being the most evil you can be, but his ultimate base is, not terribly evilly, just a banner slung between two trees, out in the jungle.

 

The good guys vs other lot of bad guys side of the movie is good fun too, even if you can’t really tell who anyone is or what they’re trying to do. At some point, everyone figures out that Frederick is a woman, and even though she’s been a dick to everyone she’s met, she ends up being the hero. Ah well.

catman105

Even though I said it at the beginning, it bears repeating – the two sides of “U.S. Catman” never come together at any point. With your average Godfrey Ho movie, there’s at least characters pretending to have a conversation on the phone, linking movie A and movie B, or a conversation shot in some wasteground, or something – here they just don’t bother with any of that stuff. It’s a really peculiar feeling, because even though we know how lazy Ho was, I’ve never seen him be quite this lazy. Did the crucial linking material just get left on the cutting room floor and no-one bothered checking it to see if it made sense before releasing it?

 

I think my favourite thing about this movie is the dubbing. TV show “Eurotrash” has made a decade of fun out of dubbing weird old Europeans with broad British regional accents; while it’s not quite so specific here, I would bet every penny I’ve ever earned that the people in charge of the dubbing were having a laugh at someone’s expense. When you combine that with the less-than-professional acting chops of most of the cast, you’ve got a recipe for success!

hqdefault1

It’s weird enough that even non-fans of martial arts movies or Godfrey Ho ought to check it out.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Golden Ninja Warrior (1986)

khu4T0

This movie could be, perhaps, the least coherent that Godfrey Ho ever had a hand in. While it seems to be, apart from a during-opening-credit scene, all the same movie (no cut-and-paste job here), it has no real plot, and if any character expresses any motivation, it won’t bear any relation to the motivation of any other character. You might expect, therefore, that “Golden Ninja Warrior” would be an instant recommendation from me, but you’d be wrong.

Near the beginning of the movie, we’re treated to a scene of sleazy filthy pimps beating women into submission, to force them into prostitution (one of them was sold to the pimps by her stepmother, a “lovely” touch). In one of a number of scenes where women have their clothes forcibly removed, you begin to wonder just what we learn from the fiftieth whip-strike that we didn’t learn from, say, the tenth, but they’re determined to show us! Then, later, our heroine is beaten in a straight fight by the main baddie’s female enforcer / prostitute, dragged to main baddie’s bedroom and raped. It’s not hardcore, but you see an awful lot, and it’s really unpleasant.

 

Draped round this plot of extreme sexual violence towards women is a movie of sorts. The box promises “special appearance by Richard Harrison”, but the only time we see our favourite moustachioed washed-up hero is over the opening credits, where a fight which looks like it was recycled yet again from one of his other movies (perhaps “Ninja Dragon”?) plays, along with a voiceover telling us all about the “golden ninja warrior” of the title.

gnw

Now, you know a Godfrey Ho film is incoherent when he has to put a damn voiceover on the opening credits to explain to you what the movie is about. Anyway, there’s a statue, and the red and black ninja clans have been fighting over it for ages, but the fight is finally coming to an end. Probably. If you’re thinking “hold on, I remember a golden ninja warrior statue from one of this guy’s other movies!” then well done to you – you’re thinking of “Ninja Terminator”, and I wonder why they didn’t just switch titles (“Ninja Terminator” makes no more sense for this movie than it did for that, admittedly, but at least “Golden Ninja Warrior” would be moderately appropriate). It’s even weirder, when you realise we never see the statue in this movie, and just get references to it from one of the minor characters; the weirdness approaches some sort of critical mass when the heroine is referred to by the baddies as “the Golden Ninja” – no hint of gold anywhere about her person – as if the producers weren’t sure why they wanted to give the movie this name, but wanted a bunch of reasons for doing so.

 

So, the plot then. Someone (not sure who) wants the statue, but the guy who has it is never in the slightest danger of losing it, and he’s a very minor character anyway. The main woman is in town looking for the people who killed her sister (I think). The baddie is after just increasing his empire. The cops are after the main baddie’s drug dealing operation.  The problem is, none of these things really link well together, and there’s no reason why we’re watching any of them in the same movie. There are two female ninja in this movie – one in red, one in black – but they look sort of similar and they get no introduction either, so unless you’re really paying attention the first half-hour is even more confusing than usual.

hqdefault

It’s so poorly made that any Ho-level enjoyment you would normally get sort of seeps away as the movie continues; add that to the rape scenes and all the sexual violence and this one has to go in the “Lose” pile. I know I sometimes misunderstand the occasional thing in a movie in order to crack a joke or two, but this genuinely confused the hell out of me. The ninja in the movie teleport about and change into and out of their ninja outfits seemingly at random; the status of just what the “golden ninja warrior” is; the appalling acting (even taking the dubbing out of it). Stick with one of the other 80s ninja movies instead.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Ninja Dragon (1986)

ninja_dragon_poster_01

In David Foster Wallace’s classic modern novel “Infinite Jest”, main character Hal Incandenza’s father is an avant-garde filmmaker, and one of the movies he makes features two different stories. Rather than converging towards the end, they get further apart; I think Mr Wallace may have been watching the films of Godfrey Ho before he wrote that particular section.

 

Connoisseurs of the “Hollywood DVD” 4 films in one box releases, which seem designed to be found on car boot sales or in charity shops, as well as readers of our other Ho reviews, including “Ninja Squad” and “Ninja Terminator” – which feature no squads or terminators, respectively – will recognise the structure. Richard Harrison’s section of the movie has him as the most successful criminal/banker in Shanghai, whose partner Ronald is murdered by the evil Tiger Kwok; Kwok  works for a guy whose name I didn’t catch, but whose “real” name is Bruce Stallion, surely the most badass actor name of all time. Harrison then goes after the group responsible for Ronald’s murder, who he knows because he won all their property off them at the beginning in a game of cards (a weird poker variant? One of those card games like canasta they always seem to play in Euro-thrillers? Who knows?) To kill these guys, he dresses up in a camouflage ninja outfit, except for the last fight when he wears black for no reason. Every fight is the same – short, boring, and accompanied with Harrison removing the face-covering part of his outfit, in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time.

 

What hideous monstrosity is that?

What hideous monstrosity is that?

Anyway, all that represents maybe a third of the movie; the other two-thirds is the Tiger Kwok part, and here’s where things get a bit odd. The link between the two sections of the movie is “Ronald”, who is the head of a large crime family, and there’s an internal power struggle, plus another gang who want to take over their turf. Tiger Kwok, despite being one of Ronald’s lieutenants, killed him because he’s a mole for the other guys; we’re supposed to be rooting for Ronald’s daughter Phoenix, I think, although it’s pretty hard to tell.

 

“Ninja Dragon” is absolutely packed with stuff. Double-crosses happen with alarming regularity, hit squads for one gang get ambushed by the other gang, funerals are invaded, people are kidnapped, and super-tense meetings are held. The main man is Dragon, Phoenix’s trusted “muscle”, a cool, sharp-suit-wearing killer who maybe, just maybe, was intended to be the star of the original version of the movie (he’s not a ninja, though, despite the title). Checking the time when I thought there was maybe 10 minutes left, it turned out we were only halfway in, and there was a ton more action after that part too (Dragon’s final fight with the baddie boss was pretty decent).

NINJA-DRAGON-RICHARD-HARRISON

Feels weird using a complimentary word to describe a Godfrey Ho movie, but there you go – this film will absolutely not bore you. The word you’re looking for is “confuse”. Harrison’s main villain, a mulleted white guy with an English accent (hurrah to the drunk lunatics who dubbed this movie, and hurrah to the even drunker lunatics who wrote the English script), is apparently the boss of the rival gang in the other film, despite it making no sense; Harrison wants the daughter to take over Ronald’s old empire, but doesn’t lift a finger to help her. Plus, it has one of the darkest endings I’ve ever seen – our heroine wins the day and is going to marry Dragon, but the guy she booted out of the family for betraying them (who, to this point, has been the comic relief, sweetly trying to court sister Fanny) walks into the bridal preparation room and just shoots her, dying himself a few seconds later. What the hell? Well, there’s the final Harrison fight to come, but the movie ends with Harrison just walking out of shot and “THE END” coming up, going from the bleak to the abrupt in a matter of minutes.

 

I’m genuinely amazed at having to say this, but this feels like a standard Godfrey Ho movie. All the main beats are there:

 

  1. Richard Harrison in heavy eye makeup and a ninja outfit
  2. Plot where he needs to get revenge by fighting someone every 15 minutes or so
  3. Entirely unrelated main story
  4. Two or three weird attempts to link the two films with a “conversation” between one person from one movie and one from another, never shown in the same shot (of course)
  5. Extremely dark ending to main story
  6. Richard Harrison wins his final fight and the movie just ends immediately

 

It’s either three or four of these godawful things I’ve seen which follow these six steps, and I’m sure there’s more to come (I’ve barely scratched the surface of Ho’s output). There’s method to his madness, sadly.

ninja_dragon3

Rating: thumbs down

Ninja Of The Magnificence (1988)

n08

What makes a film, really? Obviously, some of the masters have messed with plot, timeline, and narrative structure, but for the purposes of this argument we can safely leave them off to the side, so let’s just say your normal run of the mill films. It’s nice when they make sense, event B following event A. Characters who have a motivation you can understand is good too. It’s always useful to have all the parts of your film be relevant in some way to the overarching story (and, indeed, if you have an overarching story). If you’re doing a period film, it’s handy when all the stuff you use is appropriate to that time.

A very low bar to clear, as I’m sure you’d agree. Yet Godfrey Ho is no normal director; he’s the guy who gave us “Ninja Squad”, a film that produced this response from us:

“What the hell was that? This is perhaps the laziest film I’ve ever seen…has managed to find new ground below the bottom of the barrel”

All without the faintest trace of hyperbole. Even after all that, “Ninja Of The Magnificence” – what an amazing title, though! – is down there with the very worst of Ho’s output, mixing the laziness that’s Ho’s trademark with a hefty dollop of incomprehensibility. There’s one very striking similarity between this and “Ninja Squad” other than them both being terrible – the split storylines, with one half being full of ninjas in brightly coloured, not-terribly-stealthy-looking outfits.

vlcsnap-2009-11-11-12h05m29s95

Looking good in pink is Ross, who is one of the students of the unnamed Ninja master. Because of evil, he decides to kill Master and use his own ninja army to take over…who cares? Ferris, resplendent in yellow, is one of his other students and decides to get his revenge and kill Ross plus a good number of his evil ninjas, most of whom wear white. Simple and completely uninteresting so far, apart from the amazing outfits and headbands that say “Ninja” on them in English.

In footage that looks completely different, though, we meet Lee, who the badly dubbed dialogue tells us was one of the Master’s other students. He’s not, obviously, and his storyline seems to be taking on two villains called Old Fox and Kong. There’s a mine which is apparently producing gold, a lot of ninja guards (who wear sort of similar white outfits to the other ninja, but not similar enough that you could, I don’t know, mistake them as being from the same movie), a woman and a kid to save, and lots of getting captured and escaping again.

I’ve honestly got no idea what the main storyline is supposed to be about. A lot of the scenes are shot horribly and are in almost complete darkness, so the dramatic music appears to be scoring nothing. Lee and the kid he’s helping out appear to get blown up with dynamite at one point, but in the next scene are fine, with zero explanation offered as to their safety. Oh, and someone uses a modern parachute at one point, in this medieval-set movie.

hqdefault

If you believe the dialogue, then Old Fox and Kong work for Ross, but why he’d want to mine gold with ninja is never adequately explained. Or why two grizzled old Chinese thugs would be working for a white kid who looks all of 18. Things like gold mines would surely interest the government, who while they may not have ninja, do have tens of thousands of soldiers, surely? Ah, I don’t know. I really don’t know, in this instance, rather than me just saying “time to end that paragraph”. If any of you can puzzle it out, please leave a comment.

There’s one fun bit, where two guards are talking after being surprised by some movement in the bushes. “What was that?” “Oh, just a ninja”. Made me smile, anyway. And there were some surprisingly good fights, indicating that the person who choreographed whatever movie Ho cannibalised for the majority of the movie’s running time had more talent than was strictly necessary. But add the solid level of confusion to a distinctly underwhelming final fight (between coloured ninja, so a whole different crew of people) and you’ve got a movie which requires a stiff drink and a group of smart friends to “enjoy”.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Manhattan Chase (2000)

ManhattanChase

Genre mashups have been pretty big business for a while, but in all the zombie-comedies, scifi-westerns and war-werewolf movies, no-one apart from the makers of “Manhattan Chase” thought of creating the kung-fu / super-intense family drama combination, and now you can watch it too.

This represents the nexus of three of the ISCFC’s favourite review subjects – Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock and Godfrey Ho. Yes, the king of splicing two mostly unrelated films together had a go at making a real movie, under the name Godfrey Hall, and this was amazingly his last movie before retiring to teach filmmaking (whether his course notes were just notes from two different courses, thrown together mostly at random, is sadly unknown). If you’ve never heard of this movie, don’t be surprised because it was barely released anywhere – Ho failed to sell it in either the US or Hong Kong, and now Youtube is basically the only place you can get hold of it.

Loren is Jason, a Mob hitman who is caught, just as he’s about to kill someone, by cop Cynthia Rothrock and locked up for 6 years. When he gets out, he just wants to re-establish his relationship with his son, so despite being asked to resume his old job, he says no. His old cellmate offers him a place to stay, and all seems well; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jenny, who steals some drugs from her stepfather in order to sell them and make a new life for herself, only to witness her stepfather beat her mother, before Jason’s old crew pop in and and start shooting, looking for the drugs (Jenny escapes, everyone else dies).

You’re then assaulted by the first of a hefty pair of coincidences that bring the characters into each others’ orbit. Jenny, as she’s running from the assassins, literally falls over Jason’s car as he’s just driving his son around. He offers to help her; at the same time Jason’s ex-wife comes into town, looking to see the son she abandoned just after he was born. The ex-wife’s sister? Cynthia Rothrock. If you can swallow those, then…nah, still not sure you’d stomach the reveal of just who the main villain is.

hqdefault

If I had to guess, I’d say Godfrey Ho never bothered with any shooting permits, because there’s no way he could have afforded them for where he filmed. He’s definitely in New York, and films in real locations – Central Park, busy Manhattan streets, a public monument in Queens, and lots of filthy broken-down side streets with famous landmarks in the background. If you want to see what a city’s really like, look at its low-budget films, and “Manhattan Chase” will definitely show you that.

Despite Rothrock being top billed, she’s not really in it too much – Godfrey Ho took two scenes with Avedon and Rothrock sharing the screen, a few Rothrock-and-sister scenes and some of Rothrock chasing criminals, including one amazing scene where she kicks a bad guy through a table, which is just sat in the middle of a filthy alley; he sprinkles them throughout the main plot, Jason and Jenny vs. the Mafia, and hey presto! That Ho magic is in full effect.

Due to the use of natural light, and perhaps the cameras, everything feels cold and miserable in this movie. This isn’t helped by the tone of the conversations, which are about loss and family breakdown and honour and death – given its pedigree, I have to assume most of this tone is accidental, the result of a script by someone for whom English was not their first language (the credited writer, “Lisa Cory”, has this as her only credit, which leads me to believe it’s Ho under a pseudonym).

hqdefault (1)

Weirdly, Loren Avedon stands out like a sore thumb – not a wild overactor like the Mafia guys or a calm underactor like Rothrock and his former cellmate, he has the look in his eyes of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time, that his dreams of a happy family future are fading fast. Given that he’s previously excelled at fighting and light comedy, this is a pretty impressive turn from him, and is probably his best performance in anything we’ve seen of his so far.

As we take brief detours to see perhaps the fakest fake boobs of all time, a truly bizarre gunfight in Central Park, and a very fast-developing romance, we move towards an ending which is both very downbeat, followed immediately by the least likely coda I think I’ve ever seen. Good old Godfrey!

It’s absolutely worth watching, although not for many positive reasons. The fights are too few and far between, but it’s just so strange! Watch it and be sad that Avedon never got that bigger budget role he thoroughly deserved.

Rating: thumbs down

youtu.be-6qM8cqjk3_o

Ninja Squad (1986)

images

What the hell was that? This is perhaps the laziest film I’ve ever seen, with absolutely no effort made to produce a plot that made any sense, an ending that was in any way satisfying, or anything else that you’d expect if you wanted people to pay to watch the thing you’d made.

Godfrey Ho and Richard Harrison are back – we’ve discussed their careers in our reviews of “Full Metal Ninja“, “Ninja Terminator” and “9 Deaths Of The Ninja” but this one has managed to find new ground below the bottom of the barrel, although I feel like my word might not be enough, though, so I’ll tell you a bit more about it. We start off with perhaps the slowest training sequence ever, as a man and a child very gently swing swords in vague patterns. He then tells the child about the history of the ninja, which is absolutely wrong, and doesn’t even make any sense on their own terms. Richard Harrison, playing Gordon the Ninja, is dressed in one of the most insane getups of all time – a ninja outfit which is a pink-purple colour with silver trimmings, and a headband which says “Ninja” on it. STEALTH!!

ninja_squad4

But never mind that, because it’s quickly ten years later, and young Billy’s training is over. Instead of being a stealthy assassin like other ninjas, he decides to support his community by trying to become a cop. So far so ordinary (for Godfrey Ho, anyway), but then we come to the first roadblock, and that is the split storylines.

We’ve had examples of two films stitched together before, but this is different and worse. 90% of the film is Billy and his story, and the rest is Gordon being gradually stalked by Ivan The Red, a rogue ninja. Only Richard Harrison is barely even in any of these sections, so his first billing on the DVD cover is about the same as having “Star Wars” with Porkins (aka Red Six) as the top-listed star. So, Ivan The Red, for reasons never elaborated on, wants to kill Gordon, and Gordon doesn’t want to fight. So ol’ Ivan says he’ll kill another ninja every month until Gordon agrees to the fight, and then just keeps appearing at random intervals in the film, finding ninjas hanging out in clearings, and killing them very easily. Eventually he draws Gordon out, but more on their final fight later.

the-ninja-squad

Billy has spent ten years training as a ninja. I want you to remember that. He goes home to his shanty-town, where his mother and sister greet him (it looks like they filmed in a genuine shanty-town somewhere too). How they could afford to put him through ten years of ninja training, or why he didn’t think of job prospects before returning, are points sadly never elaborated on. Before he has much of a chance to do anything, though, the local crime boss’s goons have come round demanding their “rent”. Billy fights them off and then the rest of the film is the tit-for-tat of Billy and the crime boss fighting each other – more goons get shot, then Billy’s family is killed (apart from his sister, who’s kidnapped), and so on. Billy spends most of the film shooting people, so it might reasonably be said that his ten years of ninja training are not used to their greatest effect. Or at all (unless you count him beating up a few people).

His adventures seem sort of random – almost certainly because they are. He is asked to help out some timid local guy who has information about his sister – so he goes and rescues a bunch of kids virtually single-handed, then the timid guy turns into a cop and a trusted confidante (well, he has a shoulder-holster in public, so I’m assuming here). Then he wanders around a few warehouses? He saves a woman’s purse after it’s snatched and she offers him a job, but it’s never referenced again. His girlfriend’s father is the chief of police but he thinks all ninjas are criminals, so Billy is having no luck there either.

The ending, though, is what sets it apart from other so-called films. It’s thoroughly…well, I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it’s thoroughly it. Billy goes to a boat reclamation yard (the sole interesting thing in this film is this visual, as characters leap round rusted hulks) for his final showdown with the bad guys. He shoots them all, of course because that’s what ninjas do, up to and including the big boss. When the police turn up and tell him to drop his gun, as it’s all over, you kind of think “okay, it’s pretty dumb but this at least makes sense”. Then the boss, left for dead in the middle of the street, revives long enough to pick up his gun and shoot Billy a bunch of times in the back, killing him! What the bloody hell!?

S3

Before we have more than a few seconds to process this, cut straight back to Gordon, who’s finally agreed to fight Ivan. He senses that Billy is dead, and Ivan admits to killing him, even though we just saw what happened (oh, and he promised earlier that he’d not kill Billy til after he’d finished off Gordon, but whatever). Ivan is a surprising choice for a ninja master, looking sort-of doughy and going a bit thin on top. So the two ninjas, one in pink/silver, the other in red, have a fight. Ivan has his sword torn from his grasp, but in the next scene he’s holding another, completely different, sword – perhaps he had a spare somewhere. Their fight is short and predictable – Gordon stabs him, job done. But that’s not all – he then does a backflip and disappears in midair! THE END!

I hope this review has given you a flavour of just how odd this film is. To tie two completely unrelated films together, you really need to work at it, and this film almost made a negative amount of effort. The two different stories also don’t make any sense if you just take them separately, so there’s nothing to focus on. It’s mind-bogglingly incompetent in absolutely every way, and manages to commit the cardinal sin of also being boring for a fair portion of its running time. If I’d paid more than 25p for this film, I would have felt ripped off, and I can only recommend you do literally anything else other than watch this film.

Oh, one more thing – there’s no “Ninja Squad” in this film. Gordon makes a point of being a loner, and the only ninjas we meet are all solitary too. “Just Some Ninjas In Clearings” would have been a more accurate title, I feel.

Rating: thumbs down