Normally, when I write notes when doing a review, they’ll be full of lines I liked, or things I want to remember, things that puzzled me or stuff I think will be entertaining to read, but here it’s almost all questions. “What?” and “who’s that guy?” and “where the hell are they?” and “is this supposed to make sense?” among many others. I’ve seen a whole heap of movies, dear reader, but few of them are as incomprehensible as this one. I just read the synopsis on IMDB and I was all “is that what this movie is supposed to be about?”
It’s also a rare example of a movie from the Godfrey Ho stable (he merely wrote this one) which is, as far as I can tell, the same thing from start to finish. Often, these no-budget masters will buy a movie from another part of the Far East, and splice in scenes they either specifically shot themselves, or scenes from some other unfinished movie, and release it as a new thing, with the barest attempt made to make all the parts make sense. Please check out our Godfrey Ho reviews to see some of the gems I’m talking about.
That does not mean it makes the least bit of sense, though. According to experts in these things, “American Commando Ninja” (which features no Americans in lead roles, and I don’t think there are any commandos in it either) is actually edited together from a Taiwanese TV series, and Godfrey Ho, along with frequent co-conspirator Joseph Lai, just made some footage into a movie with scant regard for making a pleasant narrative experience. That would explain how ugly it looks, as it’s shot on video, which is fine for TV but not so great for the big screen. Ah, who am I kidding, this never got shown on a big screen. The same series was also turned into this movie’s “sequel?”, “Born A Ninja”, so if I can find that we’ll review it soon.
So, there’s a guy, David, in black martial arts robes. He’s just meditating when a sudden attack almost catches him off guard, but he’s too badass so fights all the various traps and flying stuff off quite easily. Turns out it’s just a test from his teacher, who wants him to go to another country (I believe they’re in China?) and help out their secret services. There’s a scientist who has a formula for something or other he invented during WW2, and it belongs to China. I’m pretty sure about all this. You even see him in the airport (100% guerilla footage, I’m sure) before he disappears from the movie for about half an hour.
We cut to a young woman in Confederate flag shorts (!) who’s trying to get Tanaka to tell her where the formula is. But she gets beaten up, despite being a pretty decent fighter, and the guys take Tanaka and get him to dig up the box with the formula in it. Confederate Flag lady has a sister, who lets us know “never trust a scientist” which seems at best out of left field and at worst slightly unfair to the rest of the scientific community. Anyway.
Right from here, it’s confusing as hell. Who are these people? Are they in any way related to the guy we saw at the beginning? Are they the good guys, even? One thing I need to state at this point is that it’s the worst dressed movie perhaps of all time, as I hope you’ll notice if I can find a few screengrabs to share with you. Everyone’s dressed like they’re a nerd trying to hang out with the cool kids at a beach party.
The two women have an Uncle, who seems shady as hell, despite being one of the good guys. I think. Maybe it’s a Charlie’s Angels style situation? Then there’s a dude called Larry, who turns up with his badass martial arts style and is so awesome that David decides the two of them should be friends and team up, so they go for a meal together and just hang out. A scene that would have been fine in a long-running TV series, but not so hot when we’re in the middle of a martial arts movie. Ah, who cares, it’s as coherent as anything else in this damn bizarre affair.
I really got lost here. I don’t enjoy going “this makes no sense hur hur hur”, I want to describe what the filmmakers were going for, even if I think they didn’t achieve it, but with this one I’m genuinely stumped. There’s a white guy in a cheap suit who wants the formula and is presumably up to no good, and then there’s a climactic fight scene in what might be a local park, and features a giant statue of the Buddha, painted a garish orange. They let the bad guy go at the end, for no reason other than he was presumably the villain of the series and needed to come up with a new plan every week to stymie our heroes. Oh, the fighting sucks too, in case you were wondering about that.
Dubbing! Now, if you’ve seen any martial arts movies from that part of the world, you’ll have seen some bad dubbing, but here it’s taken to a whole new level. It’s wooden and everyone sounds like they were dubbed by the same guy, that’s a given: what I’m referring to is how the dubber blows lines almost constantly. I wonder if, the first time he messed up, the director just motioned for him to carry on, as they’d only booked the recording studio for 90 minutes and they didn’t have time for retakes or anything like that.
A couple of random thoughts before we wrap things up – there’s a lovely scene with a fight on a rope bridge, and the cameraman is stood on the bridge too, so the scene is almost like some modern work of art as he’s flying all over the place, desperately trying to stay upright. And there’s the party / nightclub scene, which features one of the greatest songs of all time, “Tiger Of The Night”. I wish I could share it with you, but it seems impossible to find.
Lastly is the relationship between David and Larry. I assumed they were a couple at the end, but it seems one of the sisters was a bit in love with David, and she wanted to go with him as he drove off (spoilers!) He just says “no thanks” and leaves, and it’s Larry who looks the saddest. I assume it’s to do with China – Taiwan friendship, or something, but it really looks like they should have driven off together.
This was among the oddest experiences I’ve had reviewing movies for the ISCFC. “American Commando Ninja” is certainly an experience, though, and if you’re in the mood, it could provide a decent bit of entertainment on your next bad movie night.
Rating: thumbs down
EDIT: If you’d like to read even more words about “American Commando Ninja”, then I highly recommend the site “Ninjas All The Way Down”. Read their review – https://ninjasallthewaydown.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/american-commando-ninja-1988/