Youtube Film Club: Full Metal Ninja (1989)

full_metal_ninja_poster_01

If ever there was a badass film title, this was it. It promises excitement, adventure and really wild things; it promises ninjas, apparently delivered as some form of bullet (“Full Metal” is traditionally a reference to bullets, I believe) and you would be a damned fool to not want to watch it.

Well, let me tell you all, be a damned fool. This is the ISCFC’s third tussle with the films of Godfrey Ho, following on from “9 Deaths Of The Ninja” and “Ninja Terminator”, and while those films were at least sort of entertaining, this is a joyless slog. To be honest, you could stop the review there. I’ve been working on making them shorter, and the title and “joyless slog” tells you pretty much everything you’ll need to know. But I don’t get paid the big bucks to provide one paragraph reviews, so here goes.

Almost as a directorial fetish by this point, “Full Metal Ninja” appears to be at least two different films spliced together. First up, there are a couple of ninjas relaxing in the forest – you can tell they’re ninjas by the fact they’re wearing headbands that say “Ninja” on them, I kid you not – in complimentary outfits. One is wearing pink with purple trim, the other purple with pink trim. You’d expect them to be friends, right? Well, apparently not, as one of them gets chased off by a couple of baddies in black while the other, who is one of our heroes, just sits there and smiles. He’s a soldier of some sort who’s come to Japan to kill some guy, or maybe he’s just there and some big evil fella wants to kill him. Who cares? His secret ninja power is owning a gun, and that iconic scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” gets played out a few times.

The second film, which is really most of the film, is a man in a fancy hat, known as The Eagle (the man, not the hat) trying to avenge the death of his family. He’s after the same person, so the badly dubbed dialogue tells us, and encounters all sorts of people, mostly killing them. He’s Asian, and the first guy is white, and they “meet” at one point, while not sharing the screen at any time, or being there at the same time of day, or any of that inconvenient stuff. Our introduction to the Eagle features him walking on top of a series of posts, but with the added difficulty of their being an egg on top of each post – yes, he walks on eggs.

This, for me, was really tough to get through. The unintentional humour of the previous two Ho films I watched was absent here, and in its place was a badly dubbed film with tension-free fight scenes. Not good enough to be worth watching, and nowhere near bad enough to be worth laughing at. Just remember, when reading bad film sites, some of them just love piling on the cinematic unfortunates, and this is worth neither laughter nor pity, just ignoring.

Full Metal Ninja on IMDB

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Youtube Film Club: Ninja Terminator (1985)

This never happens

This never happens

The ISCFC has already tackled “9 Deaths of the Ninja”, but it’s time to move on to what could be Godfrey Ho’s great classic.

I think we’re going to launch a new section for the site called “Youtube Film Club”, only for films available in their entirety on Youtube. You can watch the film and then read my spoiler-filled review, or just read it (because chances are it won’t be any good). This is the third film I’ve given you the opportunity to watch and then read about, so strap yourself in and let’s go.

It’s the 20th anniversary of the ninja group’s ascent to power- over what, we’re never told. But they’re in charge, and have been for all that time, partly thanks to a Golden Ninja Warrior statue which permits its holder to be indestructible. To prove it, Boss Ninja takes on his three lieutenants, they strike him and the swords bounce off. In your face, lieutenants! Also, all the ninjas have mascara on, for reasons which are unknown to my humble Western brain. What my brain does know, though,  is not to play the “golden ninja warrior” drinking game, that every time someone says that phrase in full, take a shot. You would be distinctly ill by the 30 minute mark and dead by the hour (although you’d miss the last third of this film, so it’s not all bad).

Unfortunately for the Boss Ninja, the minute his back is turned three of his underlings steal the statue and leg it. The statue naturally divides into three pieces, so they take their pieces and go their separate ways. A sign flashes up saying “2 years later” and the main piece of the statue is immediately stolen by…well, it’s really quite unclear. I’m seriously not saying this for effect, readers.

So, we’ve got a magic invulnerability-providing statue in three pieces, and we’ve got a gang of ninjas who want their statue back. But more importantly, we now have Richard Harrison. Much like every Godfrey Ho review, I need to tell you a little about Harrison – an extremely busy actor through the 50s, 60s and 70s, a series of odd career choices left him acting in Z-movies in the Far East, and as he and Ho knew each other from way back, Harrison made a few films with Ho in the 80s. However, Ho was the master of making his footage work for him, and used the footage he’d shot of Harrison to splice into a number of other films, such as this one. Harrison wasn’t a huge star by any stretch, and was distinctly unhappy with the way he was treated, so it really makes no sense on any level.

Harrison plays a ninja whose outfit is camo – which is an interesting choice, if a bit of a waste of time inside his apartment, which is where he spends 90% of his time in this movie. Early on, his wife / girlfriend / whoever (who cares, it’s never explained) is cooking crabs, and we get an amazing scene which can be roughly summed up by “ever wondered what the lobster scene in Annie Hall would look like if Woody Allen was played by a fading B-movie star with a huge moustache and mascara, and he tried to kill the crabs with a ninja throwing star?”

Harrison has…I can’t quite believe I’m writing this…a Garfield phone, so he has a variety of conversations with his “assistant”, Jaguar Wong, using Garfield, one of the odder visuals you’ll ever see. Jaguar, who’s the real star of the film, tries to track down the sister of the guy who was killed near the beginning of the film for his third of the golden ninja warrior (take a shot)…I hope you’re confused by this point, because I was. It’s at least two films spliced together, and there’s quite a lot of both of them, and the only way they’re tied together is by extra dubbed-in dialogue and that damned magnificent phone.

You could be forgiven for thinking I was joking

You could be forgiven for thinking I was joking

The third ninja thief from the beginning of the film has some beautiful scenes too. My biggest laugh came when we see him eating breakfast, which is a large slice of watermelon. He’s just sat there, at a huge empty table, carving up a solitary slice of watermelon, and for some reason it made me roar with laughter. He’s attacked by a bad ninja who can shoot fire, and amazingly, the end of his sword has a button you can press that turns it into a fire extinguisher. If you don’t love this scene, I don’t want to know you.

It’s not all fight fight fight, though, and we get a love scene a fair ways into the film, soundtracked by Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. I’m willing to bet every penny I ever earned that a film so cheap it couldn’t even afford all its own footage was not willing to pay whatever Pink Floyd was charging. And you also get the eponymous “Ninja terminator”, introduced in a way that gives the impression the filmmakers were a little embarrassed at how little the title had to do with the film.

I think unpacking the ways this film fails might be interesting. It had a lot of hurdles to clear, and it unfortunately knocked every single one of them down, before dying 10 feet before the finish line.

Acting
Editing
Directing
Dubbing
Fight scenes

Fight scenes – I’m no expert on martial arts fight scenes, but I’ve seen my fair share, and this is the first one where I’ve ever really thought “wow, these scenes suck”. Jaguar doesn’t get a single blow landed on him until the very last fight; and there’s no sense why he’s so much better a fighter than everyone else he meets. There’s also a lot of daylight between fist and body while some of the very loud shots are being landed.

Dubbing – one of the dubbing guys was having a laugh, I think, because he kept popping up as minor characters with the stupidest accents imaginable. He’s the only person who earned his wage for this film. There are endless references to “Jack’s sister Jill” (rather than just calling her Jill, for heavens sake) and the golden ninja warrior, of course.

Directing – I’m not entirely sure this film was directed. No attempt is made to provide a decent ending to the film – it doesn’t so much wrap up as get to a point where they ran out of film and said “ah, this’ll do”.

Editing – I’m grudgingly respectful they made this, out of the scrag-ends of other films, and got it to the point where I can sum up the plot, just about, without wanting to shoot myself.

Acting – Harrison has the look of a man who’s only making films in the Far East because there’s a guy in the USA he owes money to. Jaguar decided “cocky asshole” was the way to go with his dramatic leading man portrayal. Everyone else I give a pass to, because the awful dubbing ruined any chance they might have had.

So, a pyramid of garbage. For fun, see how much impact the motivation of the thieves at the beginning of the film has on the way the plot goes (hint: none at all). You’ll be impressed at the way the film ends, because it’s so abrupt, you’re halfway through the credits before you realise “hold on, those two storylines were never close to coming together! What the hell?” And Godfrey Ho films are at least entertaining to watch – there’s an absolute shedload of filler, though, so you’ll need a good group of friends to help keep you awake through it. Me, I have a notepad and a cat that jumps on me every ten minutes.

Ninja Terminator on IMDB
Buy Ninja Terminator [DVD]

Youtube Film Club: Chinese Super Ninjas (1982)

I accidentally wiped the hard drive that contained all my films the other day (rips of legally owned DVDs, you guys) so I’ve been going through the long and annoying process of getting them all back. Part of that was the long-neglected section of kung-fu films – stuff I’d watched as a teenager and in my early 20s, but had been largely ignored since. Anyway, I realised I’d never seen this, and the reviews seemed to state it was a classic, so here goes.

And another thing – thank you Youtube!

Heck, this copy is better quality than my old old DVD.
I have been trying to write a brief summary of the plot of this film, but the more I think about it, the more I realise it doesn’t make a lick of sense, even for a kung fu film. It starts with a group which seem like they’re good guys but are outlaws, and they’re about to have a scrap with a group of guys dressed in white, who seem to all the world like they’re the baddies. This is to decide something or other – either who’s the best, or if the outlaws can continue to do crimes. The various members of the groups take it in turns to fight, and it seems that the guys in white are winning 8-0 in the best of ten format, until one of their fellas loses and he, in an “honourable” move, guts himself. So I guess I was wrong about which side was which?

The last guy isn’t even part of the gang, he’s a Japanese samurai, brought in as some sort of ringer by the…bad?…guys, and he successfully fights a few of the guys in white until he also misses a strike, and by his own wacky logic, kills himself too. But before he does he poisons the boss of the guys in white, and tells them his friend will be back to kick their asses.

So far, so good. Nice bit of fighting, characters have been sort-of established and the battle lines are drawn. Then, things go a bit odd. There’s usually a moment in films like this where I get the feeling I spaced out for ten minutes, or my cat jumped on my chest and demanded attention, and I missed a crucial bit of plot. But it’s my job as a film reviewer to navigate these deep waters for you, so here goes.

The guys in white, who are the Alliance of Martial Artists, have decided to go and defeat the Five Element Ninjas (this film’s actual, not quite as cool title outside the USA) – gold, fire, water, wood and earth. The reason for this is either so they can get the powers of these ninjas in order to beat the apparently invincible King of the Ninjas, or because he gets his power from them and they want to weaken him. Or possibly so they can learn ninjutsu, the technique that is too powerful for them. I really don’t want to be vague here, I just couldn’t for the life of me figure it out.

They divide into groups of two – two each for each of the elements, and the last two guys to defend the clan boss, who is using his martial arts mind powers to defeat the poison in his body. We then get one of those amazing extended sequences that this genre of film is famous for. Wuxia is the name for fantastic kung fu films, where there’s magic and weirdness and garish coloured fights, and this film is a prime example. We see the groups of Alliance members go to take on the five elements, and to a man they get killed. It’s embarrassing how badly they get whupped, but as I didn’t recognise any of them, while the guy who stayed behind at the camp is a Hong Kong star of yesteryear, I figured out how it was going to go.

It gets worse for the Alliance, as the woman they rescued from being beaten by her father and gave a place to live, turned out to be a spy who let the Ninja king, his ninja followers and the outlaws from the beginning of the film, in to their base to kill the main Alliance master and take over. Ninja King turns on the crime-boss fella, for reasons which remain stubbornly out of reach. And what sort of over-the-top revenge is slaughtering an entire clan because they beat you in a fight, didn’t kill or arrest you and just wanted you to stop doing crimes?

So begins part two of the film. Our hero decides he needs to power up, after literally everyone he knows has been murdered. So, off he pops to a mysterious teacher of Ninjutsu, who he was friendly with from before. He joins up with a bunch of the teacher’s other students, and after a nice training montage to show him learning the new style, they go to take on the Five Elements.

 

Again, because I don’t think this point can be stressed enough, absolutely no reason is given for anyone to want to bother with the five elements. They’re supernaturally tough, and aren’t bothering anyone! Just minding their own business, doing whatever a representation of an element does, and some guys in white come along to kick their ass. If they have any relation to the king of the Ninja, apart from him showing up at the end to defend the last element, then it’s certainly never mentioned.

The first four of the five elements crumble like a Weetabix in a vice, and then it’s on to the last one. The reasoning of it all isn’t important – yes, the good guys win – but the style of the fights is what’s important. There’s some fantastically bonkers choreography, which is the reason this film is so fondly remembered by fans of wuxia and kung-fu films. It’s blindingly fast, magic-powered and although it’s pretty cheaply done (the sets at the end look like a poor theatre production) you’d struggle not to enjoy this film.

 

Chinese Super Ninjas on IMDB
Buy Chinese Super Ninja [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

9 Deaths Of The Ninja (1985)

First up, let’s get the low-hanging comedy fruit out of the way – one ninja doesn’t die 9 times, and 9 ninjas don’t die. Heck, even if they were on about the number of different ways a ninja has to kill someone, I could only count 7 different ways used in the film. There are, at the most generous possible count, 5 ninjas in this film. One of them is only seen in a flashback (and doesn’t die), one of them is the hero (and doesn’t die) and two of them are dispatched so quickly that I wouldn’t think of putting their plight in the title of the film. “3 Deaths of the Bad Ninjas” isn’t quite as punchy a title, though. The really sad thing about all this? I genuinely spent some time trying to work some aspect of the film into the confusing numbering system.

9 Deaths of the Viewer of this crap

I wanted to write notes during the course of this film, but the only pad and pen in the living room were with my wife. She told me I could only borrow them if I agreed to write “horrible” every third word. Considering we’d only seen about 4 minutes of the film at that point, her judgement was bold (but entirely accurate, as it turns out).

 

A brief summary of the career of director Godfrey Ho. He started off normal, under the banner of the great Shaw Brothers, but then branched out on his own. When coming to work at his new studio, he noticed there were lots of half-finished films lying around, where filming had stopped for any number of reasons. Why bother writing and shooting an entire film, thought Godfrey, when I can just splice in cool ninja fights with this pre-existing footage, and do a bit of dubbing to try and make sense of the whole thing? So that’s what he did, and the 1980s were incredibly prolific for the man- he claims to not remember how many films he’s directed, but taking all his alter-egos into account (to try and fool people into thinking his company employed more people) there’s at least 115.

 

It starts off bold. Sho Kosugi, whose career very briefly intersected with that of Jean Claude Van Damme early in JCVD’s career, is training. Now, most films would leave the training montage til later, but this is not most films. The basic thing I got from this scene is that if you are trying to do crimes in the vicinity of Sho Kosugi, and are made entirely from watermelon, then you’re going to have a bad time. But we don’t get time to be too baffled by this before…the opening credits! Ever wondered what the world’s stupidest James Bond credits would look like? Three women gyrate around while Sho does his kung fu stylings around them. All the while, a song called “Keep On Dancing” – an admirable idea, no doubt, but possibly not the most appropriate music to start off what promises to be a fast-paced ninja thriller.

 

On top of all this visual feast, the credits come up, and we learn that there are two awesomely-named characters in this film – “Alby the Cruel” and “Colonel Honey Hump”. It’s around this time that I started to wonder – is this supposed to be a comedy? Did Godfrey Ho decide to poke a little fun at his own genre? On reflection…probably not. There are bits we’re probably supposed to laugh at, but I’m not sure that’s the same thing.

Alby, you magnificent bastard

Anyway, on to the film. We’re introduced to a prisoner, who breaks the arm of a guard who tries to give him food and spends every other moment chuckling to himself. Then we get our heroes – Sho is swimming, while his white partner is sunning himself with a woman, in her underwear (an unusual choice for a pool party with at least one man you’re not intimate with). Perhaps because he’s all alone, Sho gets sad and then has a flashback, which I’d lay good money on being footage from an entirely different film. He’s trained as a ninja, but because of some reason or other, is told he can’t be a proper ninja and must leave the training academy.

 

But never mind those guys! We’ve got Alby the Cruel and Colonel Honey Hump coming up! Alby is simultaneously this film’s villain and its comic relief, “hilariously” overacting while getting caught in a chain used to hold his pet monkey – while Honey Hump is in charge of a bunch of hot female guards. At one point, he threatens her, and her gang hold their guns to Alby’s head…but then go back to taking orders from him. His contribution to this whole shebang seems fairly minimal, if I’m being honest, so they probably should have just bumped him off and gone through with the plan themselves.

 

Our three heroes are now on the case. There was a delay between me watching the film and writing this review, and I’ve just realised I’ve got no idea what Alby the Cruel’s endgame was. I know the big laughing idiot gets sprung from prison, but I’ve got no idea why. Is there a bomb? It’s not really important, but I know sometimes readers like this stuff. Tell you what, I’ll go and cheat off another review of this film, then I’ll get back to you in a later paragraph with the information you require.

 

Midgets! We get to see our heroes whup on some midget ass, and it’s handled every bit as sensitively as you’d imagine. Still, this almost seems sensible compared to the next scene, where Alby’s minions steal heart medication from a small child and just throw it away. Oh, the fact an elderly-ish white woman has a small Oriental daughter just isn’t commented on.

 

Next up is local police chief, former tennis superstar and son of the producer Vijay Amritaj, who was also in a James Bond film, oddly enough (it was one of the Roger Moore ones, after everyone involved had stopped caring). He helps them out…and then my notes descend into illegibility. “ Sam or Dad: poacher?” is what it looks like, and frankly I’m not prepared to watch this film again to trigger my memory. Besides, this review is already too long! Let’s get on with it!

 

This film breaks a record for the most number of shots of a helicopter landing in any film. It’s like Godfrey Ho borrowed one off his mate, who said “you can only take it 50 feet into the air”, so he just filmed it landing in a bunch of different locations. Similarly pointless is a huge chase scene between that weird laughing giant from earlier in the film and our heroes – he escapes through a whorehouse, then just wanders the streets laughing and not really being in a hurry to go anywhere.

 

The film meanders towards its conclusion after this – someone gets glued to the ground, Sho’s two real-life kids save the hostages, the heroes gleefully slaughter their way through the enemy camp…you know, the usual. Will Alby The Cruel act in a cruel manner towards anyone? Will the absolute lack of sexual tension between the white lead hero guy and the female communications officer bubble over into passion, after white hero is betrayed by his girlfriend? Will the kid who’s gone without heart medication survive? Actually, I don’t remember the last one, but I presume so.

 

In conclusion: there’s a lot of other sites who seem to have done reviews of this film, and they bothered learning the names of the characters and not losing the will to live about halfway through. Ooh, ladida, Badmovies.org! But I hope you’ve enjoyed this one, and if I’ve provided you with even a modicum of entertainment then I’ve done a better job than this film has.

 

Nine Deaths Of The Ninja on IMDB
Buy 9 Deaths Of The Ninja (1985) DVD