AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 (1993) - In this in-name-only sequel to AMERICAN KICKBOXER 1 (1991), evil kidnapper Xavier (Ted Markland; EYE OF THE TIGER - 1986) grabs the young daughter of mother Lillian (Kathy Shower; COMMANDO SQUAD - 1987) and stepfather Howard (David Graf; Sgt. Tackleberry in the POLICE ACADEMY films) and demands $2 million in ransom. Xavier tells the couple that if they contact the cops or FBI the little girl is dead, so Lillian gets the bright idea to contact hot-headed cop (and ex-husband) Mike Clark (Dale "Apollo" Cook; FIST OF GLORY - 1991) and David (Evan Lurie; SHADOW WARRIORS - 1996), a martial arts teacher who Lillian had an affair with while she was married to Mike, to help her get her daughter back. Since Mike and David are bitter enemies, Lillian tells them that either one of them could be the little girl's father, so they both go out on their own to rescue the kidnapped child. While Lillian deals with her conniving gay Uncle Francis (Greg Lewis) to scrape together the ransom money, Mike and David do their separate investigations, which leads them to the same person: the rental manager (Nick Nicholson) who leased the helicopter that Xavier used to kidnap the little girl. When the manager ends up dead, Mike and David reluctantly agree to work together in their common goal to rescue what each believes to be his daughter. That doesn't mean that they don't get into the occasional dust-up with each other, though. After following a tip that the helicopter pilot hangs out at a bar frequented by mercenaries (I smell a bar fight!), our unlikely duo pick up a clue which leads the to a Chinese restaurant that is actually a front for a whorehouse. They rescue a young prostitute, who gives them their next clue to the location of the little girl. That location is a warehouse where Xavier holds illegal martial arts competitions. It's also where the little girl is being held. Mike and David get themselves into a pickle when they are captured and forced to fight each other to the death by Xavier. They are saved by a private detective hired by Howard, who grabs the little girl and takes off without them. The finale finds that the kidnapping was actually orchestrated by Howard, who plans on killing Lillian and her daughter in order to inherit Lillian's family fortune. Mike and David arrive in the nick of time and foil the plot, but the question remains: Who is the father, Mike or David? I'm afraid we never find out, as the film majorly cops-out in the final scene. This Philippines-lensed actioner suffers immensely from the outrageously bad acting talents of Dale "Apollo" Cook (misspelled "Appollo" in the opening credits), who spends the majority of his screen time emoting with a toothpick between his teeth, and bulky Evan Lurie, whose monotone line delivery (not to mention hair so oily, Saudi Arabia might want to look into drilling into his head) makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look Shakespearean in comparison. Director/co-scripter Jeno Hodi (DEADLY OBSESSION - 1988), who also plays garlic-loving Attila, the private detective hired by Howard, tries to distract us from the awful acting abilities of the two main stars by offering numerous martial arts battles and gunfights, but the sad fact is every time they open their mouths, we are automatically drawn to their awfulness. Some of the action scenes are quite lively, as people are thrown through doors and windows, riddled with bullets (lots of bloody squibs) or simply beaten to a pulp, but believe me when I tell you this: Director Jodi could have made a much better film if he simply made his two actors mute and had them communicating with each other using sign language, although I'm sure that many middle fingers would have to be shown. The fact that we never find out who the little girl's father is also hurt my opinion of the film. In the end, we're led to believe that Mike, David and Lillian live happily ever after, neither man anxious to find out who is the real father (I suspected this was coming when, earlier in this film, Mike and David discover they have the same blood type). I hate films that promise something and then fail to deliver. Also starring Jeff Iorio, Jim Moss and an uncredited appearance by American expatriate actor Jim Gaines as a warehouse tough. A Vidmark Entertainment Release. Not available on DVD. Rated R.
ANGEL'S BLOOD MISSION (1988) - A lot of people think this is another one of Godfrey Ho's cut-and-paste martial arts flicks (Ho only scripted this one, using the name "Benny Ho") that he made for producers Joseph Lai and Betty Chan, but they would be wrong. As usual the IMDB lists Godfrey Ho as the director, but this was actually directed by Philip Ko (ANGEL ON FIRE - 1995) and, unlike Ho patchwork martial arts films, this one is 100% ninja-free. Ko has taken some unreleased Hong Kong gangster film, inserted newly-shot footage featuring Caucasian actors (including Mike Abbott and Mark Watson) and rejiggered the plot. The core of the story concerns gangster Peter Lin, who is working in concert with Barton (Abbott) to take over the territory of female crime boss Helen Mo (Juliet Chan). Charlie, who is working with unemployed ex-cop John Foley (Watson), infiltrates Peter's gang with plans on killing Peter and Barton, who killed Charlie's best friend Sam and stole a briefcase full of money that Sam was delivering to Helen. With me so far? It get's more confusing. Every twenty minutes or so, John Foley can be seen getting into fights with Barton's white goons and either beats them with his fists or guns them down. Arthur, another unemployed guy working with Charlie, goes to work for Helen as an enforcer (When Helen tells him that her main business is in the "service" industry, making men happy, Arthur says, "You want me to service men?!") and begins beating the crap out of Peter's men. Peter and Barton take notice and they order their men to kill Arthur, but they fail miserably every time they try. Arthur and some of Helen's goons go to Peter's casino and clear it out when they light some phony sticks of TNT (!) Peter retaliates and sends some of his men to Helen's massage parlor, where they light some smoke bombs and clear out the joint (These two crime bosses are utter geniuses!). Helen issues a challenge to Peter: One game of poker between Arthur and Peter. The stakes: Helen's prostitution racket vs. Peter's casino operation. When Arthur draws four aces to Peter's four kings (they both cheated), things turn ugly, a fight ensues and Helen gives Peter three days to move out. Arthur quits Helen's gang (He says to her, "I'm declaring myself free!") and Helen orders his death (which happens). After all this, Peter and Helen join forces when Charlie finally surfaces to bring both gangs down. He takes on everyone single-handedly while John Foley fights Barton in a battle to the death. While the film doesn't make an ounce of sense, there's plenty of bloody violence to keep your eyes occupied. People are sliced with knives, beaten with pipes, shot with a speargun, riddled with bullets and killed with a forklift. During Arthur's death sequence, he spends most of his time fighting Peter's goons with a huge knife sticking out of his stomach. Before he dies, Arthur manages to pull one goon down on some spikes of a wrought iron fence. In an unbelievable ending to the scene, Arthur's girlfriend Sylvia comes running to him while he is lying on the ground and incredibly says, "Arthur, are you alright?" Bitch, can't you see the huge knife in his gut and his bloody shirt? Some other "highlights" include some lucky guy getting his eye poked out with a broken bottle, Charlie's hyper-kinetic fight scene in the finale and a scene where John Foley shows one of his opponents some comical razzle-dazzle footwork, only to shoot him when he is done. Also hilarious is Mike Abbott's obvious stunt double in the final fight. Since there are no ninja outfits to hide the actors' faces, it's plain to see some Oriental stuntman was used when Abbott had to do backflips and high kicks. Forget the plot and enjoy the violence. I can see why people would confuse this with a Godfrey Ho film. It's confusing as hell and follows the same narrative structure as Ho's patchwork films, except there are no ninjas in sight. On-screen title: AMERICAN COMMANDO - ANGEL'S BLOOD MISSION. Also known as ADVENT COMMANDO: ANGEL'S BLOOD MISSION. I'm still trying to figure out who the hell Angel is, since no one in this film went by that name. Also starring Champ Wang (c'mon now!), Gary Carter, Eric Hopper, Bill Hunt and Tattoer Ma. A Parade Video Release. Not Rated.
BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN (1974) - Fun Filipino film, a mixture of martial arts action and comedy elements. Legend says that a pouch recently stolen from the grave of a 10th Century Chinese scientist contains a substance so powerful, whomever is in possession of it can rule or destroy the world. Professional boxer Calvin Jefferson (James Iglehart; SAVAGE - 1973; FIGHTING MAD - 1978) and his new bride Marlene (Shirley Washington; DARKTOWN STRUTTERS - 1974) are visiting Hong Kong on their honeymoon and get mixed up in the whole mess when one of the bad guys places the pouch in a statue of Buddha that Marlene bought as a souvenir. The bad guy does this to insure that the pouch will make it out of Hong Kong customs and to Manila, where head bad guy, Leo King (a bald Ken Metcalfe, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Zucchero, who also has a role here), plans on retrieving it and ruling the world. While in Hong Kong, Calvin saves the life of mute peasant Chow Lee (Chiquito; ARIZONA KID - 1971; JAMES WONG - 1973), who was knocked-out and thrown in the ocean by three street thugs after saving a young woman from being raped. Calvin jumps in the ocean and saves his life and from that moment on, Chow Lee (who Calvin renames "Charley") is indebted to lifelong servitude to Calvin and becomes an unwanted third wheel in Calvin and Marlene's honeymoon. No matter how much they try to ditch him, Charley says close behind them, stowing away on the ship to Manila and eventually saving Calvin's life when Mr. King's goons try to steal the Buddha (Charley's very good in the arts that are martial). Calvin and Marlene eventually welcome Charley into their lives and it's a good thing, too, because Mr. King sends wave after wave of bad guys to steal the Buddha. Charley teaches Calvin the finer points of the martial arts to go along with his boxing skills (which aren't very good when you're facing kung-fu experts) and when Mr. King finally steals the Buddha and finds that the pouch is not in it, Calvin will have to use his new-found skills when Mr. King believes he stole the pouch. Mr. King kidnaps Marlene, which forces Calvin and Charley to figure out where the pouch is and deliver it to Mr. King before Marlene is killed. Charley discovers the true location of the pouch and races to Mr. King's hideout with an inept police detective in tow to stop Calvin from making a big mistake. Everything works out in the end when it is discovered that the "powerful" substance in the pouch is nothing but simple gunpowder (powerful in the 10th Century, no so much today). Everyone, including Mr. King, have a good laugh when the gunpowder explodes in their faces, making everyone look like performers in a minstrel show. Oh, and Charley regains his ability to speak thanks to the explosion! This Filipino action film, directed by Cesar Gallardo (HUSTLER SQUAD - 1976) and produced by Cirio H. Santiago (TNT JACKSON - 1975), is a funny, if derivative, martial arts variation of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and bears striking similarities to director Robert Clouse's GOLDEN NEEDLES, made the same year as this. Lighthearted in tone, yet still containing bloody deaths and scenes of rape, BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN (also known as BLACK KUNG FU) treads a fine line between comedy and violence and succeeds most of the time. James Iglehart and Shirley Washington are surprisingly good as the newlywed couple and popular Filipino comedian Chiquito is very funny as the mute Charley. While he's a little too broad at times and his martial arts skills questionable at best (for a martial arts master, he sure does get knocked-out a lot), Chiquito makes a good silent partner for Iglehart. There are some funny sequences between the two, such as when Mr. King's head henchmen, Ambrose (Eddie Garcia; BEAST OF BLOOD - 1970; THE WOMAN HUNT - 1972), brings the duo to a massage parlor under false pretenses, which results in some hand-to-hand combat between the parties (and lots of screaming topless women) and Charley running out of the building bare-assed. There are plenty of badly-staged martial arts fights on view, but it is the goofy comedy (especially the unbelievable ending) by the game cast, including Ken Metcalfe (who seems to be in at least 80% of the Filipino action flicks I have seen), that will suck you in. Not a good film by any stretch of the imagination (the production values are horrid and the editing and sound recording are piss-poor), but an entertaining one nonetheless. Cesar Gallardo's son, Jun Gallardo (who was Associate Director here), directed many Filipino action flicks, Including RESCUE TEAM (1983), COMMANDO INVASION (1986) and SFX RETALIATOR (1987), usually using the pseudonym "John Gale". Also starring Marissa Delgado, Michael Boyet, Robert Rivera, Leo Martinez, Zubas Herrero, Benny Pestano, Steve Alcardo and a cameo by Vic Diaz as a hotel desk clerk. Distributed theatrically by American International Pictures. Never released legitimately on home video in the U.S., but it did get a Canadian VHS release through Astral Films. Available on DVD-R from many gray market sellers, including Cinefear Home Video. Rated R.
THE BLACK DRAGON (1974) - Hong Kong/Philippines co-production that mixes martial arts sequences with the tale of the grimy life of an undocumented worker on the mean streets of the Philippines. The film is more notable, though, for Ron Van Clief's screen debut in the title role (although he's a secondary character at best) and also for the wildly inappropriate bluegrass music (heavy on the harmonica and the banjo) playing on the soundtrack that totally ruins some of the early fight scenes. When his brother, Chi Fu Shi (Thompson Kao Kang), returns from the Philippines to his small Chinese farming village a refined and well-dressed businessman (although it's plain to see that his personality has not changed for the better), Tai Lin (Jason Pai Piao; BLOODY PARROT - 1981) borrows some money from him and heads to the Philippines, only to find its streets littered with opium addicts, pickpockets, illegal gambling and street fights. Tai Lin befriends pickpocket Siao Mao (Ruen Vernal), only to have Siao Mao betray him, stealing a pair of shoes Tai Lin's mother made him (which he promised to wear only when he becomes a "man") and losing them at a gambling den. Tai Lin takes pity on Siao and saves him from a beatdown at the hands of the gambling den's goons, where Tai retrieves his shoes and beats the snot out of the goons. Tai takes a job on the docks, where the majority of Chinese immigrants end up when they can't find any decent work. After witnessing one of his fellow "dockers" being beaten-up for moving too slow, Tai intervenes and ends up defeating a bunch of the Big Boss' men (Films like this don't assign a name to the big boss, preferring to just call them the "Big Boss"). This doesn't go unnoticed by the Big Boss, who convinces a naïve Tai to sign a contract to work for him as a "gang leader" at the docks (basically making him no better than the people he just defeated). On the first day of his new position, a rival gang headed by a Black (Ron Van Clief) and a Filipino (George Estregan) invade the docks, where Tai proves his worth by single-handedly defeating them in a fight. Tai is about to learn the hard way that he's actually working for the wrong side and is exploiting his own people, as the rival gang and Tai's new girlfriend, Ching Kwei (Nancy Veronica) open his eyes about what is really going on at the docks: The Big Boss is illegally exporting huge quantities of opium back to China and throughout the rest of the world. Tai quits his job in disgust and joins the rival gang, but he soon learns that the contract he signed is legally binding (by a crooked Filipino law system) and he has one of two choices: Work for the Big Boss for five years doing menial, back-breaking jobs or pay a $100,000 penalty. Being a man of his word, Tai has no choice but to work for the Big Boss, but Siao Mao, without Tai's knowledge, sneaks into the Big Boss' house to steal the contract. Siao Mao is killed, but not before delivering the contract to Tai, who finally believes he is now man enough to wear the shoes his mother made him. Together with his unnamed Black and Filipino cohorts, Tai begins dismantling the Big Boss' operation, one bone-crushing encounter after another until Tai learns the awful truth about his brother's involvement in this whole mess. This martial arts action flick, directed by Tommy Loo Chun (real name: Lu Chin Ku), who also directed the weird horror/fantasy MAGIC CURSE (1977), as well as many other kung fu films (such as TIGER OVER WALL - 1980), is typical of the many martial arts films released in the 70's as drive-in and grindhouse fodder. It's hideously dubbed, re-edited and renamed to appease English-speaking audiences. The title THE BLACK DRAGON is highly misleading because the majority of the film is about Tai's plight. Ron (here billed as "Ronnie") Van Clief plays a supporting role here and has fairly little to do besides appear in a few fight scenes. The fact that he and George Estregan (who is billed as "Jorge Estraga" on the ad mats) are not even given proper names for their characters speaks volumes about their importance to the plot. Van Clief would return with more prominent roles in the in-name-only sequels BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE (1975) and WAY OF THE BLACK DRAGON (1978). This could have been an interesting film about how Chinese immigrants were abused in the Philippines, but THE BLACK DRAGON turns out to be nothing but a mediocre martial arts action film where even the fight scenes are uninspired. There's nothing remotely entertaining about it unless you like exaggerated sound effects and terrible English dubbing. Also starring Subas Herrero, Chen Liu, Mon Hu, Bella Flores, Philip Coo and Michael Boffrey. Originally available on VHS from Sun Video and available on double feature DVD from BCI Eclipse (with CHINESE HERCULES - 1974) as part of their now-defunct "Exploitation Cinema" banner. Also available on a double-feature DVD from Code Red with BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE. Rated R.
BLOOD RING (1991) - As the 80's drew to a close and the 90's were upon us, director Teddy Page (using his "Irvin Johnson" pseudonym) stopped making his exciting brand of Filipino war actioners (WAR WITHOUT END - 1986; PHANTOM SOLDIERS - 1987; JUNGLE RATS - 1987; FINAL REPRISAL - 1988) and switched to the martial arts genre, thanks to the glut of war films that over-saturated the home video market. Page managed to bring his usual repertoire of stock actors over to his martial arts flicks, but since none of them were actual martial artists, he brought in Dale "Apollo" Cook as his leading man (Page also used Cook in his FIST OF STEEL, made the same year as this). Unfortunately, Cook isn't much of an actor (check out his abysmal performance in AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 ), but he is a pretty good fighter, so your enjoyment level of BLOOD RING will depend on your tolerance for stiff acting by a lead actor (and I mean frozen corpse stiff). Alcoholic fighter Max Rivers (Cook) makes a living by throwing matches in illegal back alley martial arts fights for crooked fight promoter Dingo (Norman Howard). After "losing" his latest fight, Max is visited by Susan (Andrea Lamatsch; SUDDEN THUNDER - 1990, who is stiffer than Cook), the wife of Max's best friend Philip (Steve Tartalia), who is also a fighter. Susan tells Max that Philip has disappeared and she fears that his manager, champion martial artist Don Carlio (Don Nakaya Neilsen), is responsible. At first, Max thinks Susan is over-reacting, but when she goes to Don Carlio's office to do some snooping of her own, is shot in the arm and almost kidnapped by Don Carlio's head henchman Stevens (James Gaines), Max does some investigating of his own and finds out (after beating the crap out of some of Don Carlio's security guards; one of them played by Nick Nicholson) that Philip was shipped off to South America to fight in a big martial arts tournament. When Don Carlio finds out what a good fighter Max really is, he has Stevens kidnap Susan (she and Max are ex-lovers) and holds her as an insurance policy, forcing Max to work for him as a fighter. Max and Susan and sent to South America, where Max is thrown into a dungeon cell and only let out to fight tournament matches. Max's first fight is against D'Executioner (Cris Aguilar) and when Max doesn't give his all, Don Carlio trots out Susan and Stevens starts to fondle her, causing Max's blood to boil and win the match. When Max and Susan learn that Philip is dead, they escape the dungeon and hide out in the jungle, but Don Carlio recaptures Susan (after Max kills Stevens by impaling him on a tree branch), forcing Max to return to Don Carlio's compound in Rambo mode, blasting his way in with a shotgun and sticks of dynamite. This leads to the inevitable final confrontation, where Max must fight Don Carlio in the ring (where the ropes are lined with barbed wire!) for Susan's life. Care to guess who wins? Compared to Teddy Page's 80's war actioners, BLOOD RING is a major disappointment. It's apparent that Page is working with a smaller budget than usual, but there's no excuse for some of the technical ineptitude on display here, including terrible sound recording (the boom mike can be seen in several scenes), sloppy camerawork and lighting and the fact that South America seems to be populated by Filipino and American expatriate extras (including Steve Rogers and Jim Moss). Add to that the fact that many of the lead actors on display here are just terrible (besides Cook, Andrea Lamatsch sounds exactly like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the emotional range to match and Don Nakaya Neilsen is so wooden, he could be the substitute for the mulch you spread around your garden) and even the usually dependable Jim Gaines looks to be slumming here. The only worthwhile fight scenes in this film are when a street gang play a game of "Keep Away" with Max's bottle of Jack Daniels and the final bloody match between Max and Don Carlio in the barbed wire ring. All the other fights are pretty disposable and lack any oomph. The poverty of the production (all of the fighting scenes in the ring have no lighting on the outside of the ropes to hide the fact that hardly anyone is in the audience) and the illogical storyline (When Susan learns husband Philip is dead, she immediately jumps in the sack with Max. Way to grieve, Susan!) leaves little to admire here, even if it did spawn a sequel, BLOOD RING 2 (1994), using many of the same actors. A rare loser from the late Teddy Page (real name: Teddy Chiu), who died in 2008. Also starring Ned Hourani and Richard Olney. Released on VHS by A.I.P. Home Video and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
THE CHAKU MASTER (1974) - This ridiculous semi-intentionally funny Filippino martial arts actioner should only be viewed in a state of total inebriation. A chap by the name of Bruce Lee (Bruce Ly) returns to his Philippines coastal hometown after being away in China, Thailand and Japan learning different fighting techniques, only to find his town overrun by a bloodthirsty crimelord and his many goons. As soon as Bruce sets foot in town, he is attacked by four men in a car (one guy eats a razor blade and swigs from a bottle of booze to prove how tough he is). After defeating them (and getting his pretty white suit all dirty), he heads to his home where he learns about what has been going on since he has been away. The townspeople are glad he has returned and look on him as their saviour. After the crimelord has his men kill most of Bruce's friends (including a little boy), Bruce goes on the warpath but the crimelord sets him up to take the fall in the shooting death of another young boy. He is arrested and thrown in jail, but escapes after making some fake blood and tricking the jailer into thinking that he's hurt. Bruce must prove his innocence as well as bring down the crimelord. Now using the alias "Mario", Bruce defends a young woman and her father from two thugs named Lui and Fedal. To show her appreciation, the young woman gives him a job on her farm shucking coconuts. Finding out that the young woman is the sister of the boy he is accused of killing, Bruce leaves to end the life of the crimelord. His overseas training comes in handy, as he will have to fight Chinese, Thai and Japanese fighters (including a lengthy fight with a sumo wrestler) in order to get to the crimelord. It all ends on the high seas, as Bruce and a sympathetic cop fight the crimelord and his henchman on a junk. Be prepared for an abrupt ending. I can't begin to describe how utterly delirious this film actually is, but I'll try. There's one scene where Bruce defeats a guy named Nando and he then does a backflip into some chick's moving Mustang. They park underneath a tree and begin to make out when a bunch of bad guys fall out of the tree and fight Bruce. After he defeats them, he goes back to making out with the girl. She begins to give him a blowjob and we see the look of ecstacy on Bruce's face, intercut with scenes of zoo animals eating and licking their food! There's another scene of a young boy getting shot in the chest and when the dying kid asks Bruce if he's going to be OK, he says, "Don't worry, it's only a scratch." The boy then dies. It's quite plain to see that this print comes from England because every time Bruce pulls his nunchucks out of his socks, there's a huge edit which concludes with the bad guys lying on the ground and Bruce is no longer holding the nunchucks. The film is missing over four minutes of nunchuck action, thanks to Britain's stance on showing how nunchucks are used may influence children to perform copycat violence (a stance which has since been abolished). It's really difficult to tell if director/producer Luis San Juan (DOLPHY'S ANGELS - 1980) was trying to make a comedy here (the dubbing makes it seem so, as there were a few moments when I actually laughed out loud at what was being said). The reason why it is so hard to tell is because Filippino productions have no problem mixing slapstick with extreme violence (including the death of children). What's even harder to establish is the year this film was made. Judging from the bell-bottom trousers and disco-style large collar shirts, I want to say anywhere between the years of 1976 - 1980. But, knowing how the Fillipinos tend to catch on to American fads later than most other countries, this film could have been made as late as 1984. I did find a 1979 Filippino film titled THEY CALL HIM BRUCE LEE on IMDB that sounds a lot like this film, but the IMDB lists a different director (Francis Posadas). We all know how inaccurate that site can be at times, though, don't we? THE CHAKU MASTER (a kind of ironic title considering what was edited out of it) is grand entertainment, even if it's for all the wrong reasons. Have plenty of alcohol handy. Also starring Tony Bernard, Rey Malonzo (of CLASSIFIED OPERATION and SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE, although I couldn't spot him in the cast) and a brief appearance by Phillipines action stand-by Jim Gaines. An InterVision Ltd. DVD Release. Not Rated. NOTE: Andrew Leavold's wonderful blog, THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG, states that this film was actually made in 1974.
CLASH OF THE NINJAS (1986) - Another Filmark International Ltd. production from producer Tomas Tang and director Godfrey Ho (using the name "Wallace Chan" here), where they take an unreleased Hong Kong martial arts flick and badly intercut new footage featuring Caucasian actors (see my reviews of DIAMOND NINJA FORCE  and INSTANT RAGE  for more Tang/Ho goodness). This one deals with a black market that trades in illegal human organs. The film opens with some Chinese dude being led against his will to an operating room, where a team of smiling white doctors remove his eyes and kidneys and put the in glass jars. We then cut to the board room of the evil Mr. Roy (Louis Roth), who is discussing prices of body parts with his cohorts (all white, of course), when he gets a call saying that all his "guinea pigs" have escaped from the basement operating room. Mr. Roy becomes a black-masked ninja and, in one of the worst edited scenes of old and new footage (check out Roy's throwing star emblem on his headgear and compare it with the old footage), proceeds to slice and dice a bunch of Chinese men and women in a field with a sword and throwing stars. Tony (Paul Torcha), an Interpol agent, tries to intercept a money payment from goons sent by Mafia chieftan Mr. Foster (Joe Redner), but after yelling, "Hold it there, we're Interpol!" and capturing the goons after a short fight, another black ninja (who works for Mr. Roy) kills the goons with poison darts from his blowgun and then disappears into thin air (it's hilarious in it's ineptitude). Mr. Roy puts a hit out on the final four guinea pigs who escaped from his basement. Two are killed trying to hide in a church ("Maybe God can help!") by a black ninja disguised as a priest, who then sets a cop on fire with daggers that spit flames ("Holy smokes, a flamethrower!") and then disappears in a puff of smoke. The final two guinea pigs hide out with an uncle, while Tony and his black partner (who is sliced numerous times with a sword and sent to the hospital, where he is bandaged head-to-toe!) and Mr. Roy and his associates try to find them, for totally different reasons. The finale finds red ninja Tony (and his amazing spinning head!) fighting black ninja Mr. Roy (and his trusty bullwhip!) in a duel to the death. One of them blows up in a puff of red and white smoke. Care to guess which one? Full of nonsensical scenes, such as when police surround a black ninja in a circle (what I call a "Polish firing squad") and shoot him dozens of times, yet he still escapes (!), CLASH OF THE NINJAS may be fragmented and incoherent, but it is never boring. From the opening graphic surgery, to the numerous fights (where people are stabbed, pummeled, shot, impaled and blown up), car chases and near-rapes, this film moves at a brisk clip. Half the fun of watching these types of films is for the bad dubbing and insane dialogue and this one doesn't disappoint. As with most films of this ilk, they are dubbed by Brits who try to talk American with hilarious results. They pronounce "mafia" as "mafier" and "ninja" as "ninjer" and some of the dialogue is priceless. One guy ask another: "What's the TV like here?" He replies: "Great. Two channels and we watch it a lot!" A female hitwoman says this to her mark: "Hello, big boy. Shaving your lovely beard so we can be closer?" There's also a scene where Tony's girlfriend throws her entire record collection at an invisible ninja (most of the records stick to the wall in an unbelievable display of gravity) before the ninja slashes her to death with a straight razor. I must have missed straight razor training when I went to ninja school. The illegal human organ angle is dropped after the first ten minutes but, if you don't mind non-stop violence mixed with brain-frying lapses in logic, you may find that you'll be laughing yourself into liking this. Also starring Eric Neff, Bernie Junkner, Klauss Mutter, Eddie Chan, Max Kwan and Stanley Tong. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Not Rated.
COBRA AGAINST NINJA (1987) - Another insane martial arts cut-and-paste flick from producer Joseph Lai (for his IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production company), only this time he also directs (regular director Godfrey Ho only gets a story credit here). The newly-shot footage finds master ninja Gordon (Richard Harrison) being issued a "ninja challenge card" by bad ninja Cobra (Stuart Smith). I think we know what that means: Every 15 to 20 minutes, Gordon must fight Cobra's men until the climatic showdown in the finale. The reworked old footage (which looks to have come from some unreleased Indonesian action flick), which takes up the majority of the film's running time, has Chester heading home after a stint in the Army (His friends say to him as he's leaving, "Good luck, asshole!"), only to find his mother deeply in debt to Ringo, the local crimelord. One of Chester's Army buddies, Kirk, goes undercover in Ringo's gang to find his weakness, while Chester makes Ringo's life difficult on the outside, stealing a suitcase full of money that was to be used for betting on a fight. Meanwhile, Gordon's first fight is against "The Green Serpent", whom he easily defeats with a silver boomerang to the back of his head! Chester returns home to find his mother dead and his sister kidnapped by Raymond, Ringo's gangster brother. Chester kills one of Raymond's men with a broken bottle and gets the location of where his sister is being held. Kirk is hired as an assassin (he's given the name "The Killer Whale") and is told to kill Gordon but, when the time comes, he can't pull the trigger (in one of the film's badly-edited scenes that intercuts old and new footage). Gordon's next fight is against "The White Dolphin", whom he kills rather quickly with his sword. Chester's sister is raped by Raymond (a recurring theme in these flicks), but is saved by cop David, another one of Chester's Army brothers. Chester and all his Army buddies plant bombs at Ringo's headquarters, kill everyone and blow up Ringo as he tries to get away in his boat. Gordon faces Cobra in the final battle and they use swords, shields and spears. Gordon slices up Cobra and then walks into the sunset, in one of the most uneventful finales in this series of films. As with all of producers Joseph Lai's and Tomas Tang's Hong Kong pastiches, this film makes precious little sense, but offers tons of unintentional entertainment value. Let's start off with the newly-shot footage. Just so we know it's real ninjas that are fighting, they all wear brightly-colored headbands with the word "Ninja" emblazoned on the front. I almost spit soda out of my nose when I saw Gordon bean one opponent on the head with a boomerang. I did not know that piece of equipment was part of a ninja's arsenal. As with all of these flicks, after a fight, the winning ninja disappears into thin air. The intercutting between old and new footage is also very obvious, though this one has the forethought to have Harrison talk on the phone to people in the old footage, thereby negating the need to match backgrounds. The dubbing in this one is also pretty funny, such as when Ringo yells to his girlfriend, "You slimy, ugly whore of a bitch!" before putting a bullet between her eyes after finding out she was unfaithful. There's also a scene where David is being branded with a hot poker and the burly torturer laughs like a schoolgirl (!) and two other choice bits of dialogue, when Carter says, "The taste of death is satisfying!" after killing a bad guy and when Ringo's two floozies (one who talks like a Brit trying to do a Brooklyn accent!) tell him, "You're too old to start over!" after he tells them he's leaving the country. After watching about a dozen of these films (see my reviews for NINJA MASTERS OF DEATH - 1985; DIAMOND NINJA FORCE - 1985; CLASH OF THE NINJAS - 1986; NINJA THE PROTECTOR - 1986; and INSTANT RAGE - 1988), I see a definite pattern that they all follow, but each individually offers entertainment in decent-sized nuggets. Also starring Alan Friss, Paul Branney, Jimmy Bosco, Alfred Pears and Gary Carter. An Imperial Entertainment Corp. Release. Not Rated.
DAY OF THE PANTHER (1987) - Retiring Hong Kong Special Branch agent William Anderson (John Stanton of THE NAKED COUNTRY - 1984) inducts his protoge, Jason Blade (cherub-faced Edward John Stazak), and his daughter Linda (Linda Megier), both also HKSB agents, into the top secret martial arts society known as the "Temple Of The Panthers" (Blade has to brand himself on the forearm with a red-hot iron, but Linda doesn't!). While working undercover in Hong Kong, Blade and Linda photograph Jim Baxter (Jim Richards) making a huge drug deal with the local Triad, but they are spotted and in the ensuing fight, Baxter escapes and hops a plane back to Australia. Linda follows him to Perth and ends up getting killed by Baxter after fighting three of his rubber mask-wearing thugs (one of them carries a spiked baseball bat) in a long battle in empty warehouses. When Blade arrives in Australia (the local bumbling cops assigned to follow him think he is a top Traid enforcer) and finds out that Linda is dead, he makes it his mission to bring down Baxter and his boss, Damien Zukor (Michael Carman). Blade first stops at William's retirement cottage to pay his respects and meets William's niece Gemma (Paris Jefferson) and they soon fall in love (Must be something to those Anderson women that Blade likes!). Blade remains undercover and manages to get a job as one of Zukor's hired muscle, where he meets Baxter at a pool party at Zukor's mansion (Baxter shows his nastiness by pushing a bikini-clad girl in the pool for no reason at all!). Blade proves his trust to Zukor by delivering a package of (fake) drugs and beating the crap out of the hoods waiting for it (It was all a set-up by Zukor to test Blade's allegiance). When Blade learns that Zukor is holding an underground martial arts tournament as a cover for a major drug deal, he uses the tournament as a way to bring Zukor down and get his revenge on Baxter for killing Linda. When Baxter discovers Blade's true identity just before the tournament, Blade, William and Gemma make a beeline to the tournament site to grab Zukor's drugs and kick Baxter's ass. Atrociously acted (especially by lead Edward John Stazak), DAY OF THE PANTHER is rescued by some extremely lively action scenes that just pop with excitement. This should come as no surprise, as it was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who replaced the original director after four days of shooting and made this and it's sequel, STRIKE OF THE PANTHER (a.k.a. FISTS OF BLOOD), back-to-back in Australia for less than $500,000 each. While Stazak is a terrible actor (his only acting roles were in the two Panther films), he is a wonderful martial artist and Trenchard-Smith (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG - 1975) takes full advantage of Stazak's strengths, putting him in peril as much as possible and filming the fight scenes with a minimal amount of flashy editing techniques (some fights are filmed without any edits at all). Trenchard-Smith relies on Stazak's natural athletic abilities and always places the camera at the correct angle to maximize the impact. The weirdest fight scene doesn't involve Stazak at all, but rather his female partner Linda. She takes on three thugs wearing rubber masks (a skull, a toothless old man and a wild tusked boar) in an extensive sequence in a series of abandoned buildings. My favorite part of that sequence is when she rips the rubber skull mask off one of the thugs it reveals his face...in skull makeup! It's obvious that Trenchard-Smith patterned the look and feel of this film after MIAMI VICE (1984 - 1990), as the guys wear pastel colored jackets with rolled-up sleeves and tee shirts underneath and there are musical interludes, such as the hilarious scene where 80's big-haired Gemma dances provocatively in her leotard in front of Blade as he bench-presses weights in a gym. There's also a fight scene where Blade beats the snot out of several of Baxter's men with a broom handle and most of the action plays out as shadows on a brick wall! If you don't mind your action mindless (both Stazak and co-star Jim Richards are credited as Fight Co-ordinators), the story absurd and acting on an Ed Wood level, you could do a lot worse than this film. One technical gaffe (revealing it's low budget) shows a cameraman's hand as he tries to stop a falling stuntman from crashing into the camera. Also starring Zale Daniel, Matthew Quartermaine and Brian Fitzsimmons. A Celebrity Home Entertainment (VHS) Release. Also available on British DVD (Region 2 PAL) from ILC Prime. Not Rated.
DEATH MACHINES (1977) - When three of the best martial artists in the world, under the influence of a new mind control drug, start killing the hitmen belonging to gangster Mr. G. (Chuck Kizakian), he meets with Madame Lee (Mari Honjo - who looks like she is taking a shit every time she talks), who represents the unknown boss (only seen in the shadows) that owns the drug-controlled karate killers. Mr G. and Madame Lee strike up a deal, sending the killers to eliminate Mr. G.'s enemies. Their first stop is a martial arts academy, where they kill everyone with swift efficiency except Frank Thomas (John Lowe), who has his hand chopped off. Frank swears vengeance when the police detective (Ron Ackerman) questions him at the hospital. The superhuman trio (who wear bulletproof vests) try to kill Frank at the hospital but fail, leaving one of the trio (Ron Marchini) injured with a bullet wound to the head. During interrogation, the injured assassin escapes, killing a handful of cops in the process. He stops at a diner, where he meets the other two assassins, and kicks the shit out of a motorcycle gang (The diner owner hands him some religious pamphlets as he walks out the door!). The trio then kidnap the daughter of a bank president. When he refuses to resign his position, he is blown up with a bomb attached to a red Buddha. Meanwhile, Frank (remember him?) gets his life back together working as a one-handed bartender (!) at a strip joint and falls in love with the nurse that took care of him at the hospital. While taking his nurse/girlfriend to a motel, he spots the trio in a car. He has his girlfriend call the cops while he follows them. They end up at a makeshift airport in the woods, where Frank watches the trio blow up Mr. G. and his airplane with a bazooka. Frank then follows them back to Madame Lee's house, where the cops kill her after she attacks Frank with a sword. The three assassins are then seen at an airport, ready to board a flight to some unknown destination. This crazy, all-over-the-place, unclassifiable film is a highly enjoyable mess. Leaving many unanswered questions (Who is the unknown boss? What happened to the bank president's daughter?), DEATH MACHINES can never make up its' mind what kind of film it wants to be. Part martial arts actioner (which is why the review is here), part gangster drama, part police procedural and part love story, this film takes all those parts (and then some), throws it all together and comes up with one looney and campy flick. Filled with flying bodies (and body parts), explosions, gunfights and kung fu moves, director Paul Kyriazi (WEAPONS OF DEATH - 1981; CRAZED COP - 1986; OMEGA COP - 1990) gets high marks in keeping you entertained and your mind off the gaping plot holes. It's as if he was making it up as he went along. Don't go in expecting much and you'll probably have a good time. Star Ron Marchini (who doesn't speak one word here) can also be seen in the aforementioned OMEGA COP, as well as KARATE COP (1991), KARATE RAIDER (1995 - which he also directed) and many others. Also starring Michael Chong (Asian Assassin), Joshua Johnson (Black Assassin) and Edward Blair. A Rhino Home Video DVD (fullscreen) Release. Finally released in it's original OAR on DVD from Code Red. Rated R.
DIAMOND NINJA FORCE (1986) - This is one of director Godfrey Ho's notorious cut-and-paste jobs where he shoots about 15 - 20 minutes of new footage (usually featuring Richard Harrison) and incorporates that footage into some unreleased or unfinished Hong Kong flick. When construction workers unearth human remains at a building site, the developer pays off the workers to look the other way. It happens to be the burial site of the Black Ninjas, who lost a major battle with the Diamond Ninja Force one hundred years earlier and they, along with their treasure and magic, were buried there. The decendant of the Black Ninjas hires a female sorcerer to do her "Devil Magic" on the developer. She does (she turns the sky black) and kills him in his limo. His daughter, Fanny Wong, takes over the business and refuses to sell the land to the Black Ninja decendant. It's not long after that the female sorcerer is working her magic on Fanny and her family: Husband George and little son Bobo (Christ, she must hate her child to give him the name "Bobo"!). Soon, Fanny and Bobo are seeing ghosts and other strange things (floating objects, strange noises, flowers wilting, etc.) and George thinks that they are imagining it. George goes to Gordon (Harrison), who happens to be the Golden Ninja Warrior (a decendant of the Diamond Ninja Force), and asks for help with his wife and child (It's also painfully obvious that this scene never happened, as it is a bad editing job between old and new footage.). Gordon sends a detective named Firecracker to babysit Fanny and Bobo when they still see ghosts, as well as snakes and rats. Firecracker bolts out the door at the first sign of trouble and runs back to Gordon (more bad intercutting). Gordon tells Firecracker to go get sorcerer Magic Chan and return to Fanny's house. While all this is happening, Gordon gets into a series of fights with members of the Black Ninja clan. When Bobo is attacked by demons, levitated in the air and made to eat grass (!) and George is raped by a ghost, good sorcerer Magic Chan arrives on the scene but forgot to bring his magic mirror (the stupid oaf). He sends Firecracker to retrieve it and papers the house with magic spells. What happens next is so unbelievable (and insanely illogical), I refuse to describe it to you. You will just have to experience it for yourself. You'll thank me for it. Entertaining in it's badness, DIAMOND NINJA FORCE doesn't make a lick of sense, bit it ain't boring. Godfrey Ho has taken some obscure Hong Kong supernatural film and turned it into a semi-martial arts flick, as every 10 minutes or so, Richard Harrison pops up on screen in his red ninja outfit to kill people unrelated to the rest of the film. Ho and producer Joseph Lai churned out dozens of these flicks during the 80's. A lot of them were released on tape by Imperial Entertainment and Trans World Entertainment. This one is filled with stupefying dialogue ("Don't wet the bed!" is George's goodnight line to Bobo.), nonsensical images (at one point, Harrison is seen using a Garfield the Cat telephone!) and some of the worst intercutting of old and new footage that I have ever seen (even worse than Ho's DEADLY DARLING - 1985). This film is one of those "What The Fuck?!" experiences that is best viewed after downing a sixpack or smoking a couple of joints. This is entertainment for the dead braincell crowd. Also starring Donald Kong, John Ladalski, Melvin Pitcher, Curtis Yao, Andy Chrorowsky and Yolanda Chang. Those thieving scum-sucking pirates over at VideoAsia/Ventura Distribution released this as part of their TALES OF VOODOO DVD series (Volume 2) under the title GHOST NINJA. It's a VHS port with rollouts, distortion and video noise associated with an overused tape that was probably copped from the Trans World Entertainment VHS tape from the 80's. Buyer beware. Not Rated.
THE ENFORCER FROM DEATH ROW (1978) - As soon as you hear the opening guitar licks from Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" on the soundtrack of this cheap Philippines-lensed martial arts actioner, you know you are about to watch something unoriginal and done to death a thousand times before. But don't write it off just yet; there's more going on here than meets the ear. The film opens with some black-clad ninjas following a scared guy down a dark street and then cornering him in a swimming pool, where they punch and kick him, eventually drowning him (apparently, the guy can't hold his breath longer than ten seconds!). We then switch to the headquarters of the World Organization of Peace (WOP!), where the members are informed that three of their four agents have been killed in Manila (the fourth hasn't been heard from in a couple of days, but I'm willing to bet he's the guy we just saw drowned in the pool) and they have received a letter from a terrorist group called NOMAD demanding that unless a 45 million dollar ransom is paid, the entire population of the Philippines will be wiped out. To show they are serious, "key figures will be annihilated, one each week, beginning on the 25th of this month" (Christ, I hope it's not December!). WOP has discovered that NOMAD has stolen several vials of a deadly bacterium and plans on using it, so the heads of WOP (and not one of them looks Italian!) decide to bring in an outsider to do their dirty work. That outsider is T.L. Young (Leo Fong; KILLPOINT - 1984), a prisoner on Death Row who is about to be executed in the gas chamber for a crime he didn't commit. WOP members bribe prison officials to fake Young's death and WOP member Anderson (B.T. Anderson) acts as Young's priest as they walk to the gas chamber, where Young is given a pill to swallow as fake poison gas fills up the chamber. Young's apparently dead body is quickly taken away by an ambulance, he is revived, is informed of his mission and begins a strenuous workout regime to get in shape. Young takes a new name, "Albert Lim", and flies to Manila, where he is supposed to meet WOP informant Jose Cervantes, but NOMAD baddie Drago (Charlie Davao) gets to him first, torturing and killing Jose by hanging his body upside down in a cage while poisonous snakes bite his body. Drago's boss, Mr. Spenser (Darnell Garcia), catches another spy trying to infiltrate his organization, so he has his hulking black sidekick, appropriately named Monster, tie the spy to the floor while rats eat him alive. While searching Jose's room, Young runs into some ninjas, but he fights them off, which leads to a car/motorcycle chase where Young's car is firebombed. When Danny (George Estregan) is nearly killed by Drago and Monster (by being lowered slowly into a vat of acid like some old BATMAN episode), he escapes and joins forces with Young to bring down NOMAD and rescue Danny's sister Vicky (Lotis Key). The finale finds Young flying a helicopter and picking up Spenser's car with a giant claw, depositing him in the ocean to drown. This insane Filipino actioner, co-directed by Efren C. Pinon (BLIND RAGE - 1978 [also starring Fong]; THE KILLING OF SATAN - 1983; TRANSFORMED - 2003 [also starring Fong]) and Marshall M. Borden (who is probably responsible for the insert footage featuring Cameron Mitchell [who plays a government official who sucks on a lollipop like KOJAK], which accounts for less than 1% of the entire film), makes about as much sense aa a blind man at a book store without a Braille section, but the simple fact is the film's so goofy and endearing, it's hard not to enjoy it. The goofiest thing about this film is Leo Fong's voice. He looks like any slightly overweight Asian action star, but speaks like a Texas cowboy (that's his real voice, folks!). Fong, who also co-produced and wrote the trippy screenplay, would go on to star in a slew of self-financed vanity projects (which some people have rightfully dubbed "Fongsploitation"), including LOW BLOW - 1986; BLOOD STREET - 1990 and SHOWDOWN - 1993, but the simple fact is he's not much of a martial artist and even less of an actor. This has all the earmarks of a Filipino action film of the 70's: awkwardly staged martial arts fight scenes and car chases; copious amounts of female nudity and rape; and graphic bits of violence (including the rat feasting scene and Vicky's torture by soldering iron). It's not one of the best in the genre, but it has its moments, making THE ENFORCER FROM DEATH ROW an OK time-waster for fans of this stuff (myself included). Also known as NINJA ASSASSINS and NINJA ENFORCER. Also starring John Hammond, Ann Farber and Mariwin Roberts. Originally released on VHS by Lightning Video and later on Genesis Home Video. Be aware that some versions, including the DVD released by Mac Filmworks, Inc., totally omits Cameron Mitchell's appearance as well as some of the more violent bits (including Danny's death). Rated R.
ENTER THE NINJA (1981) - This is the classic early 80's martial arts actioner from Cannon Films that quite possibly inspired all those Godfrey Ho/Richard Harrison cut-and-paste flicks that littered the video store shelves throughout the 80's. After passing his test to become a Master Ninja (which involves running a gauntlet involving swordfights, hand-to-hand combat and even a decapitation), Cole (a badly dubbed Franco Nero; REDNECK - 1973; DAY OF THE COBRA - 1980) receives a scroll from Master Komori (Dale Ishimoto) that officially makes him a ninja for life. He also makes an enemy for life in Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi; NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA - 1983; PRAY FOR DEATH - 1985), who doesn't believe a Caucasian should ever be made a ninja. Cole then travels to the Philippines, where he visits old Army buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney; PROGRAMMED TO KILL - 1987) and his wife Mary Ann (Susan George; DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY - 1974; MANDINGO - 1975), who own a coconut plantation. It seems evil businessman Charles Venarius (Christopher George; DIXIE DYNAMITE - 1976; PIECES - 1982) wants the Landers' plantation because there's a fortune in oil (not the coconut kind) under the ground. Thank goodness Cole has shown up, because Frank has turned into a hopeless alcoholic, leaving Mary Ann to deal with the problems, such as all the long-time workers quitting after Venarius' chief lackey, Siegfried Schultz (Zachi Noy, in the film's funniest performance), also known as "The Hook" (guess why?), and his goons beat them up and tell them not to come back. Thanks to Cole's ninja skills, he is able to beat back Sigfried and his men (Cole even rips-off Siegfried's hook, leaving nothing but a bloody stump!), which pisses-off Venarius to no end (He fires Siegfried on the spot!). When Venarius discovers that Cole is a ninja, he sends his right-hand man, Mr. Parker (Constantin De Goguel), to Japan to hire a ninja of his own. Guess who he comes back with? That's right, Cole's lifetime enemy Hasegawa and he tells Venarius that if he doesn't succeed in killing Cole, he will commit hara-kiri! Hasegawa kills Frank, kidnaps Mary Ann and burns down the plantation, forcing Cole to go into Master Ninja mode to rescue Mary Ann and kill all those responsible for Frank's death. Frank kills Venarius and all his underlings and the finale finds Cole fighting Hasegawa to the death in Venarius' warehouse arena, where Cole, after defeating Hasegawa, gives him a proper ninja death. Despite the fact that Franco Nero is obviously dubbed (although it's apparent that he's speaking English), ENTER THE NINJA is an entertainingly goofy martial arts epic with much to recommend. Directed by Cannon Films co-founder Menahem Golan (THE MAGICIAN OF LUBLIN - 1979; THE APPLE - 1980; OVER THE TOP - 1987; HIT THE DUTCHMAN - 1992; and his masterwork, THE DELTA FORCE - 1986) with a certain sense of style and flair (the camerawork is especially good for a B-movie). It's extremely bloody (even if the first ten minutes are somewhat of a cheat), as people are sliced, diced, impaled, decapitated, stabbed, shot and dismembered. Even though it's plain to see that Nero (who wears a white ninja outfit) is being doubled by a stuntman in some of the more strenuous action sequences, especially when he's pitted against Sho Kosugi (who wears a black ninja outfit), there are plenty of bloody action set-pieces on view, such as Hasegawa killing Frank while a tied-up Mary Ann is forced to watch and Cole's retribution as he storms Venarius' highrise building and then his warehouse arena. Christopher George is a hoot as Venarius (his death is pure comic genius), as he screams out orders with a faint lisp. It's implied (though not overtly) that his character is gay, even though his indoor swimming pool is always stocked with beautiful women. When he screams out, "Where is my black ninja?" during the action-packed finale, I dare you not to laugh. Susan George is basically wasted in a "heroine in distress" role, but I have to admit I was surprised when husband Frank (who is impotent from his chronic alcoholism) gives her permission to fuck Cole and she doesn't hesitate to do so! This Philippines-lensed martial arts actioner is colorful, exciting and even, at times, laugh-out-loud funny (and not unintentionally so) and should be enjoyed by all chop sockey fanatics, as well as action lovers in general. It works exceptionally well because it never takes itself too seriously (Nero even winks directly into the camera in the film's closing shot). Thanks to the world-wide success of this film, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus made two equally successful, but unrelated, sequels: REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984), both directed by Sam Firstenberg (AMERICAN NINJA - 1985) and starring Sho Kosugi. NINJA III is a delirious stew of martial arts and horror genres mixed together for an experience you will not soon forget. Also starring Will Hare and Filipino staples Joonee Gamboa, Leo Martinez and Ken Metcalfe. Originally released on VHS in one of those MGM/UA Home Video big flipper boxes. Available on widescreen DVD-R as part of MGM Home Video's "Limited Edition Collection" MOD program. Hey, it's better than nothing!. Rated R.
FIRECRACKER (1981) - Director/co-scripter Cirio H. Santiago remakes his own TNT JACKSON (1975), only this time it contains much more martial arts action. Los Angeles martial arts teacher Susie Carter (Jillian Kesner; RAW FORCE - 1982) travels to the Philippines to search for her missing reporter sister Bonnie and encounters deadly resistance from the moment she steps off the plane. It's a good thing Susie is well-versed in the martial arts, because wave after wave of kung-fu fighting goons, the minions of head bad guy Erik (co-scripter Ken Metcalfe), try to kill her every chance they get. Susie soon teams up with burly bartender Pete (Peter Cooper; Santiago's STRYKER - 1983) and local kung-fu expert Rey (Rey Malonzo; CLASSIFIED OPERATION - 1985, billed here as "Reymond King") to find out what happened to Bonnie and why people will kill to make sure they don't find her. Susie finds her sister's camera and when the photos are developed, she finds a picture of Chuck Donner (Darby Hinton; MALIBU EXPRESS - 1985), Erik's martial arts champion and chief enforcer (In the beginning of the film, we see Chuck killing an opponent in the ring by impaling him on a sword-tipped pole). Susie heads to Erik's nightclub, The Arena (where audience members watch people beat the stuffing out of each other on a stage), and cozies-up to Chuck, telling him that she's looking for a place to work out. Erik is immediately suspicious and so is his crime partner Grip (Vic Diaz; Santiago's SAVAGE - 1973), but Chuck is so smitten he ignores Erik's warnings. Meanwhile, Susie bones-up on her martial arts skills by having Rey's Master teach her a new fighting technique using two wooden sticks. She also begins following Chuck as he goes about his daily illegal routine, but she is urged to stop following him by a police detective (Tony Ferrer; Weng Weng's Chief in FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY - 1981), who tells Susie that Bonnie may have disappeared because she uncovered information regarding Erik's illegal drug business. This doesn't deter Susie from following Chuck and she is eventually captured by Grip, who questions her using a poisonous cobra as "truth serum", but she escapes (and throws the cobra in Grip's face!). After many close calls, where Susie must fight numerous battles, the police discover Bonnie's corpse and Susie inexplicably runs into Chuck's arms for comfort (where, in a lovemaking scene directly from the Twilight Zone, he cuts off all her clothes with knives and she reciprocates!). The loving doesn't last very long, though, as Susie soon discovers that Chuck killed Bonnie on Erik's orders (She seems to be the only one who didn't know this fact!). Susie goes on a mission of revenge and, before the film is done, she will face Chuck in the "Arena of Death", Erik's private martial arts tournament ring. This is not going to be pretty, as Rey and the police show up to deal with Erik and his thugs while Susie deals with Chuck in the ring. Chuck loses his life (and his eyes!) when Susie finally picks up her two sticks and uses them as Rey's Master taught her. While nothing more than a series of lively martial arts sequences held together by the flimsiest of plots, FIRECRACKER (also known as NAKED FIST) moves along at a brisk pace and, at 77 minutes, is not long enough to become repetitive. The beautiful Jillian Kesner, who died in 2007 of a staph infection and was also the wife of late cinematographer/director Gary Graver (she appeared in his TRICK OR TREATS , MOON IN SCORPIO  and several others), does a good job here as the high-kicking heroine who manages to survive fight after fight to get her revenge. Her standout scene comes when she fights two guys in a lumber warehouse and keeps losing articles of her clothing until she is topless, wearing nothing but panties. This is also the films bloodiest sequence, as we witness a warehouse guard knocked to the ground and impaled on a scythe, while one of the fighters purposely steps on his body, forcing the blade to bloodily thrust out his chest and one of the fighters falling head-first onto the spinning blade of a circular saw until his skull is cut in half right between the eyes. Chuck's death in the finale is (if you pardon the pun) also an eye-opener. No one ever accused Cirio H. Santiago of making high-concept, thought-provoking films, but, damn, he sure made entertaining ones with plenty of eye candy. Santiago would remake the same film a second time with 1992's ANGELFIST, starring Cat Sassoon in the role originated by Jeanne Bell in TNT JACKSON. Santiago's next film as a director would be considered his exploitation masterpiece, the WIP flick CAGED FURY (1983). Allan Holzman, the director of FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982), OUT OF CONTROL (1985) and PROGRAMMED TO KILL (1987) is credited on some prints of FIRECRACKER as "Director of Additional Scenes", including the insert of the graphic eye-poking in the finale. Also starring Chanda Romero, Carolyn Smith, Omar Camar, Don Gordon Bell and Rubiah Suparman. Originally released on VHS by Monterey Home Video and available on a triple feature DVD (with TNT JACKSON  and TOO HOT TO HANDLE ) as part of the LETHAL LADIES COLLECTION (Volume One) from Shout! Factory. Rated R.
FIST OF DRAGON (1977) - Two undercover female cops, nicknamed the "Big Sisters", are stirring up trouble in Chinatown, disrupting the business of the mob kingpin known as the Big Boss. Big Sister #1 busts up gambling dens, prostitution rackets and, in one unbelievable scene, beats the snot out of two rapists who first fight each other over who will rape her first. The townspeople catch the rapists and shove a wooden pole up one rapist's ass and slice the pecker off the other one (thankfully, offscreen). Big Sister #2 releases a hoarde of snakes into one of the Big Boss' bathhouse/whorehouses, causing a bunch of naked women and men to run out into the street. The Big Boss is anxious to find out the true identities of the Big Sisters, so he hires two bumbling men to follow them (they are so inept a blind man could spot them). The Big Sisters lead the two men and some more goons to a zoo, where a big fight breaks out and the Big Boss takes one of the Sisters prisoner. She convinces the Big Boss to let her join his gang. With one Sister on the inside and the other on the outside, they are able to destroy the Big Boss and his illegal businesses once and for all. Sister on the inside bugs the Big Boss' office and bedroom and learns all his intimate secrets. Problems arise when the real Big Sister (I was just as surprised as you to learn there was a real Big Sister!) appears on the scene, causing all kinds of trouble for Big Sister on the inside. The real Big Sister and the undercover Big Sister on the inside face off for a final fight. The police arrive in the nick of time to save the day. Believe it or not, most of this film is played as an outrageous comedy. Released in the States under the misleading title KUNG FU HALLOWEEN (a section of the film during the middle takes place during a masquerade party, which results in a bunch of costumed people to get in a lengthy fight), most of the humor fails miserably or just seems wildly inappropriate. The scene where the rapist gets his weiner lopped-off quickly cuts to a woman cleaving a link of sausage in two and biting one of the pieces. Hardee-har-har! The awful dubbing also doesn't help. When the Big Sister on the inside sees that the Big Boss' girlfriend is getting jealous, she says, "I better go before that girlfriend of your's busts a gut." Here's another charming chunk of dialogue: "Stupid broad. She thinks I'm stupid?" It flows like pure Hemingway (not). There's also plenty of lifted bad music, including an excruciating disco rendition of "Flight Of The Bumblebee" in the opening minutes. The martial arts fights are also sub-par, consisting of badly-staged fist fights and numerous slow-motion shots of the Big Sisters jumping through the air, courtesy of hidden trampolines. The worst (and most unbelievable) part of the film is when Big Sister on the inside tries to pass Big Sister on the outside as her brother Peter, by simply dressing her in a man's leisure suit (she doesn't even try to change her voice) and the Big Boss falls for it! There's not much to recommend here except bad fights, crappy dialogue and plenty of lowbrow humor. Directed by Lam Chi Kam and Liu Sun. Starring Law Lee, Ka Ling, Tien I and Chang Wang. The print I viewed came from Vomit Bag Video. It looks to be sourced from a PAL tape. Rated R.
FISTS OF BLOOD (1987) - The continuing adventures of Jason Blade (Edward John Stazak), agent for Hong Kong Special Branch and member of the top secret martial arts society, Temple of the Panthers. Picking up directly after the first film, DAY OF THE PANTHER (filmed back-to-back with this) left off, (a short synopsis, using footage from the first film, catches up new viewers), Blade once again joins forces with his mentor, William Anderson (John Stanton), to save Julia Summers (Fiona Gauntlett), the daughter of a judge, from a Mob-run whorehouse. Using the name "Mr. Smith", Blade enters the brothel and saves Julia, but not before having to beat the crap out of a bunch of Mob goons (When Blade enters one of the brothel rooms and spots a guy in a chicken suit about to do something kinky, he says, "You're sick!"). Blade has an arguement with his girlfriend Gemma (Paris Jefferson), William's niece, when she mentions moving in together (Gemma is now an Interpol agent, but it still doesn't stop her from dancing in front of Blade seductively in her leotards, just like she did in the first film when she was just a normal girl and not an agent). Blade's nemesis from the first film, Jim Baxter (Jim Richards), escapes from prison and has revenge on his mind. Two of his goons knock-out Blade, kidnap Gemma and put William in the hospital when he tries to save her. Blade promises William in the hospital that he will rescue Gemma and then marry her. Baxter is holding Gemma captive in an abandoned power plant and tells police that if Blade doesn't walk through the power plant's doors by 6:00 PM, he will start cutting off Gemma's fingers. Baxter has the power plant rigged with plastic explosives and holds a remote that can trigger the explosion. Blade calls in Interpol psychologist Lucy Andrews (Rowena Wallace) to act as negotiator to buy Blade some time. Blade uses that time to capture the two goons that kidnapped Gemma (Blade chases one of the goons up the outside walls of an apartment complex, which results in a foot chase and the goon dying when he gets hit by a car). After getting some valuable info from the surviving goon, Blade enters the power plant and must fight a gauntlet of hockey mask-wearing martial artists before he can make his way to Baxter and Gemma (he also gets some psychic support from William in his hospital bed). A team of commandos, led by Lucy, also enter the power plant, but are picked-off one-by-one by the stealthy assassins. The finale finds Lucy trying to diffuse the bomb while Blade and Baxter have a duel to the death. Can Lucy stop the ticking timebomb before everyone goes BOOM? What do you think? While not as loony and off-the-wall as DAY OF THE PANTHER, director Brian Trenchard-Smith (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG - 1975; DEATH CHEATERS - 1976; STUNT ROCK - 1978) manages to milk a lot of action for the paltry $500,000 budget. The cherub-faced Edward John Stazak is not much of an actor (he improves slightly from the first film), but he's an excellent martial artist, which makes me wonder why he quit films after making this (that's right, this is the last Jason Blade adventure, which is also known as STRIKE OF THE PANTHER). I'm a firm believer that Trenchard-Smith, working with a script by Peter West (who also scripted the first film), is having a good laugh with the audience here, making us look right and then hitting us with a left (although Paris Jefferson spends most of her screen time in a sexy leotard, the only nudity in this film is a shot of Stazak's naked ass when he's taking a shower!). The final twenty minutes, where Blade and Lucy must run the gauntlet in the power plant, is non-stop action, as people have their throats cut, have their faces pierced by throwing stars, are inpaled on swords or are just beaten or stabbed to death by Blade. Since both Stazak and co-star Jim Richards are the film's Fight Coordinators, the best fight scene is saved for last, where Blade and Baxter square off. While the script has holes you could drive a truck through (What's an abandoned power plant still doing with power?), FISTS OF BLOOD is goofy, violent fun if you don't set your sights too high. Also starring Zale Daniel and Matthew Quartermaine, both returning from the first film. A Celebrity Home Entertainment VHS Release. Both DAY OF THE PANTHER and STRIKE OF THE PANTHER are available on a single DVD from France. Not Rated.
FORCE FOUR (1974) - In 1974 & 1975, director Michael Fink shot two ultra-low budget films, this one and VELVET SMOOTH (1975) and then he disappeared from the filmmaking business. Besides some of the actors who have never done anything else (one-and-done, if it were), a few if them would appear in Fink's other film and director Barry Rosen's crazy martial arts/horror hybrid DEVIL'S EXPRESS (a.k.a. GANG WARS - 1975) and also quit the filmmaking business. During the mid-70's, there were a whole slew of cheapjack martial arts and action films made in New York City (including DEATH PROMISE - 1977) and then long forgotten (sometimes for good reason), only to be revived during the video boom of the mid-80's, when anything and everything was released on tape to satisfy the renter's hunger for obscure films. Now they are getting released on disc in their original aspect ratio (thanks mainly to Code Red) and getting another generation of fans. I really haven't decided if that is bad or good, but no film deserves to sit in obscurity, so getting a disc release is at least a way to help keep them preserved, whether they deserve it or not (Personally, I believe every film made, no matter how bad it is, deserves the chance to be preserved for eternity). Like Rosen's movie, this film has many badly-staged martial arts sequences (even though the four main stars are various levels of black belts) and, after the opening credits, the following appears on-screen: "All martial arts sequences in this film are authentic. No attempt has been made to enhance or alter actual fights by the use of special effects or trick photography. A slow motion camera was used to capture specific techniques." The film begins with an Oriental man carring a briefcase containing something valuable. A multi-race street gang (containg everything from Caucasians, Latinos and Blacks) steal the suitcase and kill the Oriental guy by slamming his head violently against the sidewalk. We then see martial arts master Jason (Owen Wat-són; who also appeared in Fink's other film) meditating next to a fireplace when he gets a call on his telephone (a tricked-out device the size of a toaster oven with digital readouts and encased in red velvet!) by a mysterious caller telling him he needs his help. The person on the other end of the line says his courier was attacked and killed and a valuable African artifact was stolen (An envelope is slid under Jason's door with photographs of the artifact, along with a stack of $100 bills. His door must have a wide gap at the bottom!). He wants to hire Jason and his crew, which consists of Adam (Warhawk Tanzania; whose only other film was the one he did for Barry Rosen the following year), Eric (Malachi Lee; his only film) and Billy (Judie Soriano; her only film), to retrieve the artifact. Jason agrees and gathers his troops together and we get to witness each one of them practice their own special brand of martial arts (an overlong and boring sequence) before Jason brings him back to his place (he has an automatic sliding door in the room with the fireplace!) and tells them what they are hired to do. Eric takes a look at the photos and identifies the four-armed artifact as a statue of a "Witchdoctor's Fetish", which is supposed to contain mystical powers (Those of you waiting to see the statue at work will be disappointed because this plot point is dropped immediately). They then hit the streets looking for information on the stolen statue, even going as far as to threaten bodily harm on innocent people (Eric beats up a pimp when he has nothing to offer. He may be a pimp, but why beat him up if he knows nothing?) This is another sequence that goes on forever and nothing really happens besides getting a good look at the streets and brownstones of mid-70's NYC and listening to lots of post-synch dubbing. We then see the multi-racial gang (One of them is portrayed by Wilfredo Roldan, who made a distinct impression in DEVIL'S EXPRESS, but he really doesn't have much to do here except get into a knife fight with fellow gang member Juan [Frank Ruiz; who choreographed the fight] and get the snot beat out of him every time he goes up against Jason's quartet) hand over the briefcase to Mob head Z (Sam Schwartz; his last acting credit) and when he opens it up and holds the statue, Juan (who is sweating profusely from his sideburns) says, "Man, that is a spooky-looking thing!", to which Z replies, "This spooky-looking piece of wood is worth a lot of bread to all of us. Let's call it our good luck charm." A hooker from the streets enters the room and warns Z that the heat is on, because Jason and his gang are asking a lot of questions and some people are getting "leaned on" (We see Eric threatening a white guy on the street and when he turns around, he is a priest standing in front of his church! Wait a minute. Who are the good guys here?). Z needs some time to trade the statue for some cold hard cash, so he tells his gang to keep Jason and his gang busy until he is able to make the trade. (Z says, "Waste them all and waste them fast. If they're roaming the streets, you can get them one at a time. I call that pretty good odds!"). Z is in for quite a surprise. Three gang members attack Eric, but he makes mincemeat out of them in about thirty seconds. Five gang members attack Billy at an outside basketball court, but she knocks them all out in no time. Adam is the next to be attacked (the first attacker rips off Adam's shirt, so we can watch him fight bare-chested!), but he beats the crap out of seven gang members. Judy beats-up a white guy stealing hubcaps and threatens to kill him if he doesn't find out some information for her (For stealing hubcaps? Who are the good guys here?). Jason is walking down the street with a young boy (possibly a student at the martial arts school Jason owns, but we never get to see it), when he is attacked by six gang members, but I don't think I have to tell you how it turns out. The four then gather at Jason's place to share information, where Adam tells Eric, "The streets are holding back." (I would hold back, too, if they treated me the way they treated the other people on the streets!) and Billy says, "It sounds like the Mob and the Mob with a capital 'Z'!" Jason was able to pry an address to where the statue is from one of the gang members he beat up, so they all go there, where we witness one of the lamest group martial arts fights ever committed to film (the walls of the "room" are made of sheet rock!). After discovering that the statue is not there, they decide to go to Z's mansion, where he is holding a huge party for all his white friends (You can see some of the party "guests" in the background staring directly at the camera). Z meets bad girl Felicia (Sydney Filson; a black belt whose only credits are in both of Fink's films) and offers the statue to her, but says the price has gone up $100,000 more because of "inflation" and all the trouble it has caused him (We then watch a truly awful band, called "Life U.S.A." [who also supply other songs on the soundtrack], which contains some Black people, singing a terrible early disco tune at the party, while the white people boogie down!). They both go to the poolhouse to look at the statue and Felicia agrees to pay the money tomorrow morning at her house. Z is alerted that Jason and his friends are in the woods next to his mansion, so he sends a shitload of gang members (they seem to multiply like rabbits!) to take care of the problem. The ensuing fight is full of missed kicks and punches and one gang member falls down prematurely so he doesn't run into the camera! Jason and his friends meet Z in the poolhouse, but make it seem like he got away, because they want to get Felicia's money and the statue at the same time (all the white people scatter and scream when they see four Black people chasing Z!). Adam places a tracking device on Z's car We never see the device or the receiver, only a beeping on the soundtrack!) so they can follow him in the morning, where they all end up at Felicia's house and another group martial arts fight breaks out. After Billy beats Felicia in a fight and Z and the gang are all knocked out, Jason and his gang collect the briefcase and the money. When the briefcase is opened, Eric discovers that the Witchdoctor's Fetish is not worth all that money and there must be another reason why all this money is exchanging hands. Sure enough, hidden inside the briefcase is a fortune in heroin, so Eric says he will dump it so it doesn't hit the streets, they will betray the mystery caller that Jason had in the beginning of the film and they will keep the money for themselves (Who are the good guys here?). At this point the film runs 70 minutes long, so to pad out the film, they repeat every fight scene that was in the film! The closing credits run for nearly five minutes (where we discover that everyone besides Sam Schwartz and a few other people hold some color martial arts belt) before the film mercifully ends. It's not hard to see why director Michael Fink only made one more film and then hung up his shingle. The screenplay, by Leonard Michaels and Janice Weber, holds no place for nudity of any kind and the film itself seems improvised in most of the non-fighting scenes (both Owen Wat-són and Warhawk Tanzania are credited as the Martial Arts Fight choreographers), as well as displaying our old friend "Boom Mike" is several sequences (pay attention to the left side of the screen when Jason and his friends go back to Jason's place), a lot of post-synch dubbing (most of the outdoor scenes are filmed MOS and were looped after the film was finished), some truly wretched fight scenes with exaggerated sound effects (there are so many missed kicks and punches, it looks like the wind knocked them down), plenty of racial slurs (even though Z's gang is multi-racial), extremely bad original songs on the soundtrack and worst of all, there are no guns on display. What Don in his right mind would not have a gang that was strapped? I guess Michael Fink couldn't afford guns or bloody bullet squibs for the film (the only blood we see is when the Oriental guy's bloody head is on the sidewalk). To paraphrase Billy, this film is bad with a capital Z. Code Red offers this film on a double feature DVD (with the even worse THE GUY FROM HARLEM - 1976, but at least that film was brain-dead entertainment) in its original aspect ratio, but the print is far from perfect. It is full of emulsion scratches and dirt particles, including some really distracting large red bands of scratches where the print was beginning to turn into vinegar, but it is still watchable if you are into bad mid-70's homegrown martial arts films that tried (and failed) to compete with the superior Hong Kong and Chinese martial arts films that were being released to theaters at the same time. Released fullscreen to VHS and budget DVDs under the alternate title BLACK FORCE. Also starring Moses Lyllia, Alex 'Plus One' Sternbere, Roscoe Richardson, Barbara Braun, Elsie Roman, Mike Madrid, Bill Lin (as the courier), Hector Quinones, Lynne Plagoff and Shirley Williams. A Code Red DVD Release. Rated R.
FULL CONTACT (1992) - Typical, but good, martial arts actioner from Executive Producer Roger Corman, which is nothing but a remake of the Corman-produced BLOODFIST, made four years earlier (It's so similar, in fact, that Corman had to give BLOODFIST's screenwriter, Robert King, a story credit here). Luke Powers (Jerry Trimble) goes to Los Angeles to visit his brother Johnny (Gerry Blanck), only to discover that he has been murdered by someone after competing in an illegal alley fight. Broke and out of work, Luke hooks up with conman Albert (Raymond Storti) and his sister Tori (Denise Buick), staying with them in their tiny apartment while he investigates his brother's death. Luke meets street person Pep (Marcus Aurelius; PYTHON 2 - 2002), who convinces Luke that the best way to find his brother's killer is to become a fighter on the alley circuit. Pep becomes Luke's trainer, putting Luke through some unorthodox endurance and strengthening sessions. As a reward for his hard training, Pep takes Luke to a strip club, where he discovers that Tori is one of the featured topless dancers. A romance develops between Luke and Tori, while Pep teaches him fighting strategy taken directly from Sun Tzu's "The Art Of War" and Tori teaches him ballet to make him more flexible (Insert your own dirty joke here). Luke spots a bum wearing his brother's jacket and the only thing the bum is able to tell him about his brother's killer is he is known as "The Cobra". It becomes apparent that The Cobra doesn't want to be found out (although eagle-eyed viewers should be able to spot the killer during Johnny's murder in the beginning of the film), so Luke enters an alley tournament and begins asking about The Cobra. He gets very few answers (One fighter says, "Yeah, I got a cobra...in my pants!"), but Luke begins moving up the ranks (as does Albert, who is also in the competition) in contention for the $5,000 grand prize (It doesn't seem worth it, does it?). When Luke finally gets a lead on The Cobra and the informant ends up dead before passing the info to him, it's clear that The Cobra is closer to Luke than he knows. After Albert becomes permanently paralyzed during a brutal tournament fight, Luke must fight Ahmed (Joe Charles), the same beefy fighter that put Albert in the hospital. Tori discovers an important clue about The Cobra at the hospital, but can she relay it to Luke before it's too late? Although nothing special, FULL CONTACT (not to be confused with Ringo Lam's 1992 actioner with the same name) has it's share of decent action scenes and a pretty good sense of humor. Jerry Trimble (ELIMINATOR WOMAN - 1992; STRANGLEHOLD - 1994) is not much of an actor, but he is definitely a good martial artist and director Rick Jacobson (DRAGON FIRE - 1993; THE UNBORN II - 1994; NIGHT HUNTER - 1995; BLOODFIST VIII: HARD WAY OUT - 1996) uses Trimble's athletic abilities in the best manner possible. Pep's training of Luke is full of strange methods, including making Luke try to outrun a bus across a city block (it becomes a daily showdown between Luke and the bus driver and is quite funny), as well as having neighborhood kids throw dozens of rotten tomatoes at Luke to sharpen his reflexes. Jacobson also films the fight scenes in a lively manner, using Trimble's high-kicking ability to good effect (sometimes using slow-motion photography to allow the viewer to appreciate how fast Trimble really is with his feet). The final fight between Luke and The Cobra, where they fight each other to the death while quoting passages from "The Art Of War", is a thing of unexpected beauty that ends with a nasty pipe-through-the-stomach gag (complete with blood pouring out of the pipe). All-in-all, a decent little martial arts flick, with touches of nudity (mostly by Denise Buick), lots of blood and a good sense of humor. Also starring Alvin Pounder, Howard Jackson, Manuel Luben, Dino Homsey, Matt Willig, Darnell Rae Manzon (also the Fight Coordinator, along with Jacobson) and an early appearance by Michael Jai White (SPAWN - 1997; EXIT WOUNDS - 2001) as "Low Ball". Released on VHS by Columbia Tristar Home Video and still awaiting a U.S. DVD release. Rated R.
GOLDEN NINJA WARRIOR (1986) - In this semi-sequel to NINJA TERMINATOR (this film begins with a shortened version of NT's climatic battle and is Richard Harrison's only appearance in the film, even if he does get star billing), the good Golden Ninjas fight the evil Red Ninjas for possession of the Golden Ninja Warrior statue, which is said to give it's owner the "ultimate" power (whatever that is). Well, the Golden Ninjas are now the proud owners of the statue, but the Red Ninjas will never give up their quest to possess it. In case you're a newbie to this genre, this is another cut-and-paste flick that is not only produced by Joseph Lai (for his IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production outfit), he also wrote and directed this one, too (This one is Godfrey Ho-free, although it reeks of his handiwork). The old footage (an unreleased Hong Kong crime drama) is about a young model named Sherri (Queenie Yang), who travels to Hong Kong to avenge the death of her father at the hands of crime kingpins Eagle Lam and Eric Tan. Sherri goes undercover as a virgin prostitute (!) to infiltrate one of Eagle Lam's brothels (where we earlier witnessed a goon mercilessly whipping a tied-up, totally nude young woman for refusing to put out), where she uses her expert kung-fu skills to free all the female captives forced into prostitution and beats the crap out of all the males that work there (in the newly-shot footage, some masked woman in a black ninja outfit [I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be Sherri or not. If so, she's one quick-change artist!] slugs it out with some other guys in badly-matched shots that are supposed to take place in the same building that Sherri is in). Sherri begins dismantling Eagle's crime organization piece-by-piece (including stealing incriminating documents out of his safe), much to Eagle's dismay. Every twenty minutes or so, a woman in a red ninja outfit attacks Michael Anderson (Donald Owen), who turns into a black-clad Golden Ninja in a puff of smoke, and they fight each other using swords and their fists, all over possession of the Golden Ninja Warrior statue. Sherri falls in love with a young newspaper reporter named Dick, who grows more suspicious of her reasons for being in Hong Kong as the film progresses. As Sherri begins decimating Eagle's goons, Eagle hires a female assassin named Sakura (Morna Lee) to capture Sherri. Sakura does indeed capture Sherri and Eagle beats and rapes Sherri in his bedroom while her hands are tied behind her back. Dick rescues her and then Sherri goes on a final revenge spree, killing Eagle, his crime partner Eric and Sakura with Michael and Dick's help. GOLDEN NINJA WARRIOR is extremely hard to follow, but, for the most part, holds the viewer's interest thanks to some crazy fight sequences and tons of female nudity, most of it the full-frontal kind, which is highly unusual in these Joseph Lai pastiche films. Truly head-scratching are some of Sherri's fight sequences, which Lai intercuts with scenes of the black-clad female ninja fighting on what are supposed to be the same sets that Sherri is on, but it's quite obvious to the viewer that most of the sets don't match. As with all of Lai's cut-and-paste flicks, the English dubbing is hilarious, such as when Sherri bursts into Eagle's home (dressed in short-shorts, a revealing top and matching headband) and he says to her, "Who are you?" Her reply of "I am the Death Fairy!" is sure to elicit laughs rather than strike fear into the heart of her enemy. Here's another one: Dick: "I'm a reporter." Goon: "I don't care if you're Robert Redford!" (It's probably an obscure reference to ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN , but, c'mon, who is going to get it?). The whipping scene in the beginning and Sherri's rape later in the film go way beyond the boundaries of good taste (they're downright cruel in their execution) and Sakura's arsenal of weapons, including motion-sensing throwing knives (You've gotta see them to believe them!) and throwing stars equipped with garrotte wires, are highlights of this crazy film. Although the newly-shot insert scenes are quite noticeable, it's also obvious that Lai did try this time to match background shots, especially the final climatic battle among a bunch of abandoned multi-colored disc-shaped modular homes. Lai failed for the most part, but at least an effort was made, something that's severely lacking in most of these films. The Golden Ninjas return in GOLDEN NINJA INVASION (1987), directed by Godfrey Ho. Also starring Raymond Lee, Mary Leung, Paul Wong, David Chan, Mike Tien, Dick Wu, Pansy Pak and Peter Wang. Originally released on VHS by Trans World Entertainment, Inc. and available on British DVD. Not Rated.
HANDS OF DEATH (1987) - Another one of director Godfrey Ho's patchwork films, using existing footage of some unreleased Oriental action flick (this one being a Korea/Taiwan/Thailand co-production titled GREAT ESCAPE IN JUNGLE - 1985) with newly-shot footage of Caucasian actors awkwardly edited in. This film opens up with three ninjas, dressed in pink and white ninja outfits (with black headbands with the word "Ninja" written on them), killing two white dudes and stealing their treasure map, which shows the location of gold hidden by the Japanese during World War II. It's located in Devil's Cave, which happens to be in Willie's territory (it sounds scary). The head pink ninja, Baron (Mike Abbott), goes to Willie to work out a deal (in a badly-edited segment of old and new footage). Meanwhile, a bunch of women escape from Willie's territory and are hunted down by his men. They manage to kill three women and capture the rest, except for Jennie, who is saved by adventurer Chester (Sorapong Chatri; EYES OF THE CONDOR - 1987), who decapitates one of Willie's men with a machete. To show her gratitude, she offers to become partners with Chester and lead him to the gold. One of the dying women tells an Army colonel (Richard Harrison) about the gold and how Baron and his ninjas will have to pass through this area to get to it. The colonel and his men set up ambush points (and boobytraps) and wait for Baron and his men. Jennie, her friends David, Jack and Chester (who has a score to settle with Willie, since he is responsible for his sister's death) begin their trek through the jungle and must contend with numerous attacks by Willie's men, a very hungry tiger and various other jungle pitfalls. Chester finds a friend in jungle woman Jane, who wears a loincloth, swings from vines and controls animals. Jennie, Jack and David are captured by Willie, who rapes Jennie in his bedroom by gunpoint after forcing her to smoke a cigarette laced with a halucinogenic drug. Carter tries to save them, but he, too, is captured. Jane saves them all (David says, "She dresses like Tarzan, but she fights like King Kong!") and they continue on their treasure hunt. The colonel and his men (who, for some reason, are now dressed in camoflauge ninja outfits with red "Ninja" headbands!) begin their fight against Baron and his men, who come armed with crossbows (with explosive bolts) and shotguns. Chester and his group save a bunch of women from a cannibal tribe and continue on their way to Devil's Cave, not aware that Willie and his men are already there and the cave is very unstable (everyone but Willie leaves their guns outside so they don't cause a cave-in). The conclusion finds Chester's group fighting Willie's group, while the colonel goes mano-a-mano against Baron. Willie is the first to find the treasure, but the idiot fires his gun and the roof comes falling in on him. The Colonel and Baron duel to the death with swords and the Colonel defeats Baron with a well-placed yellow smoke ball grenade! As far as Godfrey Ho's cut-and-paste films go (he made this one for producers Joseph Lai and Betty Chan's IFD Films And Arts Ltd. production company), HANDS OF DEATH is one of the better ones, thanks to a plot that's not confusing and the non-stop action. The old footage comes from an Oriental film that is reminiscent of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), only bloodier. And it is entertaining, too. For once, the newly-shot footage pales in comparison to the older footage, which offers plenty of martial arts fights (including a nasty 180 degree neck twisting), decapitations, cobra attacks, multiple stabbings and bloody gunfights. The new footage seems unnecessary and superfluous in comparison. Seek this one out. Also known as NINJA OPERATION 7: ROYAL WARRIORS and THE SECRET OF THE LOST EMPIRE. Also starring Stefan Bredhart, Phil Parker, Simon Heagan, Lars Anderson, Gary Carter, Walter Kong, Celia Lee and Surian Suryoog. An Imperial Entertainment Corp. Release. Not to be confused with HANDS OF DEATH (1971), a Hong Kong/Thailand martial arts actioner that was released on VHS as THE KING BOXERS. Not Rated.
IMMORTAL COMBAT (1993) - Roddy Piper made a welcome comeback to films (after a two year absense spent back in the wrestling ring), starring in this above-average martial art thriller and the actioners BACK IN ACTION (1993), TOUGH AND DEADLY (1995) and NO CONTEST (1995). Piper appears with Meg Foster (his co-star in John Carpenters THEY LIVE - 1988) and an old-looking Sonny Chiba (THE STREET FIGHTER - 1974) as a cop who investigates the death of a female officer who is carved up by a seemingly immortal musclebound fighter (played by former American Gladiator Deron "Malibu" McBee). Clues lead Piper to a tropical island, where Foster is conducting experiments on male patients, turning them into superhuman fighters impervious to bullets. Soon, Piper is neck-deep in trouble and must face-off against a barrage of Fosters superhumanoids, aided by his partner Chiba and new-found island friend Tiny Lister (PRISON - 1988). Piper has an engaging screen presence and proves adept in both beating people to a pulp and playing his role with a comedic touch. Action packed and filled with welcome doses of humor, IMMORTAL COMBAT (also known as RESORT TO KILL) will not disappoint fans of the genre. Directed, produced and written by Daniel A. Neira. An A-Pix Video & DVD Release. Rated R.
INSTANT RAGE (1988) - This is another one of those piecemeal martial arts films from producer Tomas Tang (for his Filmark International, Ltd. company) and director Godfrey Ho (using the pseudonym "Philip Fraser"), where they take an unfinished or unreleased Hong Kong martial arts flick and intercut about 15 to 20 minutes of newly-shot footage of Caucasian actors (usually Richard Harrison, but not this time) with unintentionally hilarious results. In the Hong Kong section, Brian (who for some reason has superhuman strength) and friend Carol, with the help of her old blind uncle ("As you can see I am blind, but I'm not stupid!"), must fight members of the Chinese mafia every ten minutes or so. In the new footage, white ninja Wilbur battles black ninja Steve for some reason or another every 30 minutes or so and then disappear (poof!) in a puff of smoke. There's a slight supernatural angle to the Hong Kong plot (involving a woman, the leader of the Chinese mafia, who wears a black mask and robe and travels from house-to-house with her devoted followers, killing everyone in sight), but nothing makes much sense. It's not boring, though, as people are shot, stabbed, have throwing stars embedded in their skulls, women are raped, Brian picks up the back end of a running car with his bare hands, cars explode and people are beaten to a bloody pulp. The film is also full of laugh-out-loud scenes, as where white ninja Wilbur uses a cordless phone as a walkie talkie (there's a photo of it on the back of of the VHS box); a catfight between two girls over Brian, where one girl says to the other; "I'll tell you one thing, I'm great in bed!"; a really slow chase between an injured man and a bulldozer which results in the man being gored to death by the bulldozer's blade; a gunfight between the police and members of the mafia in a quarry where they are no more than ten feet from each other; a scene between Wilbur and a police captain where it's plain to see they are in two different locations (the backgrounds don't match) even though they're supposed to be in the same room; and, anytime ninjas fly through the air and land on balconies or the top of walls, it's obvious the film is running in reverse. I haven't even touched on the scene where Brian is stripped to his red bikini briefs and tortured with snakes or when a girl is attacked in the shower by the female Mafia chieftan with a fencing sword. The final ninja fight between Wilbur and Steve involves swords, a rolling bale of hay and explosions, but makes absolutely no sense and ends rather quickly. INSTANT RAGE is non-stop action from the minute it starts, but if you like a coherent plot (or any plot) to go along with your kicks and gunshots, look elsewhere. I did chuckle, though, when one cop says, "Hey, I got one!" after shooting a bad guy in the final battle. Proceed at your own risk. Starring Elton Gibbs, Max Hill, Jack Fox, Ruby Clay, Norman Luddy, Jerry Jones, Paul Gould, Derry Bishop and Janet Palin. I'm willing to bet every name in that cast is ficticious. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. They, along with Imperial Entertainment, released a slew of these piecemeal films on VHS. See my reviews of DIAMOND NINJA FORCE (1986) and CLASH OF THE NINJAS (1986) and my sections on TWE and Imperial Entertainment for VHS box art on these films. Not Rated.
THE INSTRUCTOR (1981) - Wow. Simply wow. Revel in the badness of this regional (made in Ohio and Colorado) martial arts actioner, where the majority of men sport 70's porno-style moustaches and everyone knows karate. The film opens with the Instructor (Bob Chaney) and student Thumper (director Don Bendell) breaking up a rape by an overage street gang. Thumper gets knocked out, but the Instructor defeats the dozen gang members single-handedly (lots of crotch grabbing) in one of the most awkwardly-staged and hilarious fights in recent memory (I particularly liked how he kicked one female gang member in the stomach and, as she stands bent-over in pain, he grabs her by hair and finishes her off with a punch to the face). The film then settles in to the major storyline. The Instructor runs a karate school where he teaches discipline over fighting. His rival is Bud Hart (Bob Saal), who owns a karate school across town and only teaches fighting, discipline be damned. He is nothing but a bully that turns out nothing but thugs and is also responsible for the Instructor's wife's death, although there is no evidence to prove it. Bud sends four of his men to the Instructor's school late one night to destroy it, but Dee (Lynday Scharnoff), one of the school's teachers, is there. They try to rape her, but she fights them off (she jabs a pencil into one guy's armpit). Bud is also in cahoots with a crooked union boss and he kidnaps a rival union leader for supplying "scabs" to a work site (this plot line leads nowhere). At a local karate tournament, where the Instructor and Bud's student fight for trophies, Thumper is seriously injured in the locker room by a retarded man stealing a trophy ("I'll mangle you, you turd!"). The Instructor snaps, thinking Bud is involved (he isn't), and goes looking for revenge. He ends up fighting half the punks in town and then gets into a car chase with Bud (his Corvette vs. Bud's Camaro), which turns into a motorcycle chase (!) and then turns into a fight in a river which climaxes in a duel in the woods, where a chainsaw and an axe is used. After Bud is accidentally killed, the police arrest the Instructor, where he eventually gets fined $500 and gets off with a suspended sentence. Hooray for our legal system! Director/producer/scripter Don Bendell (who never made anything else) has the advantage of using real black belts in the starring roles but, unfortunately, none of them can act their way out of a paper bag. Still, the film is entertaining in a car-wreck kind of way (it's bad and you still can't take your eyes off it), as Bendell uses every filmic trick in the book, from slow-motion kicks and falls, POV shots, car chases and crashes, to the climatic fight with a chainsaw. The creepiest aspect of this film is the retarded guy, who we first see stalking kids playing in the park, dressed in a black ninja uniform (we see him pick his nose under the mask) and brandishing a knife. As I said before, everyone in town knows karate, so the kids beat the stuffing out of him. So what does the Instructor do? He lets the retard become a student at his school! Another strange aspect is that Bob Chaney's character is never given a proper name. He is only referred to as "Instructor", "sir" or "karate guy". It plain to see that it's done purposely in the screenplay, as in the prison scene in the finale where great care is taken not saying his name by the cops, the jailer or Dee. It's as if Bendell wanted to create some mythical character in the vein of Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name". But Chaney's short stature, thick moustache and curly black perm will elicit nothing but laughs. Don Bendell has, on the other hand, created something that, once seen, you're not likely to ever forget. What more could you ask for? Made by martial artists using what God gave them: Big moustaches and no wires or stunts that defy gravity. Also starring Bruce Bendell, Shirley Bendell (nepotism alert!), Tom Atha, Tony Blanchard and Jack Holderbaum. A Vestron Video Release. Not Rated.
KARATE WARRIOR (1987) - In this Italian version of THE KARATE KID (1984), teenager Anthony Scott (Kim Stuart) travels to Manila to visit his absentee father, Paul (Jared Martin; QUIET COOL - 1986). After stepping off the plane and accepting a ride from a talkative taxi driver (Have you ever eaten fried rat?" "You see those girls over there? They've got the clap!"), Anthony is dropped off on the bad side of town, where he is instantly beaten-up and robbed by three street punks. He then takes a long bus ride to the town of Los Banos, where he has an awkward reunion with his father ("How's your Mom?" "She's got a rich New York lawyer that she sees on weekends!") and then meets a beautiful local girl named Maria (Jannelle Barretto). After fixing a broken motorcycle in his father's garage, Anthony takes a ride around town and spots a goon named Quino (Enrico Torralba) shaking down Maria's parents in their store. Maria explains to Anthony that Quino heads a protection racket and since he's the town's karate champion, you either pay up or get the shit kicked out of you. Anthony, who doesn't know the difference between karate and his asshole, quickly gets on Quino's bad side when he kicks him in the nuts at a local karate tournament (The old "blind him with a camera flash and kick him in the family jewels" trick!) and then leads Quino and his goons on a motorcycle chase, where Anthony proves quite proficient on two wheels. Quino retaliates the next day by kidnapping Anthony and beating him within an inch of his life, leaving him to die in the jungle. While Paul and Maria search for Anthony, he is rescued by Master Kimura (Ken Watanabe; NINJA WARRIORS - 1985), Quino's former martial arts teacher who disappeared four years ago in disgrace after finding out that Quino went to the dark side. Master Kimura agrees to teach Anthony karate if he agrees to face-off with Quino at the annual "Kimura Tournament", which Quino has won for the past four years. I think we can all see where this is heading. Master Kimura has ten days (!) to teach Anthony everything he knows (Forget "wax on, wax off", there's no time for that!), including the incredible "Dragon Blow" technique, a way of incapacitating a person without actually touching them. Anthony's mother, Julia (Janet Agren; PANIC - 1976), makes the trip from America to join Paul and Maria as they watch Anthony take on Quino for the $2,000 grand prize (that's right, $2,000!) at the Kimura Tournament in the film's finale, where Anthony, blinded by Quino's constant illegal blows to his face, gets to use the Dragon Blow on Quino while blindfolded. Hooray for karate! Where do I begin to describe how truly pathetic this film really is? For one, Kim Stuart (the son of late Italian actor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart [WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS - 1966; CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT - 1972]) is a terrible actor and is so skinny, I was afraid he would slip through the slats in the floor. He is to karate what Carrot Top is to comedy. In other words, he's just doesn't cut it. Director Fabrizio De Angelis (THUNDER WARRIOR - 1983; DEADLY IMPACT - 1984), using his frequent pseudonym "Larry Ludman", has fashioned a film so devoid of characters to care about, I fail to see the point in making this film for any other reason than to capitalize on the popularity of THE KARATE KID. The script, by De Angelis and Dardano Sacchetti (using the name "David Parker Jr.), makes Anthony look like a wise-cracking asshole who deserves whatever punishment is given him (he really is a jerk); his father is nothing but a self-confessed coward who left his son and wife when things got too complicated back in the States; his mother is a control freak and Maria nothing but a generic damsel in distress. They all lack even the basest of human emotions, which makes the whole film seem like it is being acted by a bunch of robots. The violence never rises above a PG level and the martial arts sequences are badly choreographed. The final face-off between Anthony and Quino is anti-climatic and is all over in less than a minute. It really is about as lame as they come. The only fun to be had here is counting the flubbed lines, monotone delivery and white belt machinations by Kim Stuart, who looks like he would have trouble opening a box of cereal, nevermind winning a karate tournament. The scene where he knocks out an ox using the Dragon Blow is a thing of unintentional hilarity (This being an Italian film, I have to wonder what means they used to get the poor ox to fall to it's knees. It wouldn't surprise me it it was fatal.). Believe it or not, this film spawned five (!) sequels, which I hear were big in Germany, but we all know how easy the Germans are to please, don't we? Too bad history proves that the Italians bend over backwards to accommodate them, because KARATE WARRIOR is a steaming pile of celluloid crap. Also starring Jonny Tauzon, Rudy Meyer and Enrico Orbita. Originally released on VHS by Imperial Entertainment Corp. and not available on DVD in the States. Germany? That's a different story. Not Rated, but no harder than a PG.
KING OF THE KICKBOXERS 2 (1992) - Filipino martial arts revenge actioner with a cast of familiar faces. When champion martial artist Billy Edwards (Sean Donahue; SAVAGE INSTINCT - 1989; PAROLE VIOLATORS - 1994) is late picking up his waitress sister Judith (Michelle Locke) after her shift is over, she decides to walk home and is assaulted and nearly raped by Tony (Greg Douglass; FIST OF STEEL - 1991) and a couple of doo-rag-wearing street thugs (one of them portrayed by Filipino film staple Jim Gaines). Billy arrives in the nick of time to prevent the rape and beats the crap out of Tony and the other two creeps. Tony's brother Russell (Ned Hourani; DUNE WARRIORS - 1990), a crooked street fight promoter (Is there any other kind?), watches Billy beating the stuffing out of his brother and sees dollars signs. Russell drives Billy and his seriously injured sister to the hospital (Billy doesn't know Russell and Tony are brothers) and offers to pay Judith's extensive medical bills if Billy will fight for him. Billy accepts and soon he is fighting in a series of high stakes back alley fights where there are no rules. Billy's new trainer, Murphy (Jerry Bayer), works him hard and a real friendship builds between them. Billy's best friend, David (Loren Avedon; NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2 - 1988), sees Russell for the crook that he is and gets Billy to quit fighting for him. Still unaware that Russell is Tony's brother, Billy goes on the hunt for Judith's attackers. Russell is, of course, pissed off and orders his men to kill Billy, which they do, by beating him up, dragging him behind two cars (with each arm tied to a separate car!) and slamming him face-first into a third car. In what will probably have most viewers doing a double take, Billy comes to David in a vision (complete with swirling fog!) and tells him that he must avenge his death and Judith's blindness, caused by the beat-down she took during the attempted rape (When David goes to the morgue to identify Billy's body, he pukes his guts out when he views Billy's mashed-up face!). David begins his revenge spree by seducing Tony's girlfriend, Joyce (Santi Jordana), and pumping her (so to speak) for information on Russell's enterprises. He begins to (awkwardly) dismantle Russell's operation, but first he needs heavy training from Murphy, who whips him into shape (in true 80's montage fashion, even if this is a 90's film) for the inevitable showdown with Russell, who has never been beaten in a fight. This unrelated sequel to KING OF THE KICKBOXERS (1990; also starring Loren Avedon) is one of the most badly acted martial arts actioners I have seen in quite a while (It's no coincidence that this is Michelle Locke's only film credit; she's simply cringe-worthy as Judith), but director John Lloyd (NINJA WARRIORS - 1984; NINJA'S FORCE II - 1986) and screenwriter Rod Davis offer so many outrageous moments and choice bits of dialogue, that it's impossible not to be entertained. The insanity begins immediately when the film starts, as we watch (an uncredited) Mike Monty portray a drunk who refuses to leave Judith's bar and demands more beer by saying, "All you women, you're all the same. Just a bunch of nagging bitches, just like my old sea hag!" and then the film goes on to display a series of bloody martial arts fights that are lively in their execution, but what comes between those fights will have you shaking your head like one of those toy dogs you see in the back of Mexicans' cars (It's a joke people! Quit being so sensitive.). Billy's death took me completely by surprise, but when he appears to David in a vision after shuffling off into the Great Beyond, the film quits being a standard martial arts flick and crosses over into surreal territory. The film also crosses over into CAPE FEAR (the 1991 remake) territory in detailing Tony's obsession with the now-blind Judith, even going as far as to have him hitch a ride on the undercarriage of David's Jeep to find her. The scene where Tony traps her in a swimming pool is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time, thanks to Ms. Locke's horrible emoting and Tony's dialogue (When Tony says to Judith, "I just want you to know, you are going to die, but I thought I might POP! one of your eyeballs out and skull-fuck you first!", I was laughing so hard, I nearly shit my pants!). KING OF THE KICKBOXERS 2 (also known as FIGHTING SPIRIT) contains enough action, blood and stunts to keep you totally enthralled (most of the time unintentionally) for 91 minutes. Not to be confused with AMERICAN SHAOLIN: KING OF THE KICKBOXERS II (1991), which is the real sequel to KING OF THE KICKBOXERS. Both are actually the fourth and fifth films in the NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER franchise. Confusing, isn't it? Also starring Charlie Vincent, Roger Blake, John Steel, Louie Katana, Steve Rogers, Gary Ruhl and Nick Nicholson as Billy's first trainer. A Silver Screen International Production that's available both on VHS (from Imperial Entertainment Corp.) and DVD (label unknown) in the U.S. Not Rated.
MACHO MAN (1980) - Obviously retitled Chinese martial arts flick about a mysterious man and woman who come to a town run by a crimelord ("They're climbing our hill!"), whose purpose there is as mysterious as their appearance. After getting into a fight with some of the crimeboss' men and defeating them (the guy, who is always smiling, twists everyone's neck so they all walk around with their heads tilted to one side!), the crimeboss welcomes them into his town (keep your friends close and your enemies closer). The townspeople begin to speculate why they are here ("Maybe they have come to steal the King's seal!") and it becomes apparent that the man and woman don't know each other and are in town for different reasons. After getting into a couple of fights, it is revealed that the woman is there looking for her father. The last letter she received from him was postmarked from this town and no one has seen him for six months. Enter into the picture an ex-con just out of prison, who demands his share of payment that the crimeboss received from selling the King's seal that they both stole, but only he was imprisoned for. The woman is kidnapped to lure the mysterious man to a lumber yard, where he is seriously injured when he is impaled by the blade of a forklift. He and the woman are rescued by a restaurant owner and his daughter. The crimeboss sends a kung fu master to capture his ex-partner, which he does, but the mysterious man and woman save his bacon when they spot him being tortured in the woods. Since the crimeboss is the source of all their troubles, the trio join forces to bring him down. They devise a plan to steal back the King's seal, but they will have to contend with a Japanese buyer, who is a karate master. They will fight on a moving train full of logs and settle the score for good on the ominous-sounding "White Wolf Hill". As far as Chinese martial arts flicks go, MACHO MAN is nothing but ordinary. Typical of many 70's kung fu films, this one has minimal plot and lots and lots of fights. Unfortunately, none of the fights are very exciting (although the final fight, where our hero coats his arms with his own blood so his opponent can't get a grip, is somewhat original). The real problem with this film is that the same sound effect is used for every punch, kick and block. It almost becomes comical listening to every fight. Almost. What's even funnier is the totally bogus VHS box art, synopsis and credits on the Master Arts Video clamshell case. Not only do the artwork and photos on the clamshell have nothing to do with the film, the synopsis is totally made up (it could describe hundreds of martial arts films, but not this one) and the credits are a total sham (although I did get a chuckle out of "Enyan Liew" and "Jerry Rages" as the stars of the film). As with most films of this type, the dubbing is horrendous (everyone yells, "Goddamn you!" when they get hit) and the scope frame is severely compromised by the fullscreen presentation (it is pan-and-scan, but the telecine operator has a hard time keeping up with the action). Not worth your time unless you have to see every martial arts film in existance. Directed by Yu Ming Ho and starring Hui Tin, Yee Jan and Lo Lun. The always reliable IMDB has this listed as a hardcore porno film! A Master Arts Video Release. Not Rated.
MIAMI CONNECTION (1986) - If Godfrey Ho made a film in Orlando, Florida, it would turn out like this: Cheap, amateurish, badly edited and totally entertaining in a retarded sort of way. It also found a new life as a cult film thanks to Drafthouse Films and even got a lengthy write-up in Entertainment Weekly. It's easy to see why. It has spurts of gore, lots of fight scenes, mullets, music that could have only come from the 80's and loads of unintentional comedy. Here's the story in a nutshell: Five college students by day, Mark (Y.K. Kim, who also co-wrote the story and directed the re-shot ending), John (Vincent Hirsch), Jack (Joseph Diamond, who wrote the screenplay), Jim (Maurice Smith) and Tom (Angelo Janotti), are also in a New Wave rock band called Dragon Sound with female singer Jane (Kathy Collier), who is also John's love interest. They are the new house band in a nightclub and are also expert martial artists. This brings up the ire of Jane's brother Jeff (William Ergle), who is a drug dealer and doesn't want his sister dating John because he is too straight-laced and poses a danger to his drug business. Jeff is in league with Yashito (Si. Y. Jo), who is the leader of a motorcycle-riding ninja gang (!) that rips off and kills other drug dealers (as we witness in the beginning of the film). All of the male members of Dragon Sound are orphans except for token black member Jim, whose father was stationed in Korea and married a Korean woman, resulting in Jim being born. His father left Korea, Jim's mother died and Jim has been searching for him ever since (His crying jag about looking for his father is one of the film's hilarious highlights). The old house band of the nightclub doesn't take too kindly to being replaced, so they try to beat the snot out of Dragon Sound (they first try to beat-up the club's owner, but he is also a martial artist!), only to end up with broken noses and fractured arms. The injured old house band enlist the help of Jeff and his gang, who kidnap Tom, beat him up and tie him to a pillar in an abandoned factory. The rest of Dragon Sound rescue Tom, which results in the death of Jeff (Jane forgives John for his death almost immediately!). Jim finally locates his father, so the rest of the band chip in, buy him a suit and a plane ticket to meet Daddy. On their way to the airport, Mark, Jim and John are attacked by Yashito and his black-clad ninjas (Yashito wears a white ninja outfit). Jim is seriously wounded when he is sliced in the chest with a sword, but Mark and John defeat the ninjas and Mark has a final confrontation with Yashito, resulting in Yashito being stabbed to death with his own knife. Mark and John rush Jim to the hospital, where he survives his wounds and is met by his father, who tells him that he loves him and will never leave him again. The balance of nature is once again at one with peace. Originally, Jim died at the end, but according to the supplements on the Blu-Ray, nobody would buy the film with that ending, so more than a year later they resot the ending with Jim surviving and finally meeting his father. Director Richard W. Park (Real name: Woo-sang Park; He also directed the "What The Fuck?!?" films L.A. STREETFIGHTERS , GANG JUSTICE  and AMERICAN CHINATOWN , but they don't match this film in sheer weirdness), who also plays the owner of a restaurant that Dragon Sound frequents (he also has his own martial arts fight with a gang of ruffians), works with what he has. Namely, an amateur cast that delivers their dialogue with mind-numbing hilarity (Only Y.K. Kim and Vincent Hirsch were real-life martial artists and Kim struggles with the English dialogue [He speaks it much more fluently on the recently shot documentary supplement]). According to Angelo Janotti in the documentary (He and Kathy Collier were the only real musicians in the film [it's a hoot watching Y.K. Kim fake playing the bass] and wrote and sang the film's most memorable songs), much of the dialogue was improvised, but director Park filmed many takes of each scene and Hirsch kept on stealing Janotti's jokes on the second take, forcing him to come up with something else off the cuff. There's some bloody gore on view, including blood spurting out of a neck wound and Yashito decapitating one of his own ninjas for failing to kill Mark and John and plenty of martial arts fights (some in slow motion) which, I must say, were filmed very well. According to Hirsch, they really punched and kicked each other to add to the realism! There's also some female nudity on view, such as when Yashito and his biker ninjas join some other biker gang and their women lift up their tops to expose their breasts. I can see why this is considered a cult item. It runs a scant 83 minutes, so it doesn't outstay its welcome and the music and dialogue are so goofy, you can't help but have a good time. This is the type of film better watched with an audience, but it is perfectly fine to view on your own. This gets my CritCon Seal of Approval. Also starring William P. Young (as the ass-kicking club owner), John Escobar and Joy Share. An Image Entertainment DVD & Blu-Ray Release. The print used is sometimes grainy and has a few emulsion scratches, but it just adds to the charm that is called MIAMI CONNECTION (even though Miami is never shown, but I guess calling it "Orlando Connection" just doesn't seem as impressive!). Not Rated.
MAJESTIC THUNDERBOLT (1984) - Director/screenwriter Godfrey Ho and producer Joseph Lai team up in one of their first (along with MISSION THUNDERBOLT) cut-and-paste martial arts actioners, featuring newly-shot footage of Caucasian actors slugging it out, spliced into an unreleased Hong Kong, Indonesian or Filipino action film, making the end product some surreal bastardization of logic. The film opens with Dutch businessman Richard (Richard Harrison; NINJA TERMINATOR - 1986) arriving at the Hong Kong airport with a briefcase full of diamonds. Richard is supposed to immediately deliver the diamonds to his boss, Mr. Franco, but he decides to make a quick stop to visit his girlfriend Mimi first. Richard and his two cohorts are attacked in the parking garage of Mimi's building by Philip (Philip Ko; NINJA THE PROTECTOR - 1986) and two guys wielding hatchets. After dispatching Richard's mates (both get hatchets in their heads), Philip steals the briefcase (after kicking Richard in the stomach) and drives away. The bulk of the film is some unreleased Hong Kong gangster flick about two warring crime families, who are continually at each other's throats. One of the families is headed by Mr. Franco (a Chinese actor in a big black afro wig who smokes using a huge white cigarette holder), who actually hired Philip to steal the diamonds for reasons too complicated to go into here (Weren't the diamonds his to begin with?). When some of Franco's men kill Mimi without his permission, Franco now has to kill Richard, too, so he sends Philip and some other men to murder him. That's where the newly-shot footage comes in, as Richard battles goon after goon using rapiers, a baseball bat while wheeling down an alley on roller skates (!) and finally, a showndown on a beach with Philip using guns (where, for some reason, live chickens are lined-up on rocks so they can be used for target practice!), swords and machetes. The film proper documents the warfare between Mr. Franco and arch-rival Tiger Chan, as Franco has one of Tiger Chan's sons murdered, so Chan sends his other son, Allan, to get retribution. He does, using some really unique ways in doing so, including exploding bathroom fixtures, snakes, acid and a lumberyard band saw. All the bad guys meet fitting demises and a triumphant Richard walks into the sunset while Ho's patented white-on-red THE END title card flashes on-screen. This film is the total package of demented entertainment, as both old and new footage, along with the hilariously bad English dubbing, are so goofy you can't help but have a good time. The character of Mr. Franco is a hoot, with his huge afro, equally huge cigarette holder and his penchant for sadomasochism, both in the bedroom and the boardroom. Two scenes sum up Mr. Franco's demeanor perfectly: The first takes place poolside at his home, where a team of female synchronized swimmers perform a routine in the pool while Franco poisons the three men responsible for Mimi's death a few short feet away. The second scene is at a golf course, where Franco tries to sink a putt, but misses by inches. His girlfriend (who, moments before, we saw tied-up in Franco's bedroom while he whips her as a prelude to sexual foreplay) says, "It's always the same. You always miss getting in!" Knowing full well that she is not just talking about golf, Franco slaps her and snaps, "Don't say that to me you goddamned stupid bitch!" There's so much more craziness on view in the old footage, including an exploding toilet (predating LETHAL WEAPON by a couple of years); a crucifixion that ends with a bad guy getting bit on the inside of his mouth by a poisonous cobra; an acid shower; Franco drowning his cheating girlfriend in a fish tank; the unique death by falling chandelier equipped with a retractable spike; and a band saw dismemberment. The new footage is just as crazy. You haven't lived until you've seen a roller-skating Richard Harrison whacking a guy with a baseball bat or watching him and Philip Ko blasting away at helpless chickens. Speaking of Ko, he goes through a head-scratching ritual where he paints Chinese characters on a tied-up naked woman's body, then fucks her in various positions (including a little doggy-style action), then stabs her in the stomach and drinks her blood out of a champagne glass before he does battle with Harrison. It makes no sense, but it's interesting to watch (much of this footage was re-used for Ho's SCORPION THUNDERBOLT , also starring Harrison). Most of the music soundtrack is nothing but stolen riffs, including an excerpt from The Edgar Winters' Group song "Frankenstein". If you are a fan of Ho's pastiche films, MAJESTIC THUNDERBOLT should be considered one of his classics that you need to see. Also starring John Ladalski, Cathy Evans, Chan Kun Tai, Roc Tein, Tricia Yin, Mimo Lawrence and Allan Wang. Never available on home video in the U.S., but it is available on DVD-R from many gray market sellers in either a Dutch or Japanese-subtitled version (the Japanese version optically fogs-out most of the nudity). Not Rated.
MISSION OF JUSTICE (1992) - Excellent actioner filled with amazing martial arts stunt sequences. A police officer (Jeff Wincott) quits the force in disgust after a man he and his female partner (Karen Sheperd) arrest is freed and kills his girlfriend. When Wincott's friend (Tony Burton), a championship boxer, is found murdered in his gym, he finds a clue which may tie the murder to a local organization called the Mission Of Justice. The Mission is headed by Dr. Larkin (Brigitte Nielsen), who is also running for mayor of the town. The Mission trains people to become Peacekeepers, a Guardian Angels-like group who walk the streets and stop crimes in progress. The Mission's main mission, though, is to dupe elderly people to change their wills, leaving all their money and possessions to the Mission so that Dr. Larkin can finance her mayoral bid. Dr. Larkin, along with her big brute of a brother (Matthias Hues), then kill the elderly people, making it look like they died of natural causes. Wincott infiltrates the Mission and becomes a Peacekeeper (after going through a well-staged martial arts initiation rite called "Running The Gauntlet") hoping to gather enough information and evidence to put Dr. Larkin and her cronies behind bars. Wincott manages, with the help of his ex-partner and a Peacekeeper (Billy Sly Williams) who witnessed the boxer's murder, to put Dr. Larkin in her place on the evening that she wins the mayoral race. Jeff Wincott makes a good action hero and can also be seen in DEADLY BET (1991) and MARTIAL LAW 2: UNDERCOVER (1991). It looks as if he has a bright future (I hope that doesn't jinx him. I once wrote in a review that it looked like Brandon Lee was going to have a lasting career in films!). Matthias Hues, a favorite of mine for the past several years, has also appeared in FIST FIGHTER (1988), I COME IN PEACE (1990 - as the drug stealing alien), NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER 2 (1988) as well as many others. He is a force to reckon with! Director Steve Barnett has also made EMMANUELLE 5 (1987, co-directed with Walerian Borowczyk), HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD II (1989) and MINDWARP (1991), none of which achieve the quality of this one. MISSION OF JUSTICE is violent entertainment on a grand scale. A Republic Pictures Home Video Release. Rated R.
NINJA, DEMON'S MASSACRE (1988) - This is another cut-and-paste martial arts actioner from producer Tomas Tang and his Filmark International Ltd. production company, directed by Tommy Cheng (SATANIC CRYSTALS - 1989; which is not a pseudonym for director Godfrey Ho, but one of Tang's house directors). Unfortunately, the title is totally misleading, as there are no demons and the closest thing to a massacre happens in the film's opening minutes. The film opens with two Interpol agents (one played by an uncredited Stuart Smith as agent Robinson Collins) watching an illegal exchange on a ferry between two groups of Asians. When the Interpol agents call for a raid of the ferry, two black-clad ninjas appear in a puff of smoke and nearly kill all the good guys with their swords and hands (the main bad guy gets away by jumping in the ocean and being towed away by a speed boat as he clings to a rope), but the sudden appearance of a good yellow-clad Golden Ninja saves the day. We then switch to some unreleased modern-day Western-style action film from Thailand, where Max (an uncredited Sorapong Chatri; EYES OF THE CONDOR - 1987), a "man of justice" (who talks with a thick Australian accent!), walks into a borderland bar and defends the honor of a gambler who was wrongly accused of cheating. The gambler, Robert Douglas (who looks neither like a Robert or a Douglas), is challenged by the bar's best fighter to a one-on-one match for $3,000 and when the fighter cheats and pulls out a knife (after Robert gives him a good thrashing), Robert has no choice but to pull out his own knife and cut the fighter's throat from ear-to-ear, while Max guns down the fighter's friend for refusing to pay. Max and Robert agree to protect the people of the borderland town from thugs that come there to abuse them. We then switch (there's a lot of head-scratching segues in this film) to Julie and her crippled brother Jack, who have been called to the country to tutor Lady Christine's bratty children. Lady Christine is the ex-wife of Boss Willy, the region's crime kingpin, whom we first meet teaching one of his underlings a lesson by stabbing him in the back of the neck with a knife (you can see the tip of the knife blade protruding from the front of the poor guy's neck!). Willy sends some of his men to destroy the borderland bar, but Max and Robert teach them all a lesson in justice. Max agrees to a duel with one of the men, which turns out to be a Thai version of a Wild West shootout and Max wins handily (he shoots his opponent in both arms and legs, as his opponent yells out, "I'm crippled!"). Every once in a while the film proper stops dead in its tracks by newly shot footage, where bad guy Mr. Culp (Ted Brooke) sends out an enforcer (James Lear) to deal with Boss Willy's enemies. This leads to a couple of quickly-shot ninja fights (between the black and Golden Ninja) that totally seems out of place with the tone of the rest of the film. Meanwhile, Max makes life difficult for Boss Willy, and the rest of the film is a series of deadly back-and-forths between Max, Robert and Willy's gang. And what about Julie and her cripple brother? It turns out they are not tutors at all, but are really CIA agents! When Max switches sides and begins working for Willy, the question becomes: Is Max a traitor or is it a ruse? I think we all know the answer. Expect a lot more death before the gunsmoke clears. It's quite apparent that the Thai film proper was trying to imitate the American Western genre, with its swinging barroom doors, people sporting six-shooters in hip holsters, damsels in distress and even a fancy bit of knife-throwing. The shootouts and knife throwing are extremely bloody (lots of splashy bullet squibs and nasty head and neck trauma) and since this is a Thai film, there is plenty talk of rape, but precious little nudity. The newly-shot ninja scenes are totally unnecessary and foreign in this pastiche film, but the sequence where one of the Golden Ninjas is defeated and explodes (!) almost makes it worthwhile. As with most of these Tomas Tang patchwork films (Tang and Filmark was competing against producer Joseph Lai and his IFD Films production company after they were partners in a production company called Asso Asia and then had a nasty falling out), the story doesn't make an ounce of sense and the English dubbing is unintentionally hilarious (although the more of these films I watch, the better sense I get that the Australian dubbing crew was having fun at Tang's expense), but it's the violence and crazy situations (including Lady Christine's bloody shooting death) that keeps fans of these type of films coming back for more. NINJA, DEMON'S MASSACRE (that's the film's title, complete with punctuation; it is also known under a myriad of titles including NINJA DESTRUCTOR; NINJA TERRITORY; NINJA U.S.A. and THE KICKBOXING EAGLE) is loony enough to keep action fans entertained (and the Western themes are just an added bonus!). Also starring Edmund Morris, Ken Ashley, Chris Cole, Molly Maxwell, Fanny Bower and Arthur Young (the credits fail to name any of the Thai actors responsible for 95% of the film!). Originally available on VHS from Trans World Entertainment and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
NINJA DESTROYER (1987) - More cut-and-paste martial arts nonsense from the team of director/screenwriter Godfrey Ho and producers Joseph Lai & Betty Chan (for their IFD Films and Arts Production outfit) where they film about ten minutes of new footage of two white guys dressed in colorful ninja outfits slugging it out amongst themselves and intercut that footage into some unreleased Asian action film. The film proper here is some unknown Indonesian war film where a band of bad rebels begin slaughtering innocent civilians in order to take over a widow's gem mining operation. In the newly-shot footage, bad white guy Michael (Stuart Smith; COBRA AGAINST NINJA - 1987; who spends most of his screen time in a bright red ninja outfit) has joined the rebels (although we never see him with any, except via some extremely poor intercutting of old and new footage where the backgrounds don't match), so the U.S. government sends Captain Byron (Bruce Baron; FIREBACK - 1983; who spends the majority of his screen time in a camouflage ninja outfit) to stop him. Captain Byron has an inside man in the opposition group named Chester (Sorapong Chatri; EYES OF THE CONDOR - 1987), who begins killing rebel soldiers under the guise of the Black Knight. Chester saves the life of a young woman during an attack on the gem mine, not realizing that she is one of Michael's agents. When he discovers the truth, Chester kidnaps and rapes her, but she turns out to be a willing victim! Meanwhile, every fifteen minutes or so, Captain Byron gets into a martial arts fight with one of Michael's red-clad ninjas, which always results in one dead red ninja. Chester is eventually captured by the rebels, who now occupy the mine (it's really hard to determine who is worse, the rebels or the opposition group, as either side kills indiscriminately), and he is tied-up in a barn, but is saved by the woman he raped earlier (she's now dressed as a black ninja). As the story gets more confusing and makes less and less sense (thanks to Ho's rejiggered screenplay), Chester plays both sides against each other, while Captain Byron and Michael have a final, ninja-style battle. This is one of Ho/Lai's lesser collaborations, thanks to a plot that's harder than usual to follow (Just who are the good guys here? Everyone, including Chester, kills or rapes at the drop of a hat.) and uninspired newly-shot scenes that lack Ho's usual over-the-top style. Besides the out-of-nowhere rape scene (which results in Chester running after the woman in nothing but black bikini underwear when she steals his Jeep) and a final battle between the rebels and the opposition at the mining operation, NINJA DESTROYER contains little bang for the buck. It's hard to imagine that any Indonesian action film can be this boring, but this one is, especially in this reedited version. There are a couple of bloody shootings, stabbings and martial arts fights, but thanks to the confusing storyline (especially the "Huh?" ending of the film proper), it's hard to give a damn. Even the final fight between Captain Byron and Michael (Michael says, "Fuck the politicians!", while Byron replies, "I'm not trying to be a Rambo!" What?!?) is ho-hum, as Ho depends too much on reverse photography and Michael is killed way too easily after an all-too-short fight (which includes throwing stars, a crossbow and swords). Not one of Godfrey Ho's best (an oxymoron if there ever was one!). Bruce Baron, Stuart Smith and Sorapong Chatri also starred in Ho's THE ULTIMATE NINJA (1986), which is infinitely more enjoyable than NINJA DESTROYER. Also starring Na Yen Na, Richard Chit, Peter Ramwa, Surian Suryoog, Luck Apichart, Anne Aswatep, Richard Berman, Timothy Nugent, Pedro Ernyes, Rick Jenkins and Roger Seller. Originally available on VHS by United American Video and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
THE NINJA EMPIRE (1988) - Very little ninja action in this Godfrey Ho/Joseph Lai cut-and paste action film which deals more in prostitution and gunfights than with swordplay. By now we all know the score to these type of films: Ho takes an action film that has never been released, reworks the story lines and then adds newly-shot scenes with Caucasian actors that interfere the film proper every 15 minutes or so. The twist to this story is the Bonnie and Brad Detective Agency. Bonnie takes care of all the action in the film proper, as some one has just killed her sister at Judy's modeling agency/beauty school. Brad (Marko Ritchie) handles all the action in the newly shot scenes, fighting evil bad guy Mike Abbott and his henchmen with guns every 15 minutes (The only way Bonnie and Brad actually meet is by telephone, an old trick in these Ho pastiche films). While Bonnie and her extremely loud motorcycle trails the bad guys responsible for her sister's death (how the bad guys don't hear her motorcycle is one of those great filmic flubs), Brad is being hunted down by boss Mike Abbot's henchmen with automatic weapons and Brad uses his Ninja training to disappear in a cloud of smoke and appear behind the bad guys and blow them away with his pistol. When Judy is killed and Bonnie finally realizes that her sister is really dead, she dons a huge crossbow and goes looking for revenge on lead bad guy Tiger (a guy with a balding head who could look like anyone's grandfather) and all his underlings. Expect plenty of crossbow impalings, throat slittings and some really bad martial arts fights (This is also the kind of film where when you get hit hard, a big purple bruise shows up on your face immediately!). Bonnie finishes her business by killing Tiger, so Brad takes-on Mike Abbott one-on-one for a fight to the death in their ninja suits using guns instead of swords. It ends on one of the funniest freeze-frames in the Ho history of films. THE NINJA EMPIRE contains all the earmarks of a Ho/Lai film: Borrowed music (The theme from RE-ANIMATOR is quite prominently played); laughable English dubbing done by an Australian crew ("Ninjas" turn into "Ninjers"); plenty of phone calls to bridge the new footage to the old footage; and some surprising full frontal female nudity during a shower sequence (although another lovemaking scene is blurred out by big black bars that take up half the frame!). If you like this type of bastardized film (count me in as a fan), you could do a lot worse than this. It's funny, bloody, has plot holes you could drive a jittney through and is funny as hell. What more could you want? Also starring Marcus Egan, Peter Cressall, Mike Tein and Moon Lee. Also known as NINJA KNIGHT: THUNDER FOX. An Imperial Entertainment VHS Release. Not Rated.
NINJA HUNT (1987) - Another incredible cut-and-paste martial actioner from producer Joseph Lai, who also handles the directorial reins here (Godfrey Ho, who usually directs these, only wrote the screenplay here, using the name "Stephen Soul"). It is the standard mixture of newly-shot footage, this time featuring Richard Harrison (SCORPION THUNDERBOLT - 1985) as CIA agent and Master Ninja Gordon Anderson and his nemesis, The Boss (Stuart Smith; NINJA DESTROYER - 1987), and old footage; this time an obscure Hong Kong gangster actioner. In the beginning of the film, two black-clad ninjas in The Boss' employ steal a top-secret formula marked "Strictly Confidential" (on a VHS tape, no less!) called DAK-10 and deliver it to The Boss. Since DAK-10 is very dangerous (it boosts the morale and killing instincts of soldiers), Interpol sends Gordon to Hong Kong to get it back. Gordon's partner in Hong Kong, Aaron (this is where the old footage begins and takes up 85% of the running time), goes undercover to steal the formula from crime kingpin Campbell. Aaron befriends Campbell's precocious 11 year-old protégé Billy (who, in this rewritten screenplay, is Gordon's son, who he hasn't seen since he was born), a chain-smoking kid who acts like he owns the town. Aaron uses Billy to get close to Campbell, while Billy's mother, Rachel, Campbell's mistress, frets over the sudden appearance of Gordon and his newfound interest in Billy (It's also one of the worst examples of intercutting old and new footage you will ever see and, if you've ever seen any of these Lai/Ho pastiche films, you know that's saying a lot). To further confuse matters, Billy thinks that Rachel is his aunt rather than his mother, because Rachel runs Campbell's whorehouse and she doesn't want Billy to know his mother is a madame. Every fifteen minutes or so, the film proper is interrupted as Gordon (who is dressed in a camouflage ninja outfit) has brief battles with The Boss' black-clad ninjas (You can tell they are ninjas because the wear headbands with the word "NINJA" emblazoned on the front) and kills them in quick fashion. Billy and Aaron become fast friends and when Billy gives Aaron some important information on Campbell's operations, it leads to all kinds of hijinks, including martial arts battles, gunfights and Billy's life being put in peril (Where is Child Protective Services when you need them?). Will Billy be saved and learn who his mother and father really are? Will Ninja Master Gordon defeat The Boss in the final battle? Well, Billy does get to see his mother shot dead, so at least the film is not a total waste. This disjointed martial arts actioner contains all the usual Lai trademarks: Hilarious English dubbing (Rachel whispers into a sleeping Billy's ear: "Your mother is a wanton hussy and a whore!"), terrible intercutting of old and new footage (they didn't even bother to try and match the backgrounds), ninjas who can appear and disappear at will (Where can I get my hands on this power?) and stolen music tracks (the most obvious here is Planet P Project's "Power Tools", which plays during a disco sequence). There is nothing here to distinguish it from the dozens of cut-and-paste films that Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho and Tomas Tang churned-out from the mid-80's to the early-90's, but at least it doesn't skimp of the female nudity (including panty crotch-grabbing) or shy away from putting a little boy in deadly peril every chance they get. The newly-shot footage is a total waste, though, and contains none of the goofy weapons (Where are the golden boomerangs? The multi-colored smoke bombs?) or bloody action we've come to depend on. The film doesn't really conclude, it just ends. Also starring Geoffrey Brown, Jens Harlow, Scott Smith, Wallace Choi, Linda Chan, Edward Yung, Kenneth Lam, Hakim Cheung, Willie Lung, Patsy Chong, Yvonne Ying and Krirger Klaus. Originally released on VHS by Trans World Entertainment and not available on DVD. Not Rated.
NINJA MASTERS OF DEATH (1985) - Another hoary cut-and-paste martial arts flick from director Godfrey Ho (using the pseudonym "Bruce Lambert" here), made for producer Tomas Tang's Filmark International production outfit. It's hard to believe, but this one makes even less sense than Ho's many other pastiche chop socky doosies. Here's what I am able to discern from the plot: Evil yellow ninja Michael and his band of ninjas join the National Army on a secret mission called "Project Daredevil", which is never fully explained to the audience (at least not in this version). Good purple ninja George and his purple ninja gang (who actually dress in white ninja outfits!) join the common people to defeat the National Army and Michael's yellow ninja gang (who, yep, dress in black ninja outfits). The Army goes out on a raid and capture a young boy named Jimmy, who is rallying the people to overthrow the Army. The Army squad leader, Major Lee, questions the kid ("Tell me what you know or I'll bayonette you and feed you to the wolves!"), but it soons develops into an uncle/nephew-type relationship. Every fifteen minutes or so, yellow ninja Michael and his men fight purple ninja George and his men and then disappear in a puff of multicolored smoke. Major Lee tells Jimmy that his father was once Michael's number three man (he even calls him "Number Three"!), but he left Michael's outfit when he found out Michael was only in it for the money, which is against the "ninja code". Flashbacks show Jimmy's mother was raped and killed (a recurring theme in these films) and his father brutally butchered by Michael's black ninjas. After he hears the story, Jimmy vows to become a "ninja hunter". Then, Major Lee and Jimmy are injured in a raid and recuperate in a hospital. Jimmy is adopted by a Professor and his wife, but is kidnapped by Michael's men for "reconditioning". Major Lee rescues him (it doesn't end pretty) and there's a final battle between George and Michael, which includes multiple explosions, smokey hand-to-hand combat, grenade-firing nunchucks and a flame-throwing dagger. I'm not going to defend this film or any of Godfrey Ho's badly-edited amalgamations, except to say this: What they lack in common sense and coherence, they more than make up for in loony visuals, hilarious dubbing and way-out-there action. All of these films follow the same basic formula: Take some unreleased or little-seen Hong Kong martial arts flick (this one seems to be more of a war film, though), add some newly-shot scenes of white men dressed in colorful ninja outfits, make up a totally new plot, add some hilarious dubbing done by British voiceover talent and have at least one ninja fight every 15 to 20 minutes, with the big fight at the end. Since the films make no sense, the entertainment comes from the strange visuals, exaggerated sound effects and off-kilter dialogue. This one is no different. Jimmy stands on an ox cart and gives an impassioned speech to the people that starts with, "The Army doesn't give a shit about you!" After he is done with his speech, one audience member can be heard saying, "The ninjas are pussies!" When Jimmy is hurt in the raid, you see the lifeless body of his pet rabbit roll down a hill. What can I say? I'm a sucker for cheap sentimentality! We never do find out what exactly "Project Daredevil" really is all about (it's dropped as soon as it is mentioned) and there's enough lapses in logic to have this film committed to a mental institution (I'm not sure if the National Army are the good or the bad guys), but it's not without a lot of unintentional entertainment value (including an unexpected ending for Jimmy and an unbelievable you-have-to-see-it death of yellow ninja Michael). Starring Chris Peterson, Daniel Wells, Richard Young, Kelly Kruize, Mick Jones, Henry Band, Nancy Nelson and Rio Smith. Also known as NINJA PROJECT DAREDEVILS. An Imperial Entertainment Corp. Release. Not Rated.
THE NINJA MISSION (1984) - Well, what do you know? A Swedish ninja movie (the first thing we see on-screen is a Volvo)! KGB agents try to kidnap lounge singer Nadia (Hanna Pola) because her estranged scientist father, Karl Markov (Curt Broder), wants to defect from Russia. The only thing standing in the KGB's way is CIA agent Mason (Christofer Kohlberg) and his band of black-clad Swedish ninjas. After her father successfully escapes from Russia with the help of two CIA agents (who garrot, stab and shoot the Russian soldiers with silencers that sound like phaser fire), the KGB increase their attempts to kidnap Nadia, in hopes of using her as leverage to bring her father back to Russia. Enemy agents grab Nadia at her nightclub (a huge gunfight breaks out and many innocent nightclub patrons are gunned down) and Mason chases them in his car, but they get away in a helicopter. It is at this time that we learn that Professor Markov was tricked by the Russians to believe he was rescued and they plan on using Nadia to make him believe he is safe, so he will "complete his research" (Mason's boss, upon learning of Nadia's kidnapping, says, "This is an invitation to world war!"). Mason is ordered to sneak himself and the ninjas into Russia and rescue Markov and his daughter. Meanwhile, Markov is introduced to Ableman (Hans Rosteen), a KGB agent pretending to be a United Nations envoy, who will work with Markov to finish his research (it has something to do with a new energy source). While the Russians have Markov and Nadia fooled into believing that they are safe in Sweden (hey, snow looks the same in Russia as it does in Sweden), Mason and the ninjas set explosive charges around the building where they are being held, giving them 30 minutes to rescue Markov and Nadia. Mason is captured after revealing the truth to Markov and Ableman has to brand Nadia on the neck with a hot poker before Markov will finish his research. After Markov is killed trying to grab a gun away from his traitorous female assistant, Mason must get Nadia out of the building before it explodes and then across the border out of Russia. It won't be easy! Unbelievably bloody and violent, THE NINJA MISSION, directed by Mats Helge (who also made the horror films BLOOD TRACKS [1985; using the name "Mike Jackson"] and THE FORGOTTEN WELLS  and directed several other action flicks with a ninja theme, including EAGLE ISLAND  and RUSSIAN TERMINATOR ), is a strange film to pigeonhole. When you think of ninjas, Sweden doesn't remotely spring to mind, but this film contains so much violent imagery, including people getting shot in the head, impaled with flying stars, sliced with swords, riddled with bullets (filmed in slow-motion, used for good effect in some scenes) and a truly disgusting scene of a guy throwing-up in his gas mask (after breathing poisonous gas) and then falling down, his face flopping around in the vomit while he dies. Hanna Ploa also exposes her breasts within the first ten minutes of the film (unfortunately the nudity ends there). As far as ninja action goes, there is precious little after the opening moments until the finale, where they assault the Russian compound. The preferred method of violence here is gunplay, which is all well and good because the ninja martial arts violence seems to be a couple of lame fights and a few instances of swordplay, including a very nasty decapitation. I did like the explosive dart guns that were used in the finale. When the dart would hit a person, it injected a fluid into their body, causing them to explode a few seconds later! The body count in this film is pretty high (way over 100 on-screen deaths) and the dubbing, while noticable, is adequate and matches the actors' lip movements (it looks as if most of the actors were speaking English anyway), even if there is some questionable dialogue ("You are talking crap!" "Hey, go fuck an Eskimo!"). You can tell this is a Swedish flick because nearly every male character (with the exception of Mason) sports bushy beards and moustaches. We're not talking Ingmar Bergman here, but it is a wild way to spend 95 minutes. Also starring Bo F. Munthe, John Qvantz, Sirka Sander, Wolf Linder and Leo Adolfson. The Swedish DVD on the 24 Bilder label is fully uncut and the way to go if you have an all region DVD player. The VHS version on the Media Home Entertainment Release is the R-rated edition and is cut and missing much of the extreme gore (including the decapitation and the vomit scenes).. Not Rated.
NINJA PHANTOM HEROES (1987) - Ninja master Morris is smuggling arms into Hong Kong during the Vietnam War and Army prisoner Ford is freed to stop Morris, because the C.I.A. trained him to "overcome evil". So begins another one of director Godfrey Ho's (using the name "Bruce Lambert") patchwork martial arts flicks for producer Tomas Tang's Filmark International production company. When in Hong Kong, Ford (who is given the code name "Condor") meets new partner Christine (code name "Yellow Bird") and together they fight Morris' ninja men. Meanwhile, in the old footage, Allen, who works as an enforcer for a local godfather, wants out of the Mafia, while his friends Baldy, Boney and Fatty want in. Allen is also in love with another godfather's daughter, Jane, which makes his predicament even harder, since Jane's brother, Alvin, has a severe dislike for Allen. When a third godfather takes a major arms deal with a Middle East country away from Morris and Allen's godfather, the godfather orders Allen to kidnap the rival godfather. Allen lets Boney attempt the kidnapping, but it backfires and Boney is kidnapped and forced to make an incriminating audio tape that could put Allen and his godfather in prison. After Allen kills Boney for screwing up, he goes to Boney's cousin Bert to make amends, but Bert gets killed instead when he is attacked and stabbed to death by a motorcycle gang loyal to the third godfather. We then learn that Ford and Morris were once partners during the Vietnam War, illegally supplying arms to the VC gooks. They were both caught and imprisoned, but Morris escaped and fled to Hong Kong, where he became an arms dealer to the highest bidder. Now, when they fight, Ford turns into a ninja wearing a camouflage ninja outfit and Morris turns into a white-uniformed ninja (Morris' ninja men wear black). When Alvin kills Allen's godfather, Allen goes on the warpath and kills Alvin and all his rivals with a sawed-off rifle, before being killed himself. The finale finds Ford fighting Morris and his ninjas in a park, using swords, exploding stars (one black ninja, seeing a star stuck in his upper torso, says "Uh oh!" just before exploding into little bits), grenade-firing spears, flying silver plates, a flying sawed-edged bell and a rocket-firing umbrella! Quite simply, this film is the pits. It doesn't even contain the retarded charm and crazy scenes that most of these Godfrey Ho cut-and-paste films usually offer. For a film that's supposed to be taking place during the Vietnam war, there sure are a lot of 80's fashions and cars on view. The only martials arts present in this film are in the newly-shot scenes and those come few and far between. The old footage seems to come from some unreleased Hong Kong crime thriller from the early-to-mid-80's. The only excitement in this footage comes pretty late in the game, when Bert is attacked by the motorcycle gang and spends the rest of his screen time with a huge knife sticking out of his stomach. The rest of the old footage is slow and confusing until the massacre in the finale, where Allen kills nearly everyone with his unusual rifle while Baldy and Fatty come to the rescue, with disasterous results. The final fight between Ford and Morris is pretty funny, as is the abrupt ending (Ford's superior, finding out he was betrayed by his superior, storms out of the office saying "I quit!" while his crooked superior lights a cigarette. THE END!?!), but it's just too little too late. This is by far the worst Godfrey Ho film that I have seen. If you've seen any, you know that is a bold statement. One unintentionally funny sight gag comes in the beginning, when we see "U.S. Army Munitions Dump" hand-painted on a white sheet and flung over a fence. It's supposed to make us believe that it's actually a real munitions dump, which is a howl, because I believe you don't go around advertising that fact! Starring Joff Houston, John Wilford, Christine Wells, Glen Carson, George Dickson, Allen Leung, Dennis Shek, Dinny Yip and Bob Cheng. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Not Rated.
NINJA: SILENT ASSASSIN (1987) - Lenny is caught with a sack full of bagettes stuffed with heroin in Paris by Interpol agent Alvin (who quotes the famous "five shots or six?" line from DIRTY HARRY - 1971). Under intense questioning, Lenny (who uses nearly half a box of Kleenex to mop his sweaty brow) agrees to testify against drug kingpin Rudolph (Stuart Smith), who also happens to be a ninja. When Rudolph finds out about Lenny's treachery, he goes into ninja mode and slices up Lenny and a couple of Interpol agents. Rudolph sends a couple of his ninjas to kill Alvin (Alphonse Beni) and his wife Donna ((Mandiere Nathalie) on their fourth wedding anniversary. There won't be a fifth as the ninjas kill Donna, but Alvin (surprise!) turns into a yellow ninja and kills the two intruders. Rudolph makes a hasty retreat to Hong Kong and Alvin follows him there to get retribution. Yes, this is the beginning of another of director Godfrey Ho's cut-and-paste martial arts flicks featuring newly-shot footage of Richard Harrison as "Ninja Master Gordon" intercut with footage of some unreleased Hong Kong martial arts flick, usually with hilarious results. The Hong Kong footage is about a guy named Edmond, who is out to avenge the death of his father at the hands of crime boss Tiger. Tiger works with crooked Interpol agent Norman (Grant Temple), who is also working with Rudolph. Alvin gets Gordon and fellow agent John Lee (Ricky Shaw) to help him find and kill Rudolph. Edmond finds a friend in female motorcycle chick Vivian, who helps him track down Tiger, but first they must fight hordes of his men. Edmond is searching for a man with a panther tattoo (a witness saw the tattoo on Edmond's father's killer), so he goes around ripping off the shirts of guys looking for it, which always gets him in trouble. In the conclusion, Edmond and a friendly cop capture Tiger after a bloody battle and Gordon and Alvin battle Norman and Rudolph "to the death". All the bad guys get their's in the end (and in the front, too!). This Ho-directed fiasco, produced by Joseph Lai and Betty Chan for their IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production company, contains much more new footage than is normally found in these patchwork films. Over 40% of the film is the newly-shot footage, most of it scenes of Alvin, Gordon and John Lee fighting ninjas in the same park location, interspread throughout the film. As in most of these films, all the ninjas, both good and bad, wear headbands with the word "Ninja" written across the front, just in case we don't confuse them with firemen or fry cooks. The old footage contains some pretty good stunts, such as when Edmond jumps over two cars trying to run him over (he does get hit by another car later on and it looks real painful) or when he takes a slo-mo dive off a bridge to avoid some of Tiger's men. In the new footage, both Richard Harrison and Alphonse Beni portray yellow-clad ninjas and the way you can tell them apart (besides Beni being a Black man) is that Harrison wears a red sash and Beni wears a blue one. As with all these films, the dubbing raises a chuckle or two, such as when Edmond says, "Take off your shirt!" to every guy he sees or when Vivian warns Edmond, "If you look at my tattoo, I'll kill you!" and then Edmond aplologises and tells her that he didn't know she was a woman! The new footage contains such sights as watermelon burning (yes, you read that correctly), ninjas that can disappear and reappear at will and the ninja's favorite weapon of choice: a silver boomerang! This is entertainment for the brain dead. Also starring Paulo Tocha, Edmond Yau, Vivian Lee, Tattoer Ma, Geoffrey Brown, Scott Smith and Peter Kjaer. An Imperial Entertainment Corp. Release. Not Rated.
NINJA SQUAD (1987) - Another one of director Godfrey Ho's ridiculous cut-and-paste martial arts actioners that he made for Joseph Lai's IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production outfit. The film proper (i.e. the old footage) is about a man called Billy, who returns home after ten years of martial arts training with Ninja Master Gordon (Richard Harrison, in badly matched new footage). Billy returns just in time to see gangsters trying to force his mother and brother out of their home. A fight ensues and Billy beats the crap out of them, which pisses off the local crime boss, who happens to be using Billy's sister as a drug mule (are you able to follow this?). Meanwhile, in the newly-shot footage, Ninja Master Gordon is called-out by evil ninja master Ivan The Red (Dave Wheeler), who tells Gordon that he will kill one of Gordon's good ninjas every day until Gordon accepts his challenge of a fight to the death. Of course, Gordon refuses at first, so every twenty minutes or so we see Ivan The Red (who, true to his name, wears a red ninja outfit) killing a good ninja in short fight scenes. Back to the main plot, Billy starts helping the local population fight the Boss, while he gets closer to saving his sister. The Boss retaliates by sending some men to Billy's house and shooting it up, killing his mother. Billy (who talks about joining the local police force, but never seems to find the time to do so) teams up with a local cop to avenge his mother's death and finally find his sister. Complicating matters is the fact that Billy's girlfriend, Lisa, is the daughter of the local police chief, who hates Billy's guts with a passion and wants to arrest him for the rash of ninja killings in town. Billy gets drunk at a bar and goes home with Ivy (a woman he saved from a purse snatching earlier in the film). That night, some of the Boss' men break into Ivy's house and kill her, but Billy gets away. After Ivy's dead body is discovered, the police chief orders Billy's arrest and he must avoid the police dragnet while he takes down the Boss' organization one man at a time until he rescues his sister. Gordon, meanwhile, receives a message (delivered via a golden boomerang!) from Ivan The Red: The headbands of all the good ninjas he has killed! Gordon finally says enough is enough and has a showdown with Ivan in the finale (Gordon wears a stylish purple ninja ensemble). Billy also has a showdown with The Boss (his first name is Larry!) in a ship's graveyard. Billy kills him, saves his sister and is shot dead while surrendering to the police. This is standard Godfrey Ho kookiness. This time he's taken some unreleased 80's Filipino action film and spliced-in footage of Richard Harrison and a bunch of other Caucasian actors fighting in the same park that can be viewed in most of Ho's other patchwork films (he must have saved a bundle by not hiring a location scout). Richard Harrison, who has appeared in dozens of these Ho-directed abominations, usually with the word "Ninja" in the title (Harrison swears that Ho duped him and thought he was only signed on to do about four films, a claim I find highly dubious since none of Harrison's scenes seem to have any type of connecting narrative), has even less to do here than in most of these films. His only fight scene is the final battle and he spends most of his screen time walking around reading letters and death threats. As with all of these films, the dubbing (by an Australian crew) is atrocious and hilarious. My favorite scene comes when some of the Boss' men have Billy trapped on a dock and the head bad guy gives Billy till a count of ten to give himself up. It goes something like this: "...6...7...8...9...9½...your last chance! I tried...10!" You gotta love it! My favorite character is Ivy, who sounds like she grew up in Alabama and then moved to the Outback. There's enough fighting and gunplay here to keep your eyes occupied but, even if you were born with half a brain, your mind will be saying, "This is retarded!" NINJA SQUAD does not reach the delirious ineptitude of Ho's SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1985) or NINJA TERMINATOR (1986), so why bother? The music soundtrack is nothing but stolen cues from other films and albums. One obvious stolen track is Mark Knopfler's "Going Home", the theme music from the film LOCAL HERO (1983)! Also starring Eduardo Martinez, Anita Roman, Celia Luis, Silvia Rod, Tim Alden, Kevin James McHugh, Karl Tulloch, John M. Marshall and Eric Redner. Originally released on VHS by Trans World Entertainment and available on DVD (in a fullscreen print) from Crash Cinema as part of their "Ultimate Ninja Collection". Not Rated.
NINJA TERMINATOR (1986) - This is one of Godfrey Ho's most entertaining (and, by default, one of his looniest) cut-and-paste martial arts flicks starring Richard Harrison. The film opens in Japan, with Harry (Harrison) and two other ninjas delivering pieces of the Golden Ninja Warrior statue to their Master, who puts the pieces together and then transforms into the Supreme Ninja, whose skin becomes impervious to swords (A disbelieving Harry takes a swing of his sword to his Master's arm to put the claim to the test. When the sword bounces off his arm with a metallic clanging sound, Harry seems satisfied). Harry and his cohorts, Baron (Jonathan Wattis) and Tomache, each steal a piece of the statue and disappear and their Master doesn't take it too well, telling his followers to get the pieces back no matter what it takes. Two years later in Hong Kong, one of the Master's ninjas kills Tomache and retrieves one piece of the Golden Ninja Warrior. In the rejiggered old footage (of some unreleased Hong Kong action flick), now-crime syndicate boss Baron (in ineptly inserted new footage) orders his head henchman Tiger Chan (Wong Chen Li, in a ridiculous blonde pageboy wig) to retrieve the body of Tomache from his brother Ikaza and sister Machico. Baron believes that the body of Tomache, along with his piece of the Golden Ninja Warrior statue, will give him great powers (I know it doesn't make an ounce of sense, but just go along with it and quit asking logical questions!). Hong Kong muscle Jaguar Wong (Jack Lam) is assigned to protect Machico after Ikaza is murdered and gets into several martial arts fights with Tiger Chan's goons. Meanwhile, Harry dons a camouflage ninja outfit and battles his Master's red-clad ninjas every fifteen minutes or so. Jaguar falls in love with Machico, so when she is kidnapped by Tiger's men, he must let himself be captured and tortured in order to get close to Machico. When that doesn't work (when does it ever?), Jaguar kidnaps Tiger's girlfriend, Lily (Nancy Chan), and offers a trade. Things don't go according to plan (when does it ever?), as Jaguar must fight to save Machico's life. Harry gets into a memorable ninja fight in the finale that's priceless for the look on his face in the final shot. And remember folks: "Born a ninja, die a ninja!" While the description of the film doesn't sound too promising, it's Ho's wild visuals and flair for the absurd that will win you over. NINJA TERMINATOR has enough weirdness for a dozen films, such as when Harry's female friend (Maria Francesca) is cooking him a dish called the "Drunken Crab" and she spills the live crabs all over the kitchen floor and screams in terror. Harry's response is to impale one of the crabs with a ninja throwing spike and laugh (as we watch the poor crab hobble around with a spike in it's shell!). Harry is later visited by a toy robot at his front door and it tells him that he has three days to return his piece of the statue to the Master. A few short seconds later, Harry's Garfield The Cat telephone (which also makes an appearance in Ho's DIAMOND NINJA FORCE ) rings and the Master's head ninja (played by Philip Ko, who also directed his fair share of cut-and-paste for producer Joseph Lai, such as ANGEL'S BLOOD MISSION ) gives Harry the exact same warning, just in case the robot didn't make itself clear! The film contains zero logic (we are led to believe that the entire Golden Ninja Warrior statue gives the owner powers of invulnerability, but both Harry and Baron seem to have the same power just by owning pieces of it), but there's enough brain-scratching action on view, including Jaguar's many martial arts fights (he certainly likes to punch and kick his opponents in the crotch a lot), the Harrison footage (which is funny as hell) and spotting the terrible integration of old and new footage. The final martial arts battles between both Jaguar and Tiger (which takes on a beach, where the heavy-footed Tiger ends up buried up to his waist in the sand after performing a high jump!) and Harry, Baron and the Master's head ninja, who all bring their pieces of the statue and duke it out for ownership, using swords, flying stars and multi-colored whistling smoke grenades, are works of demented art. I especially liked the scene when Harry is the last one left alive after the head ninja commits hara-kiri by blowing himself up, which seems to take Harrison, the actor, by complete surprise, as if someone forgot to tell him that a loud explosion was about to take place behind him. The look on his face is priceless. Not to be confused with GOLDEN NINJA WARRIOR (1986), another pastiche martial arts flick directed by Joseph Lai (that opens with an abbreviated version of Harrison's closing battle from this film). Also not to be confused with a 70's Chinese martial arts film retitled NINJA TERMINATOR. Also starring James Chan, Simon Kim, Henry Lee, Keith Mak and Gerald Kim. Originally released on VHS by TWE as part of the Sho Kosugi-hosted "Ninja Theater" line of martial arts films and then released on VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment and on British DVD by Hollywood DVD Ltd. (the print I viewed), which is fullscreen and crops the action dead-center, reducing some of the scenes (including a conversation in an office) to nothing but empty space as both people on the left and right sides of the screen are completely out of frame. Not Rated.
NINJA THE PROTECTOR (1986) - "Born a ninja, die a ninja." So begins another Godfrey Ho-directed pastiche combining footage from an unreleased Hong Kong martial arts flick and newly-shot footage featuring Richard Harrison and other Caucasian actors. Harrison stars as Jason Hart, the leader of a squad of cops trying to bring down Bruce (David Bowles), the leader of a gang of money counterfeiters and also an evil red ninja. Jason is also secretly a ninja (he wears a camouflage ninja outfit here), who captures (or kills) members of Bruce's ninja force and anonomously calls his comrades with a location where to pick them up (One handcuffed ninja says to Jason's squad member Andy [Andy Chorowsky], "Only a ninja can defeat another ninja!" when he asks who handcuffed him. Andy simple replies, "What's a ninja?"). The Hong Kong footage is reworked to make it seem like Jason has an undercover cop named Warren (Warren Chan) working for one of Bruce's associates to gather more information on the counterfeiting ring. He works as a fashion model (!) for an agency run by Susan (Vera Wang). He gets into many fist fights, his girlfriend Judy (Morna Lee) gets raped and his brother David thinks Warren has turned into a thug. Meanwhile, every 20 minutes or so, Bruce sends another one of his ninjas to kill Jason, but fails every time. Jason and his men set up a sting in a park to nab $2,000,000 in phony bills. The crook gets away, but Jason turns into a ninja and captures him, handcuffing him to a tree so Andy can find him. Susan's jealous boyfriend Four Eyes (Mike Tien), also a Bruce associate, beats Susan with a belt when he finds out she has made love to Warren. He also sends Judy a photo of Warren and Susan making love. Judy leaves Warren and David is accosted by Four Eyes' men. In the finale, Warren and David defeat Four Eyes and Jason and Bruce fight each other on motorcycles (a joust involving nunchucks and swords) and then on land, where Jason kills Bruce. Jason proudly proclaims over Bruce's dying body, "I am the champion of the ninjas!" The story goes that director Godfrey Ho hired Richard Harrison to star in a couple of films, but after filming them, cut them up into pieces and created about two dozen films like this one. Why release two films when you can release twenty-four? Richard Harrison was supposedly so disappointed with Ho's trickery, it is said that it led to him quitting acting in the early 90's because his reputation as an actor was permanently tarnished. I don't know if all that's true, but these films have a retarded charm that can't be denied. All these films contain ninjas that appear and disappear in a puff of smoke; exaggerated sound effects; they all have at least one rape scene (this one does contain more nudity than normal, though); the same white cordless phone is seen in many of these films (in INSTANT RAGE , it is used as a walkie-talkie!); the intercutting between old and new footage is obvious and, in some cases, hilarious; the dubbing is equally preposterous and funny; and some of the newly-shot fight scenes are outrageous and gravity-defying. NINJA THE PROTECTOR was originally presented as part of TWE's NINJA THEATER, hosted by Sho Kosugi ("And now, one of the finest martial arts films ever made is presented for your enjoyment."). It's the only Godfrey Ho film that was part of that package. The rest were more traditional Chinese martial arts films. TWE, along with Imperial Entertainment, released a slew of these cut-and-paste flicks in the 80's, that were either produced by Joseph Lai (like this one) or Tomas Tang. Godfrey Ho now teaches filmmaking at a college in Hong Kong. I wonder if any of his graduating students have tried talking Richard Harrison out of retirement? Also starring Clifford Allen, John Ladalski, Philip Ko, Joyce Chow and Yvette Chang. The credits also list Jackie Chan as a co-star (and the German DVD even goes as far as to put his face on the cover artwork and his name above the title!), but I highly doubt that it's the same Jackie Chan, because I couldn't spot him in the film. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Also available on DVD from Crash Cinema Media as part of their "The Ultimate Ninja Collection" line. Not Rated.
RAW FORCE (1981) - A group of passengers on a cruise end up stranded on Warrior's Island, a treacherous place inhabited by exiled martial artists and a group of cannibal monks with the power to raise the dead (what a combination!). The passengers, including an L.A. S.W.A.T. team member (Jillian Kesner) and four male martial artists, not only run afoul of the island's inhabitants, they also interfere with a white slaver's business of selling young girls to the monks in exchange for baskets of raw jade. The monks eat the young female flesh and gain the power to raise dead martial artists from their graves (the cruise ship director calls the island, "The Potter's Field of Kung Fu."). While the passengers try to find a way off the island, they must endure gun battles, kung fu fights (with both the living and the dead), cannibalism and the nasty laughing monks (led by Filipino horror staple Vic Diaz). It all ends on a happy note, as most of them escape in the white slaver's plane (he is eaten alive by a school of piranhas) while an end scrawl reads, "To Be Continued...". This is terrific B-movie stuff. It has loads of nudity and plenty of bloody action, including impalements, explosions, an axe to the back and a decapitation. Star Cameron Mitchell (NIGHTMARE IN WAX - 1969 and countless others) seems to be having a good time here and doesn't walk through his role as he has done many times before. Co-star Geoff Binney also appeared in the kung fu comedy HOT POTATO (1976), while Jillian Kesner was the star of Cirio Santiago's FIRECRACKER (1981) and also appeared in her husband Gary Graver's awful ROOTS OF EVIL (1991; Kesner died in 2007 of a staph infection, a little over one year after her husband Graver passed away). She was a pretty thing! Jennifer Holmes also co-starred with Mitchell in the abominable film THE DEMON (1979). Director Edward Murphy later made the forgettable actioner HEATED VENGEANCE (1984). RAW FORCE (also known as SHOGUN ISLAND and KUNG FU CANNIBALS) is that rare example of a mixture of genres that works well on nearly every level. I was expecting a lot less and was pleasurably surprised with the result. A Media Home Entertainment VHS Release. Also available in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack from Vinegar Syndrome. Rated R.
THE RETRIEVERS (1981) - When Daniel (Lenard Miller), part of a CIA operation to kidnap a Latin American bigshot, witnesses the slaughter of the man's wife and kids by one of his comrades (Randy Anderson), he quits and writes a book about his exploits. The CIA then employ electronics expert Tom (Max Thayer) to help capture Daniel and stop the book from being published. When Tom sees one of his CIA cronies kill Daniel's mother, he helps Daniel's sister Janice (Shawn Hoskins) escape with the transcript. Tom is now also one of the hunted and he must try to keep himself and Janice alive as well as finding a publisher that will print the book. Tom must fight his way through several close calls (including the murder of his girlfriend , where he graphically blows the brains out of the assassin's head by shoving a pistol in his mouth) before he finds a publisher (Roselyn Royce) who will print the book. She sets up a shop where they plan to flood the city with copies of the book, using a hidden printing shop employing bums and illegal aliens (called "wetbacks" in the closing credits!) as labor. They finish printing the books and must come up with a way to distribute it before the Company stops them. The Company closes in on their printing shop and Tom, Janice, the bums and the illegal aliens fight them. Will Tom, Janice and Daniel prevail? Filled with badly-staged martial arts scenes (apparently everyone in this universe can do kung-fu, from the local janitor, to the bums and illegal aliens), bloody shoot-outs, intentional and unintentional comedy, pot smoking, a fat man (Harry Shapiro) who likes to eat apples, snippets of gore (including the previously-mentioned brain splattering and a servant's head cut off by hedge clippers) and the occasional appearance of a boom mike, Director/Producer Elliott Hong (THEY CALL ME BRUCE? - 1982) throws everything in except the kitchen sink and, while some of it sticks, most of it falls flat on it's face. For some reason which I can't put my finger on, it's highly watchable though, and a good choice for fans of this genre who aren't too discriminating. A Vestron Video Release. Rated R.
REVENGE OF THE BUSHIDO BLADE (1978) - Pretty decent, although talky, Philippines-lensed revenge actioner. On March 2, 1945, a platoon of American Rangers and a squad of Filipino soldiers raid a Japanese outpost somewhere in the Japanese-occupied Philippines. After killing the Japanese commanding officer (Butz Aquino), a group of soldiers, led by Cpl. Steadman (who is due to be court-martialed for unknown offenses once this raid is over), gang-rape the CO's wife while his young son watches helplessly. When Steadman's commanding officer stops the rape, Steadman shoots him and then shoots the Jap wife, having his two cohorts, Dante Salazar and Mike Sills, cover-up the murders by saying the Jap wife shot their commanding officer and Steadman had no choice but to shoot her. When the Americans leave the outpost, the young boy walks around in a state of shock while screaming out "Bushido!" over and over. Flash-forward to March 27, 1978, and the young boy is now a 40 year-old man named Tamon Matsuda (co-producer Leo Fong; KILLPOINT - 1984), who lives in San Francisco and plans on getting even with the soldiers involved in his parents' deaths; those same soldiers who are now gathering in Manila for a reunion. The soldiers, 33 years older (and played by different actors), include: Sam Hacker (Cameron Mitchell; LOW BLOW - 1986), who saved Tamon's life when he was a boy; Mike Sills (Philip Baker Hall; BOOGIE NIGHTS - 1997), who is now a hopeless alcoholic; Dante Salazar (Charlie Davao), now a famous, over-the-hill Filipino martial arts movie star; Frank Washington (Stack Pierce; TRANSFORMED - 2003), the only black man in the platoon; Raul Amante (Vic Salayan), the local Chief of Police; and, of course, Steadman (Hal Bokar), who is still as racist and vulgar as ever. Tamon arrives in Manila and, after watching the remnants of the house where he lived as a small child being bulldozed under, sets out to get justice with a Bushido sword, first beheading Quantaz (Kim Ramos), who, as a young boy, led the Americans to the Japanese outpost. While Hacker and his old squad get into drunken trouble (usually thanks to Steadman and his racist or misogynistic rants), Tamon continues his killing spree, murdering Dante Salazar (by snapping his neck) while pretending to be the Stunt Coordinator on his latest film. Tamon kills Mike next (another sword decapitation) and Raul finally puts police protection on Hacker, Frank and Steadman when Tamon is finally unmasked and his motives revealed. Tamon manages to bypass police security and kidnap Steadman and brings him to an explosives shed on his parents' old property. Tamon invites Hacker to plead for Steadman's life, but once Hacker discovers Steadman's role in Tamon's mother's rape and murder, he walks away while Tamon blows himself and Steadman to pieces. Hacker turns to Frank and Raul and says something so deep, I had to rewind several times just to make sure I heard it right (No, no. I'm not gonna tell. Watch it for yourself!). While nothing spectacular, REVENGE OF THE BUSHIDO BLADE (also known as THE LAST REUNION and NINJA NIGHTMARE) contains enough bloodshed and laughable human drama to keep most viewers entertained. Director/editor Jay Wertz (this is his only directorial effort) and screenwriter Donald G. Thompson ladle-on the stereotypes, making many of the Americans drunks, rapists or racists (or all three) and all the local Filipinos experts in martial arts. While making Cameron Mitchell a drunk may seem like art imitating life, the only actor here who makes any impression is Philip Baker Hall as the eternally soused Mike Sills. At least there is a valid reason for his character to be drunk and the scene where he confronts Tamon in his hotel room and gladly gives up his life (his decapitated head is left on a serving tray in Steadman's hotel room), is the only instance of real acting in the entire film. There are some other stabs at relevancy, such as when the adult Tamon tours the Philippines and its WWII landmarks (while gunshots and exploding bombs are heard on the soundtrack), but it all rings hollow and seem to be nothing more than padding when taken in context with the rest of the film. Still, REVENGE contains enough violence and unintentionally funny lines of dialogue to keep genre fans amused. Filipino staple James Gaines portrays a young Frank Washington and Charlie Davao Jr and Larry Salayan portray their fathers' younger selves during the WWII scenes. Also starring Chandra Romero, Joe Mari Avellana, Galen Thompson, Rob Stuart, Hope Holiday, Paul Le Clair and Paul Bailey. Originally released on VHS by Prism Entertainment (as NINJA NIGHTMARE) and available on widescreen DVD by Code Red/Media Blasters as part of their RAREFLIX.COM TRIPLE FEATURE VOL. 3 using the REVENGE OF THE BUSHIDO BLADE moniker (although the actual print bears THE LAST REUNION title). Rated R.
THE ULTIMATE NINJA (1986) - When his ninja master is killed by the evil ninja Victor (Bruce Baron) and his men, Charles (Stuart Smith) is annointed "Leader of the Red Ninjas" by his dying master and is put in charge of returning a mystical statue called the "Black Ninja Warrior" that Victor stole. So begins another one of director Godfrey Ho's hilarious cut-and-paste martial arts flicks, which mixes newly-shot footage with some Thailand action film. The old footage concerns a guy named Jimmy (Sorapong Chatri), who is out to take revenge of the murder of his father (when he was a child) by a man known to everyone as "Boss" (his name is really Roger). Jimmy practices martial arts every day with his uncle, until they both think he is ready to defeat the Boss. Jimmy's mission also has a second agenda: He must also find his long-lost brother Johnny and unknown sister, both whom he became separated from when their father was murdered. Also in town are two mysterious strangers, who show an interest in the Boss as well as Eagle, the town's kung fu teacher who supplies trained men for the Boss. Meanwhile, Charles is practicing the "supreme power of the Golden Ninja" (it has something to do with joining two pieces of a golden statue together with nothing but the power of his mind), while fighting members of Victor's black-clad ninja gang every twenty minutes or so. Back in town, Johnny gets fired from his job waiting tables and asks Sarah, Eagle's daughter, to teach him martial arts. It's at this time we learn that Sarah is Eagle's adopted daughter and is actually Johnny's sister. The finale finds Jimmy, Johnny and Sarah facing off against the Boss and his men (the Boss carries one big-ass axe!) and Jimmy kills the Boss (The Boss says to Jimmy while he's lying there dying, "It's OK. I know you killed me now!") while Charles and Victor fight each other at Devil's Valley (it looks like a public park), using swords and various other weapons that could only exist in the screenwriter's (in this case it's Godfrey Ho) fertile imagination. Charles gets the better of Victor as he does a backflip off a picnic table! The entertainment value in pastiche films like THE ULTIMATE NINJA comes not from the story and acting, but rather from the goofy visuals of the newly-shot footage mixed with the hilarious new dubbing over the old footage, usually done by British or Australian voice talent, and this film (produced by Joseph Lai and Betty Chan for their IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production company) doesn't disappoint. It's pretty disconcerting to hear such lines as: "Why are you such a klutz?", "See ya, big boy!" and "We're gonna kick your ass and blow you outta town!" coming out of the Asian actors' mouths (Klutz? I know Jews like Chinese food, but would they travel to China to get it? I think not.). The new footage shows Charles wearing a headband with the word "Ninja" written on it (a sight in most of these films), while the bad guys wear headbands with skulls on them, so we don't confuse them with a local Boy Scout troop. Some of the highlights include Charles throwing a letter up in the air and slicing it with his sword repeatedly until confetti falls like snow, The Boss' wife saying to him, "Roger, you hurt bad?" when he has two huge knives sticking out of his stomach and the final fight between Charles and Victor, which is a series of sped-up and reversed footage. Co-star Bruce Baron recently said in an interview that all of the Caucasian actors never knew that the footage they shot would appear in multiple films, as they were all paid to only star in one film. Baron sarcastically calls the team of Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai by the term "Whore and Lies". He's very bitter about being tricked into starring in all these films. I guess I would be, too, if I didn't find these films to be such an unintentional hoot. Also starring Anne Aswatep, Pedro Ernyes, Timothy Nugent, Rick Jenkins, Peter Ramwa and Jack Wong. A Trans World Entertainment Home Video Release. Not Rated.
UNDEFEATABLE (1993) - Jesus Christ! Just when I've given up all hope for director Godfrey Ho (CLASH OF THE NINJAS - 1986), he turns around and makes highly enjoyable sleaze like this. When Anna (Emille Davazac) leaves her abusive husband, martial arts champion Stingray (the amazing Don Niam and his mullet of doom), he becomes a serial killing madman, kidnapping and killing every woman he sees (thinking she is Anna) and also killing the men they are with. His preferred method of death is a snapped neck with a side order of eye-yanking. When Stingray kills college student Karen (Sunny David), her sister, waitress and underground fighter Kristi Jones (Cynthia Rothrock), goes on the warpath looking for the person responsible. Kristi begins getting into fights with every man she meets, looking for the killer, which pisses off cop Nick DiMarco (John Miller), who is also looking for the serial killer. After much fighting between themselves, Kristi and Nick join forces. They get a break when they talk to Anna's psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Simmons (Donna Jason), who tells them of a client she has who has an abusive husband that is a martial artist. The rest of the film is a series of fights between Kristi and some underground fighters, Stingray and everyone he thinks is Anna and cumulates in a truly amazing finale where Kristi and Nick fight Stingray in a warehouse. Storywise, this isn't much of a film, but the action and fights scenes in this are unbelievable. Godfrey Ho (here usung the pseudonym "Godfrey Hall") fills the screen with non-stop carnage, including a fishtank full of eyeballs, a naked woman stuffed in a freezer and Don Niam's bug-eyed performance as Stingray. I guarantee that his acting ability will leave you in stitches, as he spouts lines like, "Don't leave me Mommy. I'll be a good boy!" and "Time to come home now, Anna!". I also love how everyone in this film knows martial arts, even the psychiatrist! Cynthia Rothrock gets to show off her nimble body and skills in several martial arts scenes and John Miller (who also starred with Rothrock in Ho's HONOR AND GLORY - 1992) does the best he can with his role as a high-kicking cop. Ho saves the best for last, though, in the warehouse finale. After viewing it, if you're not laughing your ass off, you don't have a pulse. Nick's final line in the warehouse fight is a classic of hysterical proportions. If you like a film full of good stunts, bad acting and some of the funniest dialogue you'll ever hear, this is the film is for you. Also starring Ricky Yuen, Jerald Klein, Michael Walter and William Buckley. A Fox Home Entertainment Release. Rated R.