At the risk of slighting my other eminent colleagues, I would
suggest starting with Teleport City’s Enter the Ninja piece,
as Keith provides essential historical background on Ninjas.
Also, special thanks to Kimberly Swygert, Jabootu Minister of
Proofreading, for helping to radically reduce the number of my typos.
Plot: The Man holds down a Chinese Immigrant cop and his black partner. Luckily, the Chinese guy is a ninja.
This has undoubtedly been the most difficult roundtable topic for me to find a title for. Most of the time we vote on a subject and I just walk into my video room and grab an appropriate film off the shelf. Even when that isn’t the case, I generally quickly have a title in mind, one I can rent or purchase. However, my familiarity with ninja movies is comparatively slight. I’ve probably seen more movies featuring ninjas than most people, but not nearly many enough to claim any expertise with the breed. Therefore I solicited suggestions from my more knowledgeable associates.
One oft-proffered suggestion was Ninja III: The Domination, a Cannon Films mainstay from the wondrous days of 1986. This starred ninja movie mainstay Sho Kusogi, not to mention Lucinda Dickey. Ms. Dickey’s an interesting case. Her entire movie career pretty majorly consisted of the three films she made that same year: Breakin’, Breaking 2: Electric Boogoloo, and Ninja III. I rented the film, and had to admit, it had its moments. Still, I just didn’t get enough out of it to justify the full Jabootu treatment. Fans of the film should not be concerned, though. Liz Kingsley claimed it, and will undoubtedly more than do it justice over at her site.
Another popular proposal was to search through the works of one Joseph Lai. In the ’80s, Hong Kong producer/director Lai came up with a scheme to feed the then seemingly insatiable appetite for ninja-oriented fare from American video store patrons. (The ’80s was such a great decade for cheesy movies.) Ninja movies became a popular offshoot of the decade’s generally popular martial arts genre following the landmark success of the Shogun TV mini-series. Aside from the films provided by Lai and Kusogi, Cannon kicked in not only with such pictures as Ninja III, but the weirdly long-running American Ninja series.
Lai’s ingenious solution to this situation firmly earned him a place amongst such other all-time schlockmavens as Sam Arkoff, Roger Corman and William Castle. His idea was to obtain the rights to as many cheap Chinese movies as he could. These were, as appropriate to his plans, typically crime pictures and thrillers. (But not always. See the hilarious Ninja Commandments, built around an extraordinarily weird and downbeat family drama.) Lai would then film new ninja-themed material, featuring American ‘actors’ like the ubiquitous Richard Harrison. This would then be spliced into the existing film as a barely – if at all – connected subplot. Thus, bam, in short order any film could be turned into a ‘ninja’ movie.
Lai’s other great talent was to give the resultant ‘films’ irresistible titles as they flooded the American video market. These included Blazing Ninja, To Catch a Ninja, Full Metal Ninja, Cobra vs. Ninja (this the year after Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra came out), Bionic Ninja (!), Zombie vs. Ninja, and so on. He must have also attracted good sales with films sporting the word ‘Thunderbolt,’ since at least five of his video releases featured that term. Lai’s ninja movies are also identifiable in other ways. For instance, his ninjas tend to be not only oddly Caucasian but to sport headbands that actually have the word “NINJA” printed on them. This is enough to get one laughing right there.
I hope someone else, more knowledgeable than I, will review one of these for the roundtable and provides further details on this extraordinary footnote in B-Movie history.
Still, I guess we should move on to our subject for today, the somewhat more orthodox Super Ninja. We open with a Ninja in a white ninja suit on a footbridge in some Asian locale. The white suit, it seems to me, would be less than perfect for camouflage purposes. Still, given the plethora of bright red and gold ones I’ve seen lately, I guess it’s at least better than some. It also helps us to keep track of who this particular ninja is.
The White Ninja runs across the bridge in that ‘ninja’ style: Little steps, crouched over somewhat, arm held forward across the chest, crooked at the elbow. As he gets about halfway across the obligatory black ninjas appear. Two of them burst from the waters surrounding the bridge and fly upward like, well, like film running backwards, actually. Amazingly, they are completely dry when they land to confront their opponent. Even so, they are quickly beaten down and left behind.
The White Ninja advances to a wooded area. Numerous black ninjas lurk not only up in the trees, but below ground under layers of fallen leaves. The White Ninja starts Ninja-leaping around, hacking up his foes left and right. He then continues on as the attacks against him continue. I have to admit, he’s living up to the title. When a black ninja fires an arrow at him, he catches it and tosses it back, impaling the guy. Another BN tosses a throwing star, whereupon the White Ninja rebounds it off his sword (!) into his attacker’s forehead.
Eventually the White Ninja reaches his target, an older man in a garden. The man is obviously a martial arts master. We know he hears the (admittedly not very silent) White Ninja because we cut to an extreme close-up of the old man’s twitching ear. He and the White Ninja draw swords and begin trading blows. At one point the White Ninja leaps up onto the flat of his opponent’s sword (!) and catapults off of it, landing on the roof of a nearby pagoda.
The battle continues until a number of black ninjas appear out of the surrounding bushes. Here the old Master hands the White Ninja a pair of sais. I guess this was all part of the White Ninja’s graduation test or ceremony or something. You know, in the past I’ve wondered where guys, businessmen and the like, get these henchmen who just casually obey orders when their boss suddenly tells them to kill someone. I’m even more baffled by who signs up to study at these ninja academies. The White Ninja had to kill, at the very least, four or five of his fellow students during this ‘test.’ I mean, this picture was made in the ’80s. Didn’t Japan have a good enough economy by then that people could find other lines of work? (Actually, the film’s vague on this. Despite the whole ‘ninja’ thing, arguments could be made that this scene is taking place in China or even, from later evidence, in the U.S.)
Here we rather abruptly cut to a man and woman, making out in a park. They are quickly, not to mention inevitably, accosted by your typical gang of multi-racial Movie Street Thugs. Being in a martial arts film, each has a specialized weapon. One guy sports leather gloves with brutal metal studs, one wields a length of chain, one nunchucks, another is a master with a butterfly knife, etc. The male victim is beaten. The woman, unfortunately, is used to flash the audience some T&A in extremely unpleasant circumstances. I won’t go into it, but the scene is a trifle gross even for this sort of thing.
Suddenly a stranger in sunglasses appears. Oops, two strangers, one Asian, one black. (The lack of letterboxing on this DVD occasionally makes the editing sort of confusing.) Unsurprisingly, a Kung Fu battle results, with the punks taking a quite a beating before being subdued. For those keeping track, this marks the first time the phrase “You bastard!” is heard here. Eventually the Asian guy slaps handcuffs on one of the punks. He and the black guy are, respectively, John and Spenser, police detectives.
This is where the film starts getting nice and silly. The pair’s Commander (who is, of course, white) is on the phone, trying to placate a U.S. Senator. Apparently one of the marauding punks was his son. The Commander establishes his role in things by haranguing Our Heroes for the arrest. (!!) This supplies the film’s central theme: That American police officers, and American society at large, are still as overtly racist and corrupt as they were, say, a century earlier. The overall take on America is so askew, in fact, that I’d think the film was actually shot in another country. Which would, after all, explain why everyone is quite clearly and badly dubbed. How then, though, could I explain the large American flags adorning all the offices in the precinct? Don’t all American police workspaces sport these? Plus the fashion sense is spot on for ’80s America. Our Heroes tend to wear T-Shirts under bulky but colorful jackets, the latter worn with the collars and sleeves pulled up.
“Why did you arrest a Senator’s son?” the Commander explodes. “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?!” Oddly, neither John nor Spenser mentions that the son was caught committing felony assault and rape. Instead, John rather lamely responds, “I think we made the right decision, sir.” Yeah, now that I think about it, I guess they did. Not everyone, however, agrees. “Do you?” the Commander sneeringly replies. “Do you think they’re going to invite you to the White House?” (??)
He further reveals that the victims, presumably out of fear, have refused to testify. This means there’s no case. I would have thought that spontaneously attacking two police detectives would constitute some sort of crime in itself, but I guess not. Here the Commander expands upon his spineless venality, referring to his two detectives as “colored boys.” Which, as racist slang, seems a tad out of date for 1986. (Not to mention the fact that Americans, even the overtly racist ones, seldom refer to Asians as ‘colored.’)
Our Heroes return to their office. Which, unsurprisingly, has a big American flag on the wall. Spenser is in a rage. He starts back to the Commander’s office to kick his ass, or kill him, or something. “That damn Nazi,” he snarls, “playin’ the White Man’s game with me!” John cools him down with a quick, “Don’t let it bother you.” (Yeah, that should defuse the situation.) This leads to an incoherent conversation wherein John explains that assaulting their superior officer would be like punching a stone wall. Don’t ask.
We cut to a carload of Mafia-esque goons checking their weapons. They disembark for a gangland exchange of some sort, meeting an equal number of thugs on the other side. Their meeting is interrupted, however, by a smoke bomb blast. When the smoke dissipates, we see – sort of, this was shot at night and remains pretty murky – a team of five ninjas. The ninjas proceed to make short work of the hoods, as you’d expect. This might actually have been somewhat exciting if we could have actually seen what was happening. Their mission completed, we briefly follow the Five Ninjas back to their headquarters. This allows us to hear their Leader, a sixth ninja known as Mr. Tong, Laughing Manically. At this point I’m assuming they will be the film’s bad guys.
We cut to John working out in his home gym. This is illustrated through severe close-ups of his sweaty, flexing muscles, shots seemingly imported from a gay porn video. The sequence goes on at some length, including his workout routine with a skateboard. Yes, yes, it’s all very impressive, especially to a viewer who can’t escape the depths of his easy chair without wheezing. Still, the guy’s a martial arts expert, so I think we could have just stipulated that he works out. Ah, what the heck? It eats up some of that nearly ninety minute running time, doesn’t it?
John’s interrupted when the Commander rushes in, pointing a gun at his head. Either this revolver is a fake one, perhaps a starter pistol, or it’s at least not a model familiar in the United States – strangely enough. Oh, and he calls John a ‘bastard,’ for those partaking in the Martial Arts drinking game. John, naturally, wants to know what’s going on. “You’ve been prosecuted [??] for stealing dangerous drugs,” the Commander expounds, revealing a nuanced grasp of American idiom. Searching the house, a uniformed cop finds a bag of flour, er, some dangerous drugs, hidden in John’s toilet tank. (Eat your heart out, The Godfather!) Needless to say, the Commander is apparently framing his underling. John is soon tossed into a cell, one with checkered sheets on the bunk, like in all American jailhouses.
Meanwhile, the Five Ninjas visit a local crime lord, albeit not a very impressive-looking one. What can you say about an extremely skinny dude with a porn-star mustache who sits around his living room in a fedora, Elton John-sized sunglasses and a buttoned-up shiny leather vest over his white dress shirt and tie? The Gold Ninja informs this guy that Mr. Tong wants his territory. He’s to surrender it quickly, or he’ll die. The Gold Ninja laughs manically – what else — and then the group disappears via Ye Olde Smoke Bomb.
The Gold Ninja reports back to the masked Mr. Tong, aka the Head Ninja. “Men will always die for money,” Mr. Tong waxes, apparently in a philosophical mood. “They value it above their lives.” Actually, I think the second observation is implicit in the first, but anyway. The Gold Ninja asks if they shouldn’t “deal with the Professor?” (Who?) Mr. Tong notes that after Our Hero John is convicted – ah, the pieces are coming together – the Professor will be easy prey.
Segue provided, we cut over to the Professor’s abode. He’s Chinese – I mention this only because of the centrality of race in this picture — and his daughter Nancy is John’s girlfriend. She makes her appearance clad in a bright yellow jumpsuit. The Professor cautions her to calm herself before she goes to see John. “He must be feeling lousy,” the Professor muses. Thus, even sans his academic title, we immediately grasp that the Professor is a highly intelligent and insightful person. Nancy, for her part, is confused as to who could be behind John’s predicament. The Professor suggests that he made waves by being an honest cop. “That’s not fair,” Nancy pouts. I guess high intelligence is hereditary. This keen dialog concluded, Nancy takes her leave.
David, the Professor’s adopted son, responds to the situation with barely suppressed rage. He asks his father whether he knows someone who can pull strings on John’s behalf. (How about getting John a lawyer? No one ever seems to think of that.) “David,” the Professor replies, “it’s not like that. America’s an honest country.” After that baldly optimistic statement – even I might have modified it with the word ‘comparatively’ — the Professor shifts his mental gears entirely. “You know, my work could change their opinions,” he notes. “Help to dig out some of their deeply rooted prejudices. And it could make them respect the Chinese.” So, if I’m following this, piecing together the Professor’s various statements from the last two minutes, the America of 1985 was an honest country run by White People who frame honest cops and hold strongly racist views about persons of Chinese descent.
Elsewhere, John is in a dimly lit room, being interrogated by the Commander. The latter is dubbed in such a manner that his statements sound like those coming from any bad guy in a Chinese martial arts film. By which I mean that his inflections are seriously exaggerated. “John,” he begins. “You’re a cop. You broke the law. Why did you do it?” Then he employs an ethnic slur for Chinese folks. It says something, I think, about how generally non-racist our country is that this utterance is rather more shocking than the physical torture John’s being submitted to.
Currently, this consists of a cop holding John’s face smooshed down against a table. The Commander grabs John’s hair and yanks his head up. “Make him talk!” Our Villain commands, and two uniformed cops begin wailing on John’s midsection with their nightsticks. This goes on long enough that John would undoubtedly be suffering from internal injuries, but he still refuses to confess. “OK,” the Commander sneers. “You asked for it!” Here the cops haul the prone John’s feet up on the table, whereupon they administer a similarly intense beating to his shins. Ouch.
Cue Flashback. John is talking to the Teacher from the beginning of the movie. See, John’s the White Ninja from the beginning of the movie? Remember? Never mind, take my word for it. Flashback John is in a device where only his arm muscles keep weighted blades from plunging down through his chest. He’s tiring, though, and the points are beginning to cut into him. He asks the Teacher, who he calls Master, of course, for a reprieve. The Master is disgusted by his weakness. “You’ll learn,” this worthy explains as he roughly shoves his student back down, “a ninja has to endure unendurable pain.” Cut back to the present, where we ‘get’ how this regimen is allowing Our Hero to persevere in his current straits.
Currently, he’s being viciously choked with a chain. (Again, wouldn’t a lawyer be sort of handy at this point?) Yet he still refuses to give in. This leads to another flashback, similar to the first. The Master has him in a river, making him hold his breathe for a painfully long time. Back in the present, the Commander is becoming impatient. “OK! Watch this! Now we’re going to see if you’re really made of steel!” he promises. Here the precinct’s elaborate ElectroShock Torture Deviceâ„¢ — presumably standard issue around the country — is wheeled in.
John is wired up and they begin running current through him. John still remains mute, even as the cops running the machine gape in astonishment at the tremendous amount of juice he’s absorbing. This cues yet another flashback, making me wonder how this Chinese guy came to get all this Ninja training. Was it an exchange program of some sort? On the other hand, we know that Bruce Lee’s grandfather was one of China’s greatest Samurai warriors, so there you go.
Nancy arrives to see John. The Commander, with obvious nefarious intent, has her brought in. Now she can clearly see that her beau’s been tortured. Still, given this weirdly attorney-less America, I guess that doesn’t matter. The Commander begins to ‘search’ Nancy. This, predictably, means he half undresses her and feels her up. John reacts with some anger to this tawdry display, which is, sadly, followed in some detail. Oh, wait, now I get it – the Commander is EEEEE-vil. Now it all makes sense. Anyway, his EEEEE-vil work completed, he leaves the couple to have a talk. Which consists of a tearful, humiliated Nancy telling John “You must get out of here,” and then running out. Bye, Nance, glad we could have this little chat.
Nancy returns home, still crying. Her father demands to know what happened. “The Commander,” she gasps, “he touched me and he did things.” David, hearing this, again responds with rage. “Bastard!” he yells, provoking viewers worldwide to reach for their shot glasses, “I’ll kill him!” The Professor tells him not to do it. “We live in a White Man’s world,” he sadly observes. Wasn’t this the guy who an hour ago was contending that America is an honest country? Moreover, the Professor notes, “He’s a master in Kung Fu. He can defend himself.” Since this statement doesn’t seem to apply to the Commander, I can only assume he’s speaking of John. Although, as far as I know, Kung Fu and Ninjitsu are two entirely different things. John must have been a busy boy to master both of them.
Back in his cell, John’s being taunted by his guard. As this guy’s such a dope that he keeps approaching the bars, we have a pretty good idea where this scene is heading. Another peculiarity, at least for a film made *cough, cough* in the States, is John’s jail cell. First, the bars are oddly big, maybe three inches in diameter. Second, the door into the cell is a half one, so that you have to bend way over to enter or exit it. This would seem to give the prisoner the opportunity to clout anyone trying to come in, but, hey, what do I know about jail cells?
Unable to take any more, or judging the time to be right, or something, John finally removes his handcuffs. See, he’s a Ninja, so he can do that. Alarmed, the guard turns around to get his nightstick. Perhaps you’d expect him, at this point, to stay safely away from the cell and phone for reinforcements. Instead – duh — he turns back around to find, big surprise, that John has seemingly disappeared. Again, rather than phone for help, he enters the cell to look around. (Bending nearly in half to get through the doorway, as I mentioned. I myself would have attacked him at this juncture. But then, I’m not a Ninja/Kung Fu master.) John hasn’t escaped, however, he was just *gasp* hiding under the bed. You’d think by now they’d put lights under there, and up in the ceiling too, since that’s the other place these guys always hide. Anyhoo, the guard is quickly rendered insensible. Even more so, I mean.
John is soon running up a nearly endless flight of stairs, beating up seemingly dozens of cops who invariably appear in ones and twos. (Here we see that John and his partner Spenser appear to be the only non-white cops in the precinct.) Eventually John makes his way to the Commander’s office. He bursts in and delivers unto his boss a surprisingly light thrashing, all things considered. Then he fights more cops, during which one appears with a silencer-equipped MAC-10 (!). With this no doubt standard police-issue weapon he tries to shoot Our Hero. It was about here that I noticed how many of the desks had cans of Coca-Cola sitting on them.
John appears out of nowhere – the film follows the ‘if he’s off-camera-he’s-invisible’ rule – and takes the gun away from the guy. Since such weapons only sport, I think, twenty-round magazines, it should clearly be out of ammo by now. Yet of course John is able to spray around what must be another couple of hundred shells. (Launching a second can-of-Coke-on-a-string in the process.) He then drops the gun and runs off again, knocking down whatever opponents pop up in his way.
Apparently he made his escape, because we cut away to later that evening. The location is the Professor’s house, which is being guarded by patrol cops. The Commander is interrogating the Professor, who’s pleased to hear of John’s escape. “Does that mean you approve of drug pushing?” the Commander snarls. Now, the normal response to this might be, “I don’t think John did it.” But again, the Professor has all that impressive mental gear at his command.
Instead, he learnedly points out that America is a free country – jeepers, Prof, make up your mind – and that drug dealing “is one of the things that happens here.” (Yes, unlike all the un-free countries in the world, in which drug pushing is completely unknown.) Oddly, he follows this rather uncontroversial statement by apologetically noting, “That’s just my view.” (!!) Then he chuckles. “I don’t suppose you came here today to discuss political philosophy.” Huh? Does the statement “drug dealing is one of the things that happens in America” really constitute a statement of ‘political philosophy’? Watch out, William F. Buckley!
The Professor asks the Commander if he has a warrant to search the place. (Why wouldn’t he? I thought this was a “White Man’s World”.) Frustrated, the Commander just begins to run through the house, looking around. Warrant, schmarrant. Upstairs, meanwhile, we see that Nancy is, three guesses, in the shower. The camera pans down — they’re not even trying to pretend what they’re doing here — and we see that she must be using cold water, if you know what I mean. I was a little surprised at this. In my admittedly limited experience with the genre, I’ve generally found it pretty puritanical where nudity and such was concerned.
The shower stall’s outside window (?!) opens up and John pops in. He startles Nancy by grabbing her from behind and covering her mouth. Once she sees who he is, however, she covers him with kisses. Which isn’t exactly what I’d expect a woman emotionally vulnerable from being sexually molested earlier that same day to do. But hey, she’s been days and days now without any hot Ninja lovin’, am I right? Meanwhile, the Commander is still searching the house, the Professor ineffectively trailing behind him. Hearing them approach, John ducks out of sight as the Commander opens the bathroom door, getting a good peek at the nude Nancy. What country is this supposed to be again? Because this guy would have been relieved of his post like half a dozen times by now.
We then do a blur segue to the next bit. This proves to be an ‘erotic’ sex scene between John and Nancy, complete with much writhing and dubbed-in moaning – mostly on her part, of course – and accompanied by the inevitable Smokey Jazz Music. Again, I can’t really remember seeing something like this in one of these, but maybe the scriptwriter owed the actor playing John a favor. In any case, this goes on for a while. So long, in fact, that the Jazz music piece ends and they have to start playing it a second time. (!!) I must admit that I eventually employed my fast forward button to speed through some of this, despite the fact that the actress playing Nancy is quite attractive. (Ah, a country where the silicone thing never really took off.) But still, cripes, get on with it, would you? I mean, c’mon, this is a ninja movie.
After an even more than usually useless flashback to John meeting with his Master, Our Hero proceeds to the house of the Skinny Crime Lord Guy, if you can remember back that far. This involves some rather humdrum ‘action’ stuff as John jumps around knocking down various *cough, cough* gangland hoods. Unsurprisingly, violation of Ken’s Rule of Guns runs rampant here. The SCLG, meanwhile, gets interrupted in the midst of his own carnal activities. Which, given what we’ve seen of him so far, I was mildly surprised to learn involved a woman. Luckily this all occurs beneath sheets and we aren’t exposed to the sight of the SCLG’s bony ass.
The woman conveniently leaves to “take a bath” – I know how she feels – whereupon John enters the room. SCLG reaches for a gun in a none-too sly fashion, but of course John gets the drop on him. Oddly, the Guy calls John by his first name. I guess cops and crooks get to know each other pretty well. Maybe there’s some backstory missing here, because John suspects the guy of being in on the frame. Myself, I’m waiting around for the film to bother giving this guy a name. If he’s going to keep popping up – until he’s killed by the Five Ninjas, oops, sorry – they could at least bother to call him something. [Future Ken: As far as I could tell, they never did so.]
John shoves a gun in the guy’s mouth and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t come clean. I guess if you’re a Framed Cop on the Lam, the rules don’t apply anymore. Somehow the guy manages to talk around the gun jammed down his throat and briefly explains about Mr. Tong. Oh, and the Five Ninjas are, in fact, the Five Element Ninjas. John is surprised to hear about this ninja angle. I guess no one found all the Mafia goons killed earlier by throwing stars and sword slashes and such.
“Now tell me!” Our Hero demands. “What do they look like?” This is vitally important information, lest John run into five other ninjas and mistakenly start kicking their asses. Meanwhile, SCLG’s answer indicates that the stress of being fed a pistol is starting to tell. “They’re like ghosts,” he begins, presumably having misheard the question. “They come at night, and disappear without a sound!” I’m not sure how John’s query elicited that exact response. And it’s not even accurate, since the Ninjas tend to ‘disappear’ after the loud whoosh of a smoke bomb going off.
Here we get a brief cut-in shot of Rockefeller Plaza, so apparently the film’s supposedly taking place in New York City. By which I mean, of course, the New York City that boasts a small Chinese community, one black dude and an otherwise all white population. Hey, who was mayor back in ’86? Ed Koch, maybe? That bastard! Way to run a city, Ed! Next we cut to John consulting with his Master. (?!) I guess this means the Master lives in New York, or at least the surrounding area somewhere. OK, now I’m seriously confused. When John took his Ninja training, was that in America? And he decided to become a cop after killing all those guys during the training exercise? (And, presumably, some before that.) Whatever.
John asks the Master if he’s heard of the Five Element Ninjas. I was hoping the Master would slap him upside the head and say, “Of course I have, stupid, I’m the Master.” Instead, he reacts with, as they say, palpable shock, emphasized by the inevitable Zooming Extreme Close-up on his face. “An ancient tradition,” the Master explains. “Five elements, all in lethal balance, combining into a deadly unity.” Digesting that huge wad of information, John asks the only question left to ask. “Can they be beaten?” he asks. “Or are they invincible?” Actually, I think the second question is implicit in the first. But anyway. “In all of history,” the Master explicates, “no one has ever beaten them.”
“It began a thousand years ago,” the Master begins. What, exactly? (Let the Exposition Begin! Accompanied by Illustrative Flashbacks, of course.) “A Master Ninja decided to use the Oriental belief of the Five Elements as a way to train ninjas to become indomitable. He choose his five best pupilsâ€¦”
Cut to a Gold Ninja fighting some regular black ones. This is the Metal Element Ninja. (Meanwhile, the Fire Element Ninja was trained to fight in tandem with the Wood Element Ninja – which doesn’t make much sense to me, but then I’m not ‘Oriental’ — and the Water Element Ninja with the Earth Element Ninja.) “The Metal is strong and determined,” the Master continues. Which is good, actually, because if there’s anything people hate it’s the weak and wishy-washy sort of ninja. Per his description, the Metal Element Ninja uses great physical strength to slay his opponents. He twirls one fellow overhead before dispatching him with a toss so mighty that Benny Hill himself would have applauded.
We move on. “The quality of the Wood Element is that it moves swiftly and silently.” Uhâ€¦OK. This guy’s more or less the Spider-Man Ninja, skittering up and jumping about from trees, swinging around and binding his enemies with rope, etc. On the other hand, Spider-Man never decapitated Electro and the Vulture after he had them webbed up. The Wood Element Ninja wears a camouflage-patterned ninja suit. Silly me, I didn’t know this pattern had been around for a thousand years.
“The advantage of the Water element is its ability to flow quickly and invisibly around the enemy,” the Master continues. The Water Element Ninja, dressed in traditional black, uses reeds to breathe underwater. This allows him to burst up and catch his opponents by surprise. Admittedly, this ability might seem, well, oddly prosaic. Not so his other demonstrated skills, however, such as standing on a floating bamboo pole and using it to jet-ski himself along the water’s surface. Hell, not even Aquaman can do that. (On the other hand, what can Aquaman do?) Unsurprisingly, he can also rocket himself along when under the water.
The Fire Element Ninja is dressed in red. (Duh.) “The Fire Element” we’re told, “destroys all he touches on contact, burning up the opposition.” This statement proves just a wee bit hyperbolic. Even so, the Fire Element Ninja can cause his hands to burst into flames. Which is why, probably, he’s so popular at backyard barbeques. Anyhow, his fiery mitts are used to light his opponents’ clothes on fire. With his enemy thus distracted, he fires a burst of napalm or some damn thing and causes his hapless adversary to explode. Considering that the first* Fire Element Ninja a thousand years ago could do all this, you might have thought his modern day counterpart would have even more advanced pyrotechnic abilities at his command. Not so, though. I guess ninjas are very traditionally minded folks.
* The film never goes into whether the Element Ninja powers are passed down from generation to generation, or if the five Ninjas shown here are supposed to be the original ones. While there’s no mention of the Element Ninjas being immortal, it should be noted that ninjas in Chinese films tend to be more or less supernatural characters. Ninjas in Japanese films might be highly skilled at stealth, deception and death-dealing, sometimes insanely so. Still, they are for the most part normal, albeit highly trained, human beings. Ninjas in Chinese movies, however, are apt to be more or less completely magical. For instance, rather than diverting their opponents’ attention with smoke bombs to cover their exits, Chinese movie ninjas often display the ability to literally teleport themselves at will.
And so we get to the final ninja, the Earth Element one. Dressed again in black, this one can tunnel into and under the ground at astounding speeds. More amazing, actually, is his ability to keep track of his foes as he does this. Indeed, this ninja seems at times less to burrow into the ground than just outright disappear from plain sight. (Apparently the notation preceding this paragraph was more timely than I thought.) “[He] can move around freely underground,” the Master drones, “unseen, yet hostile.” I like that ‘yet,’ as if the ideas of ‘unseen’ and ‘hostile’ were normally contradictory.
“I must tell you frankly,” the Master monotones, “against the Five Element Ninjas, I don’t think you stand a chance.” Yeah, that’s the way to buck up your prize student.
John, apparently a student of the Non Sequitur school of Ninjitsu, interrupts his teacher. “Master,” he exclaims, apropos of nothing, “I think they’re involved in drug running!” This gives his elder pause. “Hmm,” he responds, “that makes the situation worse.” (??) “John, the truth is grim,” he continues. “They’re going to kill you.” Apparently that whole ‘instilling the student with a sense of self-esteem’ idea hasn’t caught on with ninjas yet.
John refuses to give up, though. “They’re only human,” he blurts, answering that question anyway. “They must have a wink link somewhere.” Sure enough, the Master has more information, which you might have thought he’d have shared in the first place. “It’s been said that,” he expounds, “according to ancient law, that there’s only one way to defeat them.” Again, information he might have wanted to impart before all that “they’re going to kill you” stuff. “Draw your strength from your future and your past. See beyond the illusion of this world. Then gather your vision, take a stand, and rising above this life, you will conquer them.” Oh. I guess that explains why he had to be goaded into passing on this ancient “wisdom.” Still, John sagely nods at all this and makes a martial arts movie “Hmm” sound. Cripes, that kid will swallow anything.
That night – or the same night, whatever — John flits his way over to Spenser’s place. Even when John’s still outside, Spenser hears him. Not knowing who’s out there, Spenser turns off the lights and prepares for a fight. Now, I’ll admit that John has no real reason to want to surprise Spenser. Moreover, I acknowledge that Spenser himself is supposed to be a highly skilled martial artist, and so would have highly trained senses. Even so, if John is really the ‘super’ ninja touted by the film’s title, you’d think he could skulk around outside a guy’s house without alerting its owner to his presence.
John enters the house, again making rather more noise than I’d have thought. As he moves about, Spenser jumps from the shadows and attacks him. It’s like the early days of Marvel Comics, when superheroes would always mistakenly start brawling whenever they ran into each other. Spenser puts up a surprisingly good fight – see above note, again – before he belatedly recognizes who his opponent is. John quickly, if sketchily, fills in Spenser on Mr. Tong and then takes his leave. Outside he makes enough noise to alert the police guards around the place (!!) – see above note yet again – but manages to dodge their gunfire and make his escape.
Cut to dawn, in a forest or something. John appears, wearing camouflage pants, a headband and greasepaint on his face, if not on his bare chest. He’s armed with a sword, a compound bow and a length of rope, and is being chased by the Commander and a handful of cops. Again, somebody here isn’t getting the whole ‘ninja’ thing, and I don’t think it’s me. Also, did we miss something? Where did all these guys come from, and where did John pick up all this gear, not to mention the change of clothes?
Anyway, in case we weren’t clued in by John’s new togs, we watch as he engages in some Rambo-esque guerilla fighting. As if the time elements weren’t suspect before, the fact that the cops start running into pre-arranged traps sows further confusion. One guy steps on Ye Olde Rope Loop and is pulled up into the air. Another cop falls into a covered pit, whereupon he’s frightened by a very silly looking plastic skeleton. (!!) At this point I was waiting for the Commander to come across a flaming brown paper lunch bag and to ruin his new Gucci loafers when he stamped it out.
Another guy activates one of those swinging-walls-of-spikes, which has been set to stop just short of impaling him. “You bastard,” he shouts – players, pour yourselves another one – although it seems to me that he might be a little more gracious, considering the trap more easily could have skewered him. Then another guy trips a (rather obvious) wire. A smoke bomb goes off, covering his face with comical scorch marks. These are reminiscent of those inflicted upon Yosemite Sam when he tries to talk into a TNT phone receiver. Amazingly, we are spared a comic Wha-wha-wha music cue at this sight.
John pops up for some brief Hero/Villain palaver, then spins away whilst dodging a spray of sub-machine gun fire. More desultory ‘action’ antics follow, including John suddenly slaying one of his pursuers. Given that this seems totally unnecessary — surely he could have tossed the blade into the guy’s arm or leg, rather than into his chest — it somewhat tarnishes his hero credentials. Especially since we have no way of knowing whether all the cops are crooked or if some of them are just following orders. Also odd, given the film’s whole Tyranny of the White Man shtick, is that the one guy John kills outright is a black uniformed beat cop. (!) Meanwhile, all his white pursuers, even the Commander (!), receive a light beating and are otherwise left unharmed. This is especially weird since we never see the Commander again. Apparently, despite everything we’ve seen him do, he pretty much escapes any real comeuppance.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tong/Lead Ninja is tired of screwing around with Skinny Crime Lord Guy. This means, of course, an all-out murder spree of SCLG and his minions. (You’d think the fact that John on his lonesome kicked all their asses would have caused SCLG to reevaluate his defiance of the Element Ninjas. Of course then we’d have been denied a full-blown opportunity for wide scale slaughter. So obviously that wasn’t going to happen.) Soon all their rivals are punctured in various fashions and the Five Element Ninjas control, uh, whatever ‘territory’ SCLG used to control.
Cut to David leaving what I guess is his place of business. Just in case we forgot it’s the ’80s, he appears with the sleeves of his sports jacket and shirt yanked up to his elbow. Nearby we see the Element Ninjas, lurking in a hedge. Despite already having his sleeves rolled up, David proves unready when they jump out and lay a mild beating on him. He is then dragged from sight.
Meanwhile, his father and sister are preparing to test the Professor’s latest serum. Their subject is a guy who’s all sweaty and shivering and larded up with pancake make-up. This, presumably, to communicate that he’s a junkie going through withdrawal. After he’s injected, however, he’s almost immediately fine. Man, that’s quite a serum!
Unfortunately, the Professor’s formula doesn’t protect against throwing stars. So when an Element Ninjas tosses one through the window, that’s all she wrote. It’s kinda ironic when you think about it. You know, the whole instant-recovery-from-drug-addiction thing followed ten seconds later by the throwing-star-in-the-head thing. In a classic moment, the Element Ninjas pop up and put knives against the Professor and Nancy’s throats, all as a wad of Bernard Herrmann’s theme music from Psycho plays in the background. (!!) Fans of cheesily dubbed Chinese martial arts films know that many of these blatantly stole music from sources as obvious as, say, Shaft or Star Wars or Superman. Or, for that matter, Psycho. It’s amazing how long these things have flown under the radar of studio copyright lawyers, a notoriously rapacious breed.
“Congratulations,” the Metal Element Ninja tells the Professor. “I see you succeeded. What a pity your work was in vain. Because it all stops now!” See, now that the Element Ninjas control the city’s drug trade – that city being New York, as I recall – they can’t have this wonder drug screwing everything up. Or so I assume. The film sort of lets you put the pieces together. The Ninjas also inform the Professor that they’ve captured David, so he better cough up the formula. OK, now I’m confused. Why would the Ninjas want the formula? (Perhaps because in the real world it would make more money than any illicit drug?) Why not just kill the few people who know of the formula and make their zillions of dollars off the drug trade as they planned? Well, I guess because then the Hero’s girlfriend would be dead. Never mind.
I’ve got to give the Professor this, though – he’s a tough old bird. “I have no intention of being blackmailed,” he avers. “Especially by a bunch of thugs!” The Metal Element Ninja reacts to this with one of those angry “Why, you!” starts, followed by slap to the face. I always love that sort of thing, where some horrible villain takes umbrage from some mild slur tossed his way. Probably the best example of this is the execrable ’80s cheesefest Dungeonmaster. In a pivotal scene, Satan, as played by Richard “Night Court” Mull, gets pissed off when that film’s hero calls him “the lowest of the low.” Yeah, boy, I’m sure the Prince of Darkness isn’t used to that sort of name-calling.
Since the Professor refuses to hand over the formula, the Ninjas grab him and Nancy and hustle them out of their house. (Which is weird, because the scene leading up to this clearly takes place in the Professor’s clinic.) Unsurprisingly, they meet John as they make their departure. “John,” the Professor shouts. “Be careful!” Just in case seeing the notorious Element Ninjas dragging off his fiancÃˆe and future father-in-law didn’t clue him in that the situation might call for caution.
The expected brawl begins. Since there’s still forty minutes of the movie left we’re not expecting much of anything conclusive to happen. Two of the ninjas take off with their prisoners, while the three remaining ninjas stay behind to deal with John. Nancy is given her own little Kung Fu moment here. All in all, she puts up a surprisingly respectable fight, given the supposedly invincible nature of her opponents. Tragedy strikes, however — *yawn* — when the Professor steps in front of a flying kick meant for her. Well, that’s one less character to worry about.
Nancy is saved again when John comes running up. Now, you’d think the Element Ninjas, having five-to-one odds on their side – and, oh yeah, the whole ‘we’ve-never-been-beating-in-a-thousand-years’ thing – would go ahead and take John out of the picture. However, they instead toss down yet another smoke bomb and take their leave. This allows for some pathos – Oh, the humanity! — as the tearful Nancy says goodbye to her dying father. “Take the formula,” he instructs. It turns out he had it in his breast pocket the whole time. (!!!) Frankly, this doesn’t make the Element Ninjas putative status as awesome super-villains any easier to swallow.
John trails the Ninjas to a lumberyard. There a Ninja tries to drop a log on him from a crane, which seems kind of wimpy. Do you really need to be an invincible ninja to kill someone with heavy machinery? Although surviving this attack, John quickly finds himself overmatched. He ends up with a grappling hook sticking out of his shoulder, – ouch! – singed by the Fire Element Ninja, and just generally pummeled and hacked up. Even so, he gives him opponents an oddly rough time, considering that he’s facing off against five guys at once. Not to mention taking a throwing star to the chest (right about where that grappling hook got him, if I’m not mistaken) and spitting up lots of blood. After that a ninja sinks his sword deep into John’s calf – ouch!, again – and by now Our Hero is clearly the worse for wear. He takes yet further damage after that, and I mean a lot of it, before the Fire Element Ninja appears to blow him up real good. Satisfied that John is kaput, they take their leave.
However – and I hope you’re sitting down, because I wouldn’t want you to fall over, crack your head and sue me – it turns out, now prepare yourself, that John isn’t dead after all! I know! Go figure.
We head back to Nancy’s. Spenser is watching over her as she engages in some rather broad histrionics. Although, to be fair, she did just hold her dying father in her arms, not to mention that she presumably believes her fiancÃˆe is dead too. Which makes Spenser’s comment of “Nancy, don’t cry, c’mon,” a bit laughable. Yeah, buck it up, ya whiner. Maybe he should do that ‘world’s smallest violin’ thing. “I want to go back to Hong Kong,” Nancy exclaims. She means back to Hong Kong from the United States of America, of course, since that’s where this film is taking place and was undoubtedly filmed.
Spenser drives off, not initially noticing the figure lurking in the backseat. Which, given the size of the car, isn’t exactly nominating him for any Sherlock Holmes awards. I guess he figures it out eventually, though, because he pulls to a stop and jumps out, gun drawn. The backseat proves *gasp* empty however, and a figure in a dark coat and fedora pops up and relieves him of his sidearm. Only then does the man remove his dark glasses to reveal that it’s John. Why, he’s not dead after all. Oh, wait, I told you that part already. Never mind.
This is one of those moments, by the way, when some indication of how much time has passed would have been useful. There’s little obvious reason to suspect that much time has passed. In fact, my first thought was that this was the day after the Professor was killed and John was left for dead. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that John looks to be completely recovered. Considering only the myriad number of deep puncture wounds he took, aside from all the other damage, this would presumably indicate that weeks if not months have passed. Then there’s this exchange:
John: “How’s Nancy?”
Spenser: “Gone to Hong Kong.”
John: “Hong Kong?!”
This is a pretty good example of the film’s extremely poor editing. Here’s what we see: Spenser is talking to Nancy. She says “Thank you.” We then cut to Spencer, dressed in the same jacket-and-jeans combo, leaving a house and climbing into his car. This leads to the scene described directly above. Now, when I backtrack it does seem that Spenser might be leaving his own house. But what the hell kind of transition is that? Given the dialog, this bit here must take place some time after the conversation between Nancy and Spenser, since all of a sudden we’re told that she’s already left the country. (By which I mean America, where this was filmed.) But given the way it’s cut together, our initial impression is that Spenser was leaving Nancy’s house right after speaking with her. For all we know now it’s conceivably weeks, months or even years since the Professor died.
I also like the line where Spenser, reacting to John’s miraculous resurrection, says, “Yeah, right, I forgot, you’re a ninja.” Is that really the kind of information you share with people? Not to mention that it’s sort of an odd thing to forget once you’ve been told. It’s not like saying, “Oh, right, you played Little League ball, didn’t you?”
Coincidentally, John “has a lead on his case,” or so he says. He believes Mr. Tong will also be heading to Hong Kong. Small world, ain’t it. Anyway, John plans to head there himself, because he’ll obviously have to meet back up with the Element Ninjas before the movie can end. Spenser, learning of these plans, says that he’ll go along to provide Our Hero with back-up. You know, it’s pretty impressive that a small film like this could film on two separate continents. What with everything up to now happening in the United States, and then bringing everyone over to Hong Kong to wrap the movie up. Pretty ambitious, I’d say. (How fugitive John will manage to leave the country isn’t dealt with.) Oh, by the way, the scene ends with John and Spenser walking off. Which seems kind of weird, since it means that Spenser’s just leaving his car parked in the road.
Before leaving, John consults with his Master one last time. (Or maybe the Master also went to Hong Kong; everyone else has.) “Don’t be afraid,” the Master says. That’s funny, the last time the two talked he told John the Element Ninjas would kill him. “This deadly battle will deepen your understanding, and your fighting skills will benefit.” Apparently the Master’s been watching a lot of Dragonball Z episodes lately. “The Universe operates on an Ebb and Flow principle,” he continues. “And at the turning point, you’ll find a way to destroy the indestructible.” Well, that’s convenient. And again, I’d like to point out that this isn’t very much in line with what he told John originally.
John, like me, seems to find much of this monologue to be of marginal concrete benefit. So he asks how to defeat the Element Ninjas. “As the sunset is defenseless,” says the Master, pointing up at the sky, “so will they be.” Huh?! Dude, c’mon, now you’re just making crap up. “Do not let them unite against you. Seek ways to fight them individually. That way, you will triumph over them.” Uhâ€¦let me get this straight. The Five Element Ninjas have remained unbeaten through a millennia of grueling martial arts battles because not a single one of their opponents ever thought to adopt a divide and conquer strategy against them?! Cripes!!
Cut to Hong Kong, where Nancy is leaving flowers at her father’s grave. With her is her uncle, who, conveniently enough, runs a martial arts academy. “Nancy,” this worthy advises her, “don’t be so sad.” Wow, he’s almost as wise as the Master himself! On the way back, having some running time to kill, he reminisces about his and her father’s youths. The uncle wanted to be a Shaolin monk, “and then [your father] went away and became a Professor.” Which, I don’t know, just seems like an odd way to put it. “He always wanted to help people,” the uncle notes. Nancy, in response, ponders Cruel Fate. “Who’d have thought he’d end up murdered?” she asks bitterly. Uncle replies with laughter. (!!) “Ha, ha, ha,” he guffaws. “There will be others who’ll continue his research.” Well, if that jolly sentiment doesn’t comfort Nancy, I don’t know what will.
Arriving at Uncle’s school, however, they find the Element Ninjas assaulting some of the students. “Uncle, that’s the murderer!” Nancy blurts, pointing to the Metal Element Ninja. A couple of the students attack, with predictable results. “Don’t think I can’t kill you,” the Ninja challenges Uncle. Nancy tells him to let them have her, since they will then leave in peace. I’m assuming she hasn’t seen a lot of martial arts movies.
Now, a Westerner might focus on the fact that these guys killed his brother, or that they’re attempting to kidnap his niece. Not so here, where Uncle is more concerned about the Ninja’s boast that he can easily kill him. “You insult me,” Uncle angrily exclaims. “Stamp out Evil!” he yells next, which sets his students into action. (They would have been trained to do so under Kung Fu Academy Contingency Plan 147: Attack by Evil Ninjas.) Unfortunately, this plan of action utterly ignores Movie Rule #82, which states that no one but the Hero(s) will be allowed to kill the Bad Guy(s). Since John doesn’t show up to save the day, the only other possible thing happens: The Element Ninjas kill everybody. Even Uncle, and even after he’s taken off his shirt! Nancy, who’s stood around watching all this, finally reacts when her Uncle bites it. “Uncle!” she cries. Boy, Nancy, when it rains it pours, huh?
The Ninjas then approach Nancy is a threatening manner, cueing John to make his entrance. (What, was he hiding in the back while everyone else was being killed?) Oh, and there’s Spenser. I don’t know where he came from. It must have been a part of the movie that was clipped off when they pan and scanned this for video. The twosome grabs Nancy and they hightail it outside, the Element Ninjas close behind. This foot chase goes on for a while – twenty-five minutes left and counting – before Our Heroes find themselves surrounded and a melee breaks out.
During a short break in the action, John tells Spenser to grab Nancy and take off. However, one of the Ninjas shouts out and *gasp* Spenser pulls a gun on John. It turns out that he’s been a double agent the whole time. Spenser tosses Nancy to the Ninjas and tells them to take her to Mr. Tong. Spenser will remain behind and take out John. Of course, he’s got a gun to his head, so he could just shoot him here. Or the Ninjas could decide to hang around long enough to kill John themselves. But they don’t, of course. The Ninjas leave and Spenser doesn’t just kill John, he yaks with him first.
Unsurprisingly, John wants to know why Spenser has betrayed him. “Because I need the money,” Spenser replies, which seems reasonable enough. Or does so until he continues with the following: “If I have money, the White People won’t despise me and I’ll be someone. It’s a White Man’s world!” Let me see if I’m following this: A black guy betrays his Chinese partner under orders from another Chinese dude, one who employs five Japanese guys, in order to get enough money to gain the respect of the White Man. Wait, that can’t be right, can it? (Besides, of the film’s two main white characters, one worked for Mr. Tong and the other was killed by him. How do white men fare in a world that isn’t theirs?)
John sneers at Spenser’s hopes: “For the respect of the Whites? The people you despise? You’d betray me?” Nice to know everyone is this movie is a big damn racist of some sort. Disgusted, John tells Spenser to shoot. By the way, who taught the actors in this movie to hold guns? Everybody keeps resting his trigger finger on the outside of the one revolver that everyone in the film has at one point or other, while poking their middle finger through the trigger guard. What the hell is that about? It’s very strange.
John ducks the bullet – a nice trick when the gun’s two inches from your face – and disarms his assailant. If you guessed that this leads into a Kung Fu fight, nice going. Spenser again puts up a pretty good fight, which, frankly, I’m finding increasingly problematic. I mean, John’s supposed to be a ‘super’ ninja, a guy who by the end of the movie will have presumably killed off all of the Element Ninjas. Of course, Nancy put up a fairly good fight against one of those, too, although together they managed to kill her uncle, a professional martial arts instructor, in about ten seconds. I guess my problem is that so many of the characters here seem so close to one another in expertise. Any guy who can single-handedly defeat a team of ninjas that has remained unbeaten for a thousand years should be well beyond the skill level of any normal dude, even one who’s a superbly trained martial artist.
In the end, John spares Spenser’s life. Because, you know, he’s the hero and all. Oops. Actually, he’s just being cagey. As Spenser limps off, we see John turn around and tail after him.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tong, aka the Head Ninja, begins interrogating Nancy. “You can’t frighten me in your stupid clothes,” Our Stalwart Heroine responds. “You’re a creep!” There, if that doesn’t put him in his place, nothing will. Being a martial arts movie villain, the Head Ninja replies first by laughing and then with a curt “Shut up!” Then — and really, was this necessary? – he backs her against a wall, pulls up her shirt and starts fondling her ya-yas. Then he laughs cruelly as she makes the sort of protests Olive Oyl made when Bluto would demand a kiss.
Eventually, though, she bites his hand and he backs off. (Good ninja guy.) “No wonder you cover your face with a mask,” she cries. “But your voice gives you away!” Sure enough, he whips off his mask and proves to beâ€¦bum, bum, bumâ€¦none other than David, her brother. Her adopted brother, to be more exact, according to some dialog that may or may not have appeared in the original Chinese version. This seemed rather stupid to me, for at least a couple of reasons:
- Why were the Ninjas trying so hard to blackmail the formula out of the Professor. You’re telling me that his own son wouldn’t be able to get a copy of it? They all lived in the same house, apparently, which also was where the Professor had his clinic.
- Second, even as an ‘adopted’ son, wouldn’t it be hard to hide the fact that you’re a highly trained and super-powerful ninja? (Not to mention a Crime Lord.) When did he do the decades of training this would have required? And not only was he a ninja, he was additionally the leader of the Five Element Ninjas. I don’t know, that would just seem to be sort of time intensive.
“You’re a clever girl, Nancy dear,” he tells her. Not really. Aside from the voice, he was pushing her into a wall with the exposed ‘eyes’ part of his face mere inches from hers. On the contrary, she’d have had to been quite a dolt not to figure out who he was. “And you’re scum!” she throws back. “How dare you act like this?” She yells at him for a while, concluding that he’s a “filthy, dirty rat” – actually, I think the second adjective was implicit in the first, but anyway — and tries to brain him with a champagne bottle. He again demands the formula “if you want to live,” like, sure, he’s going to let her go after she’s learned his identity. Again he says that the problem with the formula is that it “threatens my livelihood,” i.e., as a drug dealer. So why not just kill her, and the last person who could share the formula with the world would be dead?
Next Spenser appears, revealing that killing John proved beyond his capabilities. David/Mr. Tong/Lead Ninja reacts by beating him up a little. They then tie up him up and leave him in a room with the similarly bound Nancy. She’s a little miffed at Spenser, as you’d imagine, which she reveals by turning her head away from him and going “Hmmph!” Yeah, that should put him in his place. Spenser, for his part, tries to apologize.
Meanwhile, we cut to John donning — and about time, too! — his White Ninja togs and weaponry. Then we see him Ninja-running in slow motion across a sand dune. (??) This takes him to a beach, whatever, my brain hurts, where he then is shown Ninja-running in slow motion across the surf. Amazingly, the theme from Chariots of Fire isn’t employed here. Then he’s Ninja-running in regular time through some brush. Then he climbs a wall and enters the ground of the place where, presumably, David and the Element Ninjas are hanging out.
He looks in the window and sees the Metal Element Ninja. You know, Ninja suits might seem scary in most situations, but not when the wearer’s just sitting at the dining room table. Then John uses a small spring-loaded board to catapult himself up about twenty feet. First, I don’t think that little device could possibly propel a guy up that high. Second, all the Ninjas – including John, earlier — have been jumping around higher than that on their own power. So why would he even bother?
Perhaps he can only use each trick one time, because although he’d retrieved the springboard, he now uses a grappling hook to get him to the third floor. The other possibility is that the Ninja Company Store makes you pay through the nose for all this stuff, and John’s determined to get his money’s worth. He finds the room where Nancy and Spenser are tied up and tosses in a throwing star so that Spenser can use it to cut himself free. Always have to do things the hard way, these guys.
Taking off, John is intercepted by the Fire Element Ninja. There’s some sparring, and then the Fire Ninja starts tossing his incendiary devices at John. However (and this is a pretty good bit), Our Hero interrupts a throw with a well-aimed throwing star and the Fire Ninja’s blown up real good by his own bomb. Hearing this – how can these ultra-ninjas not have heard the sounds of battle that preceded the blast? — the other Ninjas head outside. The Metal and Water Element Ninjas spot John hopping a fence and take off in pursuit. This leads to a pretty funny shot of John, in full White Ninja regalia, Ninja-running up the pavement of a typical suburban street.
The two Element Ninjas come Ninja-running up the street after him – what must the neighbors be thinking? – and then they split up to cover more ground. It’s amazing that a team trained to fight as a unit, one that’s remained unbeaten for a millennia by using that tactic, would all of a sudden abandon it. It must be some kind of offshoot of the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption.
John decides to confront the Water Element Ninja right next to a gigantic backyard swimming pool. Which wouldn’t exactly seem like the best strategy, but what do I know? Making no sense whatsoever, John quickly proves the superior fighter even when in the water. To what little extent any of this would have made sense, wouldn’t it have been more believable to have John pursue a strategy of separating each of his opponents from the Element that lends them their greatest advantage? Having John outdo the Water Element Ninja in the water seems a bit much.
Suddenly we cut to John and the Metal Element Ninja in a house. What house? I don’t know. Maybe the one Nancy and Spenser were being held in. Maybe not. I don’t know. Anyway, they start tussling. John again proves the better of his opponent even in his own field, which with the Metal Element Ninja is swords. Meanwhile, Spenser’s just now managed to cut through his bounds. (I thought throwing stars were razor sharp. He should have been freed some time ago.) He quickly – too quickly — unties Nancy and they take off.
In the woods – what kind of area is this? – the Earth and Wood Element Ninjas attack John. Now, I want to be clear that the ninja battles are pretty fun, in a goofy sort of way. In a perfect world I’d have found a film to mock that more failed at what it was trying to do, which here is providing quality martial arts mayhem. However, this is the best ‘worst’ one I could dig up in the time available, even if the battle scenes are pretty good.
John kills the Wood Ninja and manages to humiliate the Earth Ninja by knocking him right out of his clothes. At this point he should more appropriately be called the Zany Diaper Ninja. Using one of these supposedly unstoppable super-villains to provide lowbrow comic relief seems a bit odd, but what do I know? Zany Diaper Ninja is just about to bite it when David/Mr. Tong/Lead Ninja pops up, wounding John in the process. Because, you know, the Hero’s always got to be hurt before the final match, just to make his triumph all the more amazing. (Oops, sorry.)
The battle rages on, with the Zany Diaper Ninja ‘comically’ getting in the way of the Lead Ninja. John, meanwhile, is getting hacked up pretty good by all the Lead Ninja’s trick weaponry. Although, really, if you’re going to use a sword that fires explosive charges, why not just use guns? Wouldn’t that be easier?
Occupied by the Lead Ninja, John falls prey to the Zany Diaper Ninja and is trapped. However, Nancy and Spenser suddenly appear – whatever – and a repentant Spenser launches an attack that frees Our Hero. In fact, he manages to kill Zany Diaper Ninja with a single kick. I guess once you’ve gone from being an Earth Element Ninja to a Diaper Ninja you’re probably not much of a threat anymore.
Spenser joins John in fighting the Lead Ninja. The Lead Ninja temporarily disappears after throwing a smoke bomb. Remember that for later. Anyway, cut to John and Spenser confronting the Lead Ninja on the beach. Boy, I’d really like a map of this area. By the way, it just hit me. John is supposedly the first guy in a thousand years to defeat the Element Ninjas. However, he then was easily getting his ass kicked by the Lead Ninja. Which means the Lead Ninja himself, presumably, could have taken the supposedly unbeatable Element Ninjas, if he’d wanted to.
My head hurts.
Anyhoo, the tandem battle continues. Spenser gets a couple of blades stuck into his abdomen and then it’s finally down to David and John. Eventually, however, Spenser is able to pluck out the knives David left in him and return them to him in a rude fashion. This weakens him enough that John now gains the upper hand. Weakened, the Lead Ninja turns himself invisible (!!). This is why I said remember the smoke bombs, because why use them if you can just disappear from sight? John closes his eyes and fine-tunes his senses, whereupon he can hear the Lead Ninja running along the sand. (We see footprints appear seemingly on their own, like the prints seen in the snow in The Invisible Man.) Using his last throwing star, he pegs the Invisible Ninja in the forehead, killing him. Nancy appears and the three limp off in victory. THE END. I’ll say this for martial arts movies, they don’t waste much time once the final fight scene’s over.
By the way, an added bonus on the Super Ninja DVD can be found on the Chapters Menu. The chapter stops are accompanied by short clips that show where in the action they start. One of these just happens to cut to the above mentioned sex scene, illustrated by a recurring clip of such sights as the Heroine’s wildly gyrating buttocks. (!!) Yep, it’s a class act all the way with Super Ninja.
Those interested in learning more about ninjas are encouraged to visit the following informative site: