“Damnit, Gordon, you can’t just go around killing people!”
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll be aware that the 1980s video market was flooded with “cut and paste” ninja films, predominantly from two production companies, IFD and Filmark. Their M.O. was to buy bulk rights to Korean, Taiwanese or Thai films that were unsellable on the international market, then re-edit and re-dub them into whole new plots involving ninjas. Some 10 – 15 minutes of newly shot footage – mostly caucasian actors in ninja suits yelling at each other – would then be dropped in at regular intervals throughout the film. The whole thing would be retitled something snappy and modern like Ninja Terminator or Full Metal Ninja and worldwide rights were sold for megabucks. Ninja Operation : Knight and Warrior, however, is a little different. Here, there’s just 20 minutes of scenes from a 1984 Taiwanese clanger called A Girl Rogue (dir: Chao Chen-Kao) and the rest of the film is original footage, directed by the king of cut and paste ninjas, Godfrey Ho himself.
If you’re a veteran of these films, the sheer volume of original Ho footage in this is a rare treat and a curious insight into the kind of gonzoid masterpieces we could’ve had if he’d made more like this. It’s hard to know the exact chronology of when each IFD film was made (experts have argued you can date an IFD film by grading leading man Richard Harrison’s hairline, which would put this somewhere around late ’86 for when it was shot?) but this shows an ambition beyond both the early “will this work?” efforts and the later “will this do?” ones. The problem is that shooting your own footage requires a budget and that wasn’t something IFD had. Well, they had it (God only knows how much money they made from the lucrative distribution deals they secured), they just didn’t want to inject it back into the films. More cost meant less profit and why bother when there’s another unuseable reel of Korean family drama right there that you can splice and dice for less than the cost of a new bicycle?
The reason for Knight & Warrior’s unique status among IFD ninja films is that they had a little help from their friends. Alphonse Beni was an actor/writer/director from Cameroon who also dabbled in distribution. Legend has it that he ran into Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho from IFD at Cannes one year and, seeing how much ninjabread they were raking in, decided he wanted a piece of it. More than that, he wanted to star in it (he also worked his way into some French softcore films around the same time so was clearly a man who knew what he liked in life). Ho and Lai said OF COURSE! They’d be happy to shoot an Alphonse Beni ninja opus…! Just so long as he paid for it. The rest is history. So that’s why you get a good 60 – 70 minutes of Godfrey Ho bokken for your buck here!
The plot is undiluted Ho. Beni plays Alvin, a cop living in Paris who’s working on busting up “the biggest heroin connection in Europe”. We know we’re in Paris because it opens with a drug deal in which the dealers are selling heroin stuffed into baguettes.
However, Alvin and his colleagues have bitten off more heroin baguette than they can chew because the leader of the gang is a son of a bitch named Rudolph (Stuart Smith). He’s furious because not only has Alvin busted up his deal but he’s talked one of his men into snitching. In fairness, the guy didn’t want to snitch at first but when Alvin said “think of your wife, your kids and your 70 year old grandfather”, the guy did just this and accepted a deal for a new ID, $500,000 and a home in the Bahamas. Such humble demands are no problem at all for the Parisian police. However, he never makes it to the Bahamas because Rudolph – in full ninja garb – rocks up, shouts “BETRAYER! BETRAYERS MUST DIE!” and ninjes him up. While he’s there, he sends a couple of evil ninjas to kill Alvin’s wife Donna, on the eve of their 4 year anniversary no less, proving once and for all he is a fiend.
This pushes Alvin over the edge. He’s thrown off the case because it’s now too personal but decides to pack his bags and head to Hong Kong, where he will meet with his friend Inspector Gordon (Richard Harrison playing his mainstay character) and together they’ll bring down Rudolph’s empire. Some 22 minutes into the film, we finally get some of the footage from A Girl Rogue, seamlessly stitched in to a scene where Ma Sha (from Girl Rogue) talks to Grant Temple (from Knight & Warrior). Ah, the magic of cinema. Temple is working for Rudolph and they’re trying to diversify their trade. They need the help of Tiger (Sha), a small-time thug looking to get more responsibility. He must infiltrate the fishing union at Aberdeen Harbour. It’s a complex plot but basically involves getting heroin from Hong Kong to Russia. When his business acumen is questioned, Rudolph simply states “the more risk we take, the bigger our profits!” (so clearly not a man who’s ever studied risk analysis).
We cut to a Hong Kong police briefing where we learn that Gordon is a maverick cop who plays by his own rules. His boss warns him that they can’t afford any more “cowboy cop” behaviour because they – like the Parisian police – are looking to bring down Rudolph. They have an operation already in progress. A young girl called Vivian is “not a cop, she’s straight out of reform school, but you can trust her, she has everything to lose” (okay) and undercover man Jackie is “posing as a doctor”. You can tell Vivian is a rebel because she rides around on a motorcycle wearing an actual Nazi SS cap. Complicating matters, a young guy called Edmond (Chiu Ming-Hsian) is seeking vengeance on Tiger for killing his father over a union affair. Phew.
It’s not as convoluted as it sounds. It’s basically two straight revenge plots for the price of one – Alvin wants to kill Rudolph for killing his wife, Edmond wants to kill Tiger for killing his father, Vivian wants to ride her motorcycle hard – and by using so little footage from A Girl Rogue, Ho creates a film that is pretty much wall to wall mayhem. Most of the scenes he uses are fights or nutty stunts so the pace is off the scale fast. I don’t know what happened to Chiu Ming-Hsian as he only seems to have a handful of credits to his name but I sure do hope he didn’t die in the line of duty. Some of the stunts we see him do here – riding on top of a moving car, leaping off a very tall bridge into water, dropping onto concrete from a wall, flying through the back window of a van into the street – are pretty reckless to say the least (but very cool looking)…
The Ho footage here is very heavy on ninjing as most of the main characters are secret ninjas. I mean, we kinda know they will be but it might surprise new viewers when they waggle their fingers, magically apparate ninja suits, then start cartwheeling their way across the park. Unfortunately, if you’re watching the old UK VHS print, some of the ninjing is censored by the BBFC who – at the time – didn’t want kids copying their ninja heroes like Gordon and Alvin. This makes some scenes in the film appear even sillier than they really are; for example, a scene where two evil ninjas attack Alvin and his cop buddy John in the park sees the ninjas dramatically strap on their masks, gambol towards their targets and get shot dead immediately with just one gunshot finishing both of them off, making them the most inept ninjas ever filmed. In the full version, they do at least attempt some shuriken attacks and Alvin kills one of them with a shuriken… a more honorable end for a ninja, I’m sure you’d agree.
The whole thing ends with a mass brawl from Girl Rogue and an inevitable ninja showdown (preceded by a Ninja Challenge – also censored out of the frame on the UK print because it’s in the form of a tiny sword!) by the reservoir.
By this point, Gordon and Alvin – in matching super-natty canary yellow ninja suits with sequinned collars and shoulderpads (WHERE ON EARTH WERE THEY TRYING TO BE STEALTHY IN THESE?) – have started calling themselves the Knights of Justice and are ready to kick ass.
What makes this so entertaining (beyond, obviously, those outfits)? Well, I think for many ninjologists, we discovered ninjas as children and a film like Knight & Warrior really plays into a child-like view of the world that’s appealingly simplistic. There are no shades of grey here. Rudolph is a total bastard. Alvin is a hero cop. It’s classically Manichaean. When you’re a little kid, you don’t dream of being a complex anti-hero with a shady morality, an alcohol problem and a pain-filled past, you just want to be the Good Guy. And if that means impractically wearing a natty suit of bright yellow fabric and a headband that proudly states “NIN – JA” for all to see, then that’s just what being Good is all about. These films channel the spirit of that inner child like few others. Detractors might argue it’s because they play like they’ve been written by a 6-year-old but I think if you’re tired of the complications, pressures and downright exhausting responsibilities of adult life, it’s nice to be able to put your mind somewhere like this. Where there’s no red tape, no bureaucracy, no need for paperwork, no need for anything approaching a dreary desk job. Where Tiger’s “toughest guys” hang around at the adventure playground. Where every unnecessary death is avenged in full by magical dayglo ninjas. Where the Knights of Justice always triumph. Who wouldn’t want that for 90 minutes once in a while?