Before I start writing about the film itself, I’m just going to mention a couple of boring housekeeping things regarding the production and release of The Super Ninja as there’s some misinformation floating around:
The version I watched was the UK DVD release (on Dragon DVD) called The Super Ninja. It has also been released (same cut) as Ninja Squad : Killers Invincible (or Ninja Squad : Killers Invisible as it’s misspelled on some discs), neither of which should be confused with Godfrey Ho’s unrelated Richard Harrison film The Ninja Squad. The UK DVD, as far as I can tell, seems to be censored as it only runs for 87 minutes. As far as I can tell, the uncut version was released as Ninja Force in Germany on AVV (one of their super limited edition releases) and was 93 minutes long but I haven’t been able to get hold of this to make comparisons and figure out what the missing 6 minutes are.
Many websites credit Robert Tai as the director of this film. Although Tai worked frequently with its star Alexander Lou in the same period, I’m reluctant to believe this. I think the confusion may lie in the fact that, not only was he Lou’s most regular director, but Tai also had a small cameo in Chinese Super Ninjas 2 (aka Challenge Of The Lady Ninja). The original Chinese Super Ninjas is also known as Five Element Ninjas and this film, as well as taking the “Super Ninja” part of the title, features five element ninjas of its own. I think something has got garbled along the way, leading people to believe Tai made this. Being blunt, Tai was a more competent director and Super Ninja feels too rough around the edges for him.
On the box art, the credits and IMDB, Wu Kuo-Ren is listed as the director. The production values and rough style are similar to his other films with Lou like Ninja Condors and Wu Tang vs Ninja and I can’t find any convincing case against his having directed the film. To make matters worse, it says “A Tomas Tang Film” at the very beginning but this, as far as I can tell, is just a credit added because Filmark (his company) were the distributors. If I find anything else out or score the uncut version, I’ll update this post accordingly!
SO… with all that out the way, what’s the movie like? Pretty terrible in a lot of ways but decent trashy fun if you’re in the right mood. The always-enjoyable Alexander Lou plays John, a maverick cop in New York who’s also a ninja. The film opens with an Enter The Ninja style training exercise in the woods and then cuts to the police station where John (Lou) and his black partner Spencer (Eugene Thomas – dressed in full Axel Foley drag) are being abused by their racist commanding officer for not understanding how the law works in America. Before long, John is framed for drug possession and thrown in jail.
He escapes and soon unravels an international conspiracy that revolves around his girlfriend Nancy and her scientist father, who’s created a secret formula. Anyone who’s watched enough of these movies will know there’s nothing ninjas love more than a secret formula. This time, the Five Element Ninjas (Metal, Fire, Wood, Water, Earth) led by a corrupt Tiger Ninja (sadly not in a tiger-striped ninja suit but just a black suit with a giant tiger face on the back) are on the trail and only John and Spencer can stop them.
The film has two almost totally separate halves which makes me wonder if maybe Tomas Tang’s involvement meant there was some of his usual splicing together of footage from different unfinished projects into one. Either that or it’s just a really jumbled script. For much of the first half, we see John dressed up like Rambo taking his revenge on the absurdly corrupt and unpleasant NYPD officers who framed him and put him in prison. It shamelessly riffs on First Blood, with Alexander Lou running through the forests with his top off, headband on, bow-and-arrow in hand, setting traps, knifing, shooting and killing all and sundry.
Once he finishes off his reasonably public cop disposal, he flies to Hong Kong (without anyone trying to stop him leaving the country) to stop the aforementioned evil ninjas getting the secret formula. The fact that the two stories don’t relate is waved away by the implication that cops were on the ninjas’ payroll. In HK, John’s old master tries to explain that the Five Elements are invincible. He tells him, “You don’t stand a chance” but then helpfully mentions that there is maybe one way to beat them: “Draw strengths from your future and past and see beyond the illusion of this world”. John, along with the viewer, just replies with a slightly baffled “Hmm” and we smash-cut to the next scene.
The editing of this film is a big problem. It’s pretty lousy. The fights are all very choppy with a lot of speeding-up tricks, close-ups and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cutaways, which is a shame since Lou’s a talented martial artist and usually worth watching in action. Even outside the fights, The Super Ninja is loaded with awkward moments, bad camera angles and bizarre directorial choices – the weirdest of which is the 5+ minute sex scene between Lou and Chung-Erh Lung that feels like forever (it goes on so long that the stock saxophone music finishes and is replaced half way through by a jaunty synth tune). There are lots of close-ups on their hair and shoulders and some unintentionally hilarious drawn-out foreplay demonstrating the erotic qualities of tracksuit trousers…
I have a very high tolerance for exploitation movies and perhaps this would’ve been more enjoyable if I’d seen the full uncut version as I felt Super Ninja didn’t quite go far enough into the crazy zone for me to overlook its many, many faults. It’s fun and sincere and there enough moments to make it worth your time but it’s far from Lou’s best work. The Fire ninja is the stand-out highlight. Unlike the ones in Chang Cheh’s Five Element Ninjas, this one actually sets his hands on fire and fights with flaming fists which is an incredible stunt that must be seen to be believed. Other than that, this is just an entertaining diversion; second-tier ninjing that’s probably best watched with a few drinks to smooth out the roughness. However, we do finally get an answer to the age-old mystery of what a ninja wears underneath his suit, when one of the burrowing Earth ninjas accidentally gets his costume torn as he pops out of the ground… Look away now if you blush easily.