Shadow Killers Tiger Force (1986)

Shadow Killers Tiger Force is as incomprehensible as its title suggests. In Germany it was known as both Woman’s Camp : The Ninja and Death Camp Of The Ninja. These make a little more sense, since it’s Tomas Tang up to his old cut-and-paste tricks again. Along with director “Tommy Cheng”, he’s spliced together his own ninjoid nuttiness with scenes from an old Korean Women-In-Prison film, then given the whole thing a new English dub and revised “story”. The source film is from 1977 and was originally called Prisoner 407 2 (aka Revenge In The Tiger Cage), a sequel to Prisoner 407 (aka Girl In The Tiger Cage). You still with me? Just to make it worse, the Dutch VHS art uses an image of Sho Kosugi in Pray For Death and features the phrase “Twinkle Ninja Fantasy”, a combination of words you don’t see every day…

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Shadow Killers opens with some ninjas disrupting a picnic by the water in Hong Kong. They beat up the men and kidnap the women, taking them to a labour camp, where they’re dressed in matching blue uniforms and put to work, breaking rocks in the hot sun. One of the imprisoned girls is Sylvia, the daughter of some rich white guy. It’s never clear what he does but he’s surrounded all the time by heavily armed bodyguards and hires “the good ninja, Jenny” (Cora Bentley, whom long-suffering ninja fans will recognise as the “bikini ninja” from Vampire Raiders vs Ninja Queen) to bust his daughter out of the camp.

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All makes sense so far and continues to do so as Jenny goes undercover, gets herself kidnapped and taken to the camp. In these early scenes, Cheng makes something of an effort to try and match scenery to the source film and has decked his own actresses out in similar blue uniforms to those from Prisoner 407. Although the film stock looks completely different, I was almost with it… then about 25 minutes in, the whole film stops making sense and just becomes a series of loosely connected (assuming you do the appropriate mental gymnastics required to make said connection) scenes of crazy. Jenny frequently uses ninja magic to disappear in a puff of smoke and reappear wherever she likes, including back at Sylvia’s dad’s house to give him “updates” on what’s happening (ie: to recount the redubbed plot of Prisoner 407 2). Meanwhile in the camp, she causes telekinetic “accidents” with rocks and tar as distractions while Sylvia keeps trying stupid new ways to escape like crawling through the sewer, fighting through a corridor of barbed wire or smuggling herself out in a giant slop barrel.

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Why Jenny, with her magical ninja skills that include teleportation and telekinesis, doesn’t do more to actually help is beyond me. Her communications with Sylvia (owing to the fact that they’re in two different movies) are limited to super-awkward sign language and the one time they actually speak aloud to each other, Sylvia is indoors and Jenny is outdoors so it’s unconvincing at best, surreal at worst. Even by Filmark standards, this is messy splicing. The rest of the runtime is made up of tedious footage of either uniformed prison guards laughing at the inmates or ninjas laughing at the inmates, depending which film the footage is from. The guards here are probably the least sadistic in any WIP film, spending more time laughing than anything else. The dubbed dialogue is typically hilarious at times. Some of it is clearly improvised in a “say what you see” style. My favourite line was when a guard finds Sylvia lying on the floor feeling sick while her cellmates are off to work. He says (without a break): “Ah! Someone thinks they can have a day off! Well they can’t! Oh, she has a fever… she’s not faking it… Hmm… HAVE A DAY OFF!” and then merrily walks off! (Spoiler alert : She’s faking it…)

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However, it’s worth enduring all this dry tedium (against better judgement, Cheng cuts all the nudity out of Prisoner 407 2 which is usually a primary appeal of WIP films) because the final 10 minutes are off-leash Tomas Tang at his most insane. One the maddest final fights you’ll ever see. After the evil black ninja (Wayne Archer) threatens blue ninja Jenny with the immortal line “I’m going to destroy you and make you die!” they get into an incredible duel that incorporates the usual batshit swordplay and wire-work with magic editing tricks that allow the ninjas to walk through walls and let their heads float several inches away from the rest of their bodies.

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There’s also a psychedelic Indian-style dance routine from Cora Bentley (yes, in the middle of the fight – she even changes costumes for it!) and the whole thing culminates with a magical ninja-seeking missile being fired from a rocket launcher; essentially a lethal-looking firework that chases Wayne Archer around the forest for a delirious minute as he shrieks and hollers (presumably fearful of his own safety as an actor) and is eventually blown up. Phew! It left me breathless and, sadly, makes Shadow Killers Tiger Force an impossible film to entirely ignore.

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Also of note here is the marvelous DVD release by Germany’s AVV label. They’ve digitally remastered it and loaded the disc with extras that the film really doesn’t deserve including multiple trailers and alternate scenes from different territories, a minute-long interview with Wayne Archer from 1996 (filmed on a train track for some reason – he basically just says the film is terrible (“as we all know”) but he had a great time making it) and seven minutes of awkward unedited footage of Tomas Tang talking to the guys from Eastern Heroes magazine back in 1986. I found the line of questioning a little aggressive at times (“Are you proud of these films? Do you even care?”) but Tang holds his own and it’s unbearably poignant when they ask what kind of film he’d make if he had all the money in the world and total creative freedom. He thinks, then replies simply, “A love story” which, when you’ve just watched all 82 brain-draining minutes of Shadow Killers Tiger Force, is kind of heartbreaking.

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