First of all, a word of warning. If, like me, you purchase the “Kung Fu Theater” DVD (released by Treeview) of Clash of the Ninjas (aka Clash of the Ninja), you won’t be able to watch this film. Although it says Clash of the Ninja on the menu, the title card comes up as Cat vs Rat (an old Shaw Bros comedy) but the film itself, without credits, is actually an old Taiwanese kung fu flick called Fatal Needles vs Flying Fists. On the bright side, Fatal Needles is a way better movie than Clash of the Ninjas but if you’re settling in for a dose of mad 80s ninjing from Tomas Tang and co, it won’t provide your fix. To make it worse, the images on the DVD sleeve are from completely different films altogether. This, my fellow ninjologists, is the kind of skullduggery we’re up against. It’s shocking how little distributors care about the genre and how difficult it can be, wading through the falsehoods to pan for true ninja gold.
Clash of the Ninjas (which, luckily for us, had a US VHS release unlike a lot of the other later Filmark efforts) is maybe more like fool’s gold but still, it’s got a certain sparkle to it. The plot concerns an illegal organ trading network run by an evil ninja called Mr Roy (Louis Roth at his cackling best). Their logo is basically the Mitsubishi logo with a red star in the middle and, as the head ninja, Mr Roy gets to wear this in the centre of his hood. Somehow, every sinister syndicate in the world from the Mafia to the Triads to some unspecified dudes in the Middle East all want to buy illegal organs right now (God knows why) so business is booming.
Unfortunately, there’s a breakout at the prison camp where they hold the donors (“The human guinea pigs are rioting!”) and, while most of them get shot before they escape, two of them get loose into the wild and alert the world to the camp’s existence. A pair of schmucky Hong Kong “cops” (who dress in plaid shirts and turtlenecks and look nothing like real police officers) are assigned to uncover this web of corruption with the help of an Interpol agent named Tony (played by Paulo Sorcha, whose passing resemblance to Sly Stallone often led to his being credited as “Bruce Stallion”). Unbelievably, Tony’s got a grudge of his own in that his former martial arts master was murdered by Mr Roy – who also took a moment, in between maniacal cackling, to grope Tony’s girlfriend’s breasts before he ran away – and he won’t stop until the evil ninja organ traders are destroyed. Tony is, of course, a secret ninja himself.
It’s hard to know who’s responsible for Clash of the Ninjas beyond Tomas Tang, who released it. The credits are full of ludicrous fakery like “Screenplay by Kurt Spielberg” (!). The director is credited as “Wallace Chan”, who could be any one of Tang’s regular collaborators. I’d guess that whoever made this could be the same person as “Bruce Lambert” because a lot of the dialogue is very similar to some of Lambert’s films (e.g. “That bastard Tom! He’s a real tough guy!” is similar to “Henry’s a bastard! He’s a real mean guy!” from Vampire Raiders vs Ninja Queen) but given that many of the dubbers were the same on a lot of these movies and making stuff up, again, nothing’s certain.
It’s also hard to figure out the source film in this. Usually these films are two unrelated movies – one with ninjas, one without – spliced together but either the splicing is seamless here, they got half the cast of the original back for the reshoots or (the horror!) Clash Of The Ninjas was actually shot as one cohesive (although far from coherent) film. That said, there is always the other possibility; that I’ve watched so much of this stuff that I can no longer tell what’s real, so please take my own diminished mental state into account when contemplating these facts…
All this aside, Clash of the Ninjas has a lot of fun stuff going for it. There’s a gratutious car chase, some nudity-free sex with very heavy dubbing (“OH! OH! OH! OOOOOH!”) and a lot of cartoonish voicework as the two guys who seem to do most of the characters are trying to hide that there are only two of them. As a result of their efforts, multiple characters sound like Deputy Dawg and one just sounds like an unwell alien.
In terms of ninjing, we’ve got bulletproof ninjas, disappearing ninjas, ninjas with flaming weapons, bilocating ninjas, epic ninja dismemberment, a ninja whose (fake wooden) head spins around again and again like Linda Blair on speed. We also have a great scene in which Sorcha answers the age-old “what’s a ninja?” question with a grammatically awkward history lesson that ends in a mangling of everyone’s favourite line: “To get rid of a ninja must be done by another ninja” (honestly, they should’ve just stuck with “only a ninja can kill another ninja”).
It’s hard to choose a highlight but it’s either the scene in which a girl in an aerobics costume, having been interrupted by a ninja creep, attacks him with vinyl records (could there be anything more 80s than an aerobics girl throwing vinyl at a ninja?) or it’s the final fight. The titular clash, in which red ninja Tony (who wears an American flag headband so we know he’s the good guy) and the black Mitsubishi ninja Mr Roy come to ultimate blows. This involves an incredible bilocation trick (Louis Roth turns himself into about six other guys then, when they’re chopped to pieces, reassmbles himself as one), the use of a compact disc as a weapon (!) and – best of all – magic ninja fingers that shoot explosive lasers. Phew!
With all that, it’s hard not to love Clash of the Ninjas a little, even if the plot is incomprehensible nonsense, the production values are lower than usual (the night time shots are a write-off, you can’t see a thing!) and the martial arts quite weak. What it lacks in everything else, it makes up for in sheer craziness. The use of whatever cheap, seemingly random crap they had lying around as ninja weapons is particularly inspired so whoever is responsible, my hat’s off to them. This is some very silly ninjing indeed.