Ninja Apocalypse (1982)

Ninja Apocalypse (1982) (not to be confused with Ninja Apocalypse (2014)) is a bust. Despite the promising title, it’s low on ninjing and completely devoid of an apocalypse. A more accurate description based on the content would be, say, Family Scuffle. Amusingly, the original Taiwanese title was Impossible Woman! It has a bizarrely credible cast, led by Don Wong and Elsa Yeung (who, of course, has ninjed before in the far more entertaining Challenge Of The Lady Ninja) but director Tommy Lee (Chin Ming under a pseudonym; not the Motley Crue drummer) seems to have slept through the whole production, squandering the talent on a very dull film…       Ninja Apocalypse 1

I watched the UK VHS version (released on All American Video, who gave it the beautiful sleeve art you see above) which has about 2 minutes of cuts. As best as I can tell, this is almost entirely shuriken-related stuff. In the full version, there’s a title sequence where Elsa Yeung squeezes some snakes to extract their venom, before dipping her throwing stars into the venom – this is entirely cut, as is any subsequent usage of the venom-drenched stars. The final fight has some pretty choppy edits too and takes out several significant character deaths (anyone who dies by shuriken, you just have to guess about in the UK version!). This is all that’s missing though. Beyond a few flashes of nudity and a couple of mild duffings up, there’s little else in the film to trouble delicate dispositions.

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The film opens with the familiar ninja break-in scene. Elsa Yeung, dressed in a black hooded outfit (but lacking the essential face mask that makes the traditional ninja outfit so cool) infiltrates a building, flying in on an awesome ninja kite (by far the most exciting thing in the movie), to assassinate some dude called Kevin.

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Kevin has double-crossed the drug lord Nancy Chow (a rare appearance by Yuka Mizuno, whom some may recognise as Koda from Shaolin Challenges Ninja) and has to die as a result. Turns out that Marilyn the ninja (Yeung) has only agreed to assassinate Nancy’s enemies because she’s in her debt. Nancy saved her life from a gang in Japan (“I could’ve taken them on… but they had a gun!” explains Marilyn later, in a half-hearted attempt to justify why a highly trained ninja would be under threat from a bunch of random street goobers). She has decided she will only kill one more person before the debt is repaid, but then complications strike.

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A tough-talking detective (literally tough-talking – whoever dubbed him sounds like he’s screaming in a death metal band rather than talking) played by Don Wong is determined to bring down Nancy’s empire (and anyone associated with it) at any cost. To make matters worse, Marilyn has met Nancy’s drippy brother Willy (Chung-Yueh Yun) and fallen in love. Willy is a controlling dick who patronises Marilyn at every opportunity. He’s horrified when he eventually finds out that she’s a deadly assassin (“Please, Marilyn! Please! Please don’t kill anyone again! Please! Promise me you won’t kill again! Please! Marilyn!”) so she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Does she give up the ninjing for love? Does she complete her “one last job” to repay her debt to Nancy Chow? Will she get captured and killed by cop-on-the-edge Don Wong? Will Nancy decide Marilyn knows too much and has to die? Does anyone care?

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I found it really hard to get into the story because there was never a clear protagonist. I don’t think it was clever enough to get away with moral ambiguity so instead we’re just treated to a parade of disagreeable characters all trying to duff each other up for uninteresting reasons. The melodrama doesn’t really work either because they’re all so annoying and the dubbing is particularly bad. Besides Death Metal Don Wong we have a ton of characters who sound either like Dick Van Dyke, Deputy Dawg or an unwell alien…

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The action is dire in this. Each time it like it’s heating up, it cools right down again. For example, there’s a scene where Nancy decides that Marilyn is a threat and needs to be killed. “SEND IN THE TIGER!” she orders and I thought “wicked! The Tiger! He’s gonna be a bad ass!” but then it turns out he’s just a Chinese Ron Jeremy lookalike (Fu Hung Cheng) who huffs and puffs and is duffed up quite quickly for his troubles…

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The fights are poorly choreographed and the car stunts (credited to “The Daredevil Squad”, which is apparently just another Chin Ming pseudonym!) are mostly just an excuse to trash some already half-trashed looking cars. The only stunt I enjoyed was when Marilyn jumped over a moving car. The rest of it was underwhelming, even when they put in obvious effort (for example, someone on the production carefully built an entire brick wall just to drive a car through it – a Herculean effort for minimal return as the bricks just kind of fall slowly to the ground when the car hits them and it looks rubbish).

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The lighting is poor, the photography’s flat, the list of flaws is endless and there’s really nothing to bring Ninja Apocalypse back up. Literally all it has going for it is the great cast but, since they’re all thoroughly wasted in it, even that just makes it more frustrating. When you’re studying Ninjology you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth but, trust me, I watched this one so that you don’t have to. Don’t be fooled by the title and the sleeve. Ninja Apocalypse is no fun at all. Appropriately enough, the last line in the film is a croaked, desperate plea of “Marilyn! Was it all worth it?!” and I’d have to say the answer is “no”.

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