Silent Assassins (1988) is typical of the VHS action landfill of the late 80s. Cashing in at the tail end of the ninja boom, it seemingly pits the titular killers against Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Linda Blair and Jun Chung (whom Bruceploitation fans may recognise as Bruce K.L. Lea – the Korean Bruce clone from Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave (which also boasts the same director as Silent Assassins)). Sounds like a guaranteed recipe for some meaty mayhem but, sadly, Silent Assassins is all sizzle, no steak…
Sam Jones plays Sam Kettle; some kind of cop, although quite what his job or rank might be bears little resemblance to anything in reality. He rates as one of the dumbest and most disagreeable “action heroes” I can remember. The film opens with a bust that he completely messes up. It takes place in a deserted harbour at night. He chases the bad guys – led by “Kendrick” (Gustav Vintas, a deadringer for 2014 Peter Weller) but gets distracted by a woman with a baby who just happens to be sitting there calmly, alone in the dark on the edge of the harbour amidst a bunch of gunfire. One of the bad guys throws the baby into the water so Sam jumps in to rescue it and is ACTUALLY SURPRISED when the baby turns out to be a doll and the woman, laughing, escapes with the baddies on a motorboat. I mean, really… You don’t have to be Admiral Ackbar to have seen this trap coming. But then, Sam Kettle is not the sharpest katana on the rack.
Sam decides to quit his job after such a colossal failure but the Captain talks him back when Kendrick kidnaps a prominent bio-chemist and the niece of a local Korean artist. The kidnapping scene is quite gory and dramatic, with Kendrick and a squad of ninjas hacking people to bits with hatchets en route to their intended victims, but things go rapidly downhill once Sam’s on the case. The Korean artist, Kim (Jun Chong), stows away in the back of Sam’s jeep because he wants his niece back and the two of them become an unlikely buddy team, despite a total lack of chemistry between the actors.
What they eventually unravel is a conspiracy to steal a secret formula that can build a doomsday weapon (this is, after all, the 80s – you couldn’t move for doomsday weapons). Kendrick is the mastermind, assisted by super-sexy bio-chemist Miss Amy (Playboy model Rebecca Ferratti) who swishes around some sixty tons of amazing hair while spouting intricate chemical formulae. They’ve kidnapped the famous Dr London (Bill Erwin) because he’s been working on the weapon and knows its secrets. It’s not entirely clear where or how ninjas fit into this. I think they’re just goobers for hire.
Sadly, the shadow army take a very minor role here. As well as their limited screen time and lack of coherent narrative reason to be there, they barely even look like ninjas. They’re just dudes in balaclavas. One of them even wears a beret. A BERET. Ugh. But then, the costumes throughout the movie feel like the director just said “show up in whatever you like” and the cast, afraid they might get their nicer clothes ruined, showed up in whatever cheap crap they had lying at the back of their closets…
Still, who can afford costumes? 99% of the film’s budget gets blown on pyro in the last ten minutes, if you’re still awake to see it. There are some nicely choreographed fights with brutal swordplay, hatchets flying everywhere and a fair amount of arterial spray before Sam pulls a bazooka from out of nowhere and everything goes bang. Everything. There’s a cracking man-on-fire stunt and the whole thing climaxes with Sam blowing up a helicopter and screaming “GOOOOOODNIGHT, BABY!” to the sky (not the best or most relevant one-liner). But, if I’m honest, even this isn’t worth sitting through the rest for.
It’s quite dull to look at with very static photography and little in the way of style (with the exception of Rebecca Ferratti who brings her own first class style wherever she goes). The dialogue is horrific and feels at least partially improvised. Sam Jones shout-delivers all his lines like a maniac – which makes his “friendly banter” sound threatening and weird – and, worst of all, Linda Blair is not used at all. Although she features heavily on the cover (and has proved a formidable action lead in the likes of Savage Streets and Night Force) she is relegated to the role of Sam’s girlfriend. All she does is sit around and mope about how he needs to quit his job while Sam cruelly teases her and tickles her and generally demeans her. She doesn’t even appear in the final third of the movie. It’s heartbreaking. I can only imagine what a much better film this would’ve been if they’d just ditched half the male characters and made it all about Linda Blair going up against Rebecca Ferratti and a squad of ninjas. Now THAT I’d like to see.