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Silver Dragon Ninja (1987)

Silver Dragon Ninja (1987) is credited to a director named “Don Kong”. I wasn’t sure who this was but assumed it would be a (Donkey Kong inspired?) pseudonym for Tomas Tang the Filmark mogul whose company released this cut-and-paste ninja epic and about twenty others the same year. Turns out (and I have Ninja Master Luke Durance to thank for the knowledge!) it’s actually a pseudonym for Chiang Tao who worked as “action director” on many Filmark releases. Quite what the additional workload would be for a “director” versus an “action director” on this is unclear and Tang’s vision, of course, permeates all Filmark movies so who knows? Very few of the names on the credits appear to be real (“Harry Caine”, “Ann McDonald”, “Sandy Rico”, etc) so it’s hard to really say who should be held responsible. Silver Dragon Ninja uses footage from an obscure, largely forgotten 1982 HK cop film called Trap (aka Cop Killer), directed by Ang Saan and written by Chan Kiu-Ying, who also wrote Postman Strikes Back the same year and would later work on a couple of the seminal In The Line Of Duty films. By comparison to many of IFD/Filmark source films, Trap has something of a pedigree so unsurprisingly, Silver Dragon Ninja – while inarguably a hot mess – is a superior example of the ninjoid splice genre…

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[NB: There are 55 seconds missing from the UK “Hong Kong Connection” DVD of this – a couple of shuriken scenes and a horrible rape scene, both of which are re-inserted on the German AAV DVD, which also comes with the spliceless full length version of Trap as an extra.]

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The film opens with new ninja footage as an uncredited Paulo Tocha introduces the gist of the story via a conversation with his very camp ninja friend. They are both part of the White Ninja Empire and Tocha’s character has also joined Interpol in order to better fight evil – his code name is Silver Dragon (whenever he picks up a phone in the movie, he proclaims loudly “SILVER DRAGON SPEAKING!” so it’s obviously a very secret code name). He wears the Mitsubishi logo on his headband. Weirdly, this logo is something we’ve seen before in Clash Of The Ninjas, also starring Tocha. In that film, he defeated the evil Red Star Ninja Empire – which used the Mitsubishi logo with a red star in the middle – so perhaps he then appropriated their logo into his own Silver Dragon one? I maintain there is more continuity than we ever imagined between these films…

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Anyway, “Ninjas were originally meant to do good,” apparently but then the Black Ninja Empire got corrupted (can’t believe how often this happens) and are now involved in all manner of criminal activity that must be stopped. It’s quite an awkward exchange as Silver Dragon repeatedly tells his friend about how terrible and depraved “black ninjas” are, while said friend (who is black) nods his head sadly. Obviously they’re talking about the ninjas who DRESS in black but it’s a shame they couldn’t have picked a different colour for the evil empire to make this exchange a little less cringey. Still, there’s a stunning Hong Kong skyline in the background of this scene (the same one from the final fight in Ninja Dragon) which will appeal to anyone like me who thinks the combination of ninjas and skylines is pretty much the greatest aesthetic.

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There’s a jarring smash cut to a completely different film stock as we’re plunged headlong into the neon world of Trap, where a maverick cop named Alex Ho (Pai Ying) is in pursuit of despicable gangster Mark Mo. The way this is integrated into the ninja stuff is that, of course, the Black Ninja Empire are pulling Mark Mo’s strings and it’s up to Silver Dragon to aid the Hong Kong Police with apprehending him. There’s a fair bit of decent ninjing in this though, with some clever edits that splice ninjas into many more scenes than is usual – sometimes lurking in the background spying or other times actually (magically!) integrating themselves into the action (e.g. someone from Trap will fall over and clutch their neck after we see a ninja fling a throwing star from a whole other scene – this really is Filmark at its slickest!).

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My favourite part however is the Black Ninja Empire and how they’re sort of used as a narration/chorus device. Every ten minutes or so there are scenes in which their leader “Roger Kimsky” (Pedro Massobrio) tells his apprentices what’s just happened in Trap and what he plans to make happen in the next scene. It’s quite priceless and the dialogue here is spectacular. All of it is shouted and we get treats like “ARE ALL NINJAS GATHERED NOW?” (to which the response is “NO! SOME NINJAS ARE BUSY! THEY COULDN’T COME TODAY!”), an impassioned chant of “NINJAS CAN’T FAIL” and – when missions don’t go as planned – hollered apologies like “IT WAS NOT MY INTENTION TO FAIL SO BADLY!” (haven’t we all felt like that some days?). The very shouty but thoroughly incompetent Black Ninja Empire are a treat in every scene.

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As the plot unfolds, it becomes increasingly convoluted. There are maverick cops and then there are just rubbish ones and Alex Ho is truly terrible. Witness the scene in which he raids – without any kind of warrant – Mr Mo’s travel agency looking for fake passports, beats the crap out of Mo AND his lawyer for no real reason, confiscates some passports (which all turn out to be real and legal). When his superior suggests this was maybe some bad policing, Alex throws an absolute hissy fit, turns in his badge and gun and storms off to be a vigilante. This is all made better by the fact that Alex is dubbed by Stuart Smith at his most broad and Aussie; he bellows the dialogue with an intensity bordering on hysteria that makes Alex sound like even more of a dangerous lunatic.

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Still, in fairness to Alex, Mark Mo is a full-on villain and his evil gives the film its most jarring tonal shifts into unpleasantry. Mo moves from counterfeiting into gun-running, heading to the Philippines with his head henchman (a guy known – peculiarly – as “Roast Turkey” or just “Turkey” to his mates, for reasons we never find out). They buy some M16s and this inevitably leads to mass murder. Meanwhile, an Interpol plucky rookie named Jane gets assigned a job to go undercover and infiltrate Mo’s empire but winds up becoming his unwilling sex slave and is repeatedly raped. Not good. But this is also a guy who isn’t above sending ninjas to kill small children with bombs hidden in remote control cars.

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Meanwhile, Alex descends further into madness as he relentlessly pursues Mo and starts fights with everyone, killing perps left, right and centre before winding up with a ton of dynamite strapped to himself, threatening to kill the entire cast in a final underground car park confrontation. In fairness, by this stage Mo has blown up Alex’s children, had Alex’s wife gang-raped and murdered and absolutely deserves everything that’s coming. Yet, in a bizarre twist, Alex demands Mo is legally tried for his crimes right there and then in the car park, so they set up a makeshift court outside the toilets (or the “comfort room”) (!!) and stage a ludicrous trial, while Alex threatens, every minute or so, to blow everyone up if they don’t hurry things along. I’m not sure if Trap was meant to be, in some way, satirical of Hong Kong’s justice system? If it was, the nuance was lost on me but, if it wasn’t, then it’s all basically a surreal, tasteless version of Lethal Weapon with an ending that falls right off the cliffs of madness and into the deep (luna)sea…

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Anyway, the ninjas are obviously pulling all the strings in Tang’s re-edit and the whole thing prolapses to a non-ending where nothing is resolved but Silver Dragon gets to fight a troupe of black ninjas against a Hong Kong skyline. The best part about the ending is the last ten seconds – I won’t tell you everything but I will say it teaches us that NINJAS CANNOT DIE and, in its way, would be make a reasonable finale for the entire Filmark/IFD canon, simultaneously ending yet extending the ninjas’ perpetual mission…

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Ultimately, Silver Dragon Ninja is deranged but it has a compelling kind of derangement with an above-average source film, some wonderfully batty ninja footage and an incredible soundtrack. The thunderous prog rock of Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Phil Collins gives some of the fight scenes a weird intensity and the dubbing is some of Filmark’s better work (so props to the sound team, even if they did break every copyright law going). The story may not make a lot of sense and you’ll be disappointed if you expect anything like a coherent conclusion but any ninjologist worth their NIN-JA headband will enjoy the journey.

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Saboteur – ZX Spectrum (1985)

Released by Durell Software, Saboteur (or Saboteur! to give it its Airplane!-esque full title) was a video game for Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad computers, created by Clive Townsend from the remains of his ill-fated Death Pit. Originally a mining-based platform game in the vein of Manic Miner and Durell’s own Mineshaft, Death Pit was considered so disappointing by testers that it never got released. Instead Townsend remixed its code, swapped the miner for a ninja (1985 being probably the absolute apex of the 80s Ninja Boom) and somehow turned it into one of the most acclaimed, complex and popular games of the era.

[NINFORMATION UPDATE 03/03/16 : There is a whole new, extended version of Saboteur! available from Clive Townsend’s website and it’s awesome. He’s added more levels, achievements to unlock, some new twists and an online community aspect, while preserving the 8-Bit joy of the original. This comes with the Ninjas All The Way Down full seal of approval. Make sure you click it.]

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I had Saboteur on the ZX Spectrum when I was a kid. Obviously, I loved ninjas so Saboteur – despite its relentless difficulty – was a firm favourite. It may look silly if you’re judging the 8-bit graphics by 2016 standards but in a six year old kid’s imagination, a game like Saboteur (cutting edge at the time) felt real. Its map seemed so vast (literally endless, as I never stood any chance of completing it) and its goals so arcane, in my head I could pretend I was an actual ninja. I’d spend ages just guiding my character through endless dark corridors, rapt because I was right there in the action, doing ninja things; hurling shuriken at unsuspecting guards, creeping around in the dark, leaping over things, stealing from The Man, doing secret stuff in the shadows. It was incredible. It was as close as you could get to a “Ninja Simulator” and didn’t bring in any magical or supernatural elements like so many ninja games before and after did.

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The setup was surprisingly faithful to a lot of the ninja films of the time too. The player is simply called Ninja. He arrives at some kind of top secret warehouse by dinghy, armed only with a throwing star. Ninja’s mission is to steal a floppy disk that’s hidden somewhere in the warehouse, set up a timebomb and get out by helicopter before the whole place explodes. It sounds so simple, right? There’s only one mission so there’s only one level and one map.  Ninja is working against a fiendish clock that gives him just a matter of minutes to take care of business so it’s not even like it’s a long game. It is however, a nerve-shreddingly tense game and one that’s still tough to beat.

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Using the Online Spectrum Emulator version at Torinak, I was excited to have a crack at Saboteur as an adult. I hadn’t played it for over 25 years so went in convinced I could own it. Even so, I played it safe and set the difficulty level to 1 (out of 9), only to be rewarded by a pair of mocking ninjas telling me my mission would be “EXTREMELY EASY”.

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The rush of nostalgia as the game started and Ninja floated towards the warehouse in his wee dinghy was immense. It’s a strange sensation but anyone old enough to remember Spectrum games will know that the opening screens are the ones that burn into your brain forever. Unlike modern games, there was never a save option so when you failed, you’d have to go back to the beginning. As so many of them were so insanely difficult, you failed a lot and the start screens became infuriatingly familiar. Conversely, some of the later screens you may only see once in a lifetime – that rare precious moment where you catch a glimpse of, say, the computer control room before the timer runs out and it’s snatched away forever. You’re back to the dinghy.

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Still, I wasn’t going to get myself lost in a reverie of defeat already. The clock was ticking, after all. I leapt out of the dinghy, climbed up from the water and entered the warehouse where I immediately lost my throwing star. The controls for using a weapon are the same as they are for using one of the many computer terminals scattered throughout the warehouse (some of which do nothing, some of which open vital security doors) so while trying to use the computer, I flung my weapon at the ground and it disappeared (once you use a weapon, you can’t get it back). Damn. Particularly not good since I’d also been met by a guard dog who wanted to kill me. The game, with an admirable degree of compassion, doesn’t give you any points for killing dogs and also makes it quite difficult to do this (you have to angle your weapon in a particular way and stand in exactly the right place) so it’s best to just take flying ninja leaps over them…

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Leaping past the entrance leads into the building itself which is a labyrinthine nightmare. It’s like it was designed by some kind of brutalist Cold War M.C. Escher. Every corridor looks the same – tiles, bricks and concrete decorated with packing crates, stacked trays, reel-to-reel tape machines and computer terminals. An occasional pile of bricks (which can be used as weapons). There are security cameras that shoot lasers at you and guards with tasers to get in your way and drain your health as you desperately try to find your way around in the dark. Many rooms have no point to them. There’s a chamber of water at the bottom of a very long ladder that serves no purpose beyond somewhere to sit down and drown yourself if it all gets a bit much.

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I’ll never forget my joy as a child when I first found the underground tram in Saboteur. It seemed like genuine progress, being the first screen I could be 100% sure I hadn’t seen before and, besides, it was just kinda rad to see a ninja riding a tram. As an adult, I had the same surprise and elation (I’d forgotten it existed) but it just led to more corridors to get lost in until my time ran out.

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I played game after game and, even when I thought I’d got somewhere, I found it impossible to get there again the next time. Having a sense of direction is not one of my real life skills (as anyone who’s had the misfortune of getting in a car with me will have learned) and Saboteur left my head spinning. So I cheated. We live in an era where almost everything can be explained online and Saboteur’s no exception. I found a full Walkthrough on Youtube but, unfortunately, this was done on Difficulty Level 9. One of the clever things about Saboteur is that the Difficulty Level changes everything. The warehouse is laid out the same way but the guards, the bombs and the doors are all different so the Walkthrough wasn’t much help. I did have a crack playing on Difficulty Level 9 but this was just an embarrassing set of asskickings from the guards.

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I made more sense of the warehouse by finding a map online (worth looking at as a piece of art in itself) and that’s when the true nature of it (and so many other Spectrum games) hit me. It’s not about finding your way around. Even once you know where you’re going and what to do, the difficulty is in doing it within the ultra-tight time limit. It doesn’t leave room for you to fall off a platform, trip over a ladder or stop for a 30 second slap fight with a guard. You have to do it perfectly. So you just repeat over and over again the same game, gaining precious seconds, until you stop making mistakes. In its way, this is similar to actual martial arts training; it also instills a maddening sense of persistence and discipline (who knew computer games could set you up so well for life, eh?).

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Full disclosure : I’m lazy. I’ve not actually completed Saboteur yet. I played it for more hours than I’d like to admit to today and the closest I got was retrieving the disk, planting the bomb and getting all the way up to the security door by the helicopter only to realise it was locked. I hadn’t switched the right terminal on at the right time so I blew up in a psychedelic blast of Spectrum colors. All I achieved was a splitting headache. However, the game still stands up as something that’s challenging in a good way and admirably hard to master. If you’re looking for an 80s nostalgia hit (as so many ninjologists are), this is a strong dose; I mean, the game revolves around a floppy disk. You can’t get more 80s than that.

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What I liked most about Saboteur however was that it’s still very much a realistic Ninja Simulator, although not in the way I thought it was when I was a kid, running around ninjing like a good’un. No, now I see it very much shows what it would ACTUALLY be like if I were dropped into a real life ninja mission. I’d flail a bit, run around in the dark with no idea where I was or what I had to do, fall down a hole, topple off a platform, miss everything each time I tried to throw a weapon and then probably get eaten alive by dogs, sustaining fatal ninjuries and ending my short-lived career. It’s probably best I stick to blogging.

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[NB: Saboteur also has a sequel, Avenging Angel, in which Ninja’s sister Nina (you’ve got to laugh, right?) becomes the protagonist but that’s another blog for another week…]

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The Little Hero of Shaolin Temple (1984)

There are some weeks where I regret how deep I try to go into ninja pop culture. This is one such week. I bought The Little Of Shaolin Temple on VHS because of the stunning cover art (credited to “ART & ADVERTISING SERVICES LTD” of York – would love to know who the actual painter was). For a change, the image does represent actual scenes from the movie but it makes them all look super awesome whereas, on film, they’re more like something out of a weird and terrible school play. That tagline (“THE SHAOLIN MASTERS TAKE ON THEIR DEADLIEST ENEMY… THE NINJA”) is irresistible though, right? Any ninjologist seeking a ninjection of their weekly high would fall for it, surely? Not just me?

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[WARNING: This review contains “spoilers”…]

There’s a 2006 Vengeance Video DVD of this film where they’ve retitled it Shaolin Youth Posse and the cover art there (a still of a bunch of little kids in monkish robes striking Shaolin stances) sums up a lot of what you’ll see in this film. The majority of the cast is under 12. To make it worse, they’re all dubbed into English by adults. Men and women putting on high-pitched voices. They all sound like they’re holding their noses too; weird nasal parodies of what kids might sound like in some kind of nightmare dimension where they’re forever trapped in a camp version of puberty. For the first few minutes this is almost funny but it soon burrows into your brain and becomes something you never want to hear again. Especially the “kid” with the stutter. I think I may have been conditioned to fly into a murderous rage if I hear one more falsetto “bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-Buddha bu-bu-bu-bless you”.

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It’s unclear when this film was made and director Tang Chen-Dah doesn’t have many other credits. IMDB reckons it’s from 1972 but I’d be astonished if this were true. For one, it would make Little Hero an early example of ninjas in Taiwanese movies and I don’t think it’s quite that innovative. For another, Chen-Dah didn’t start regularly directing films until 1978 and I can’t believe he dropped this one then took a six year break. HKMDB gives Little Hero a release date of 1984 and this is more likely (where it would be riding the ninja wave for all it’s worth) although it may well have been shot earlier (if I had to guess I’d say maybe 1982). This would also make it Chen-Dah’s last film and I can believe he dropped this one then never worked again.

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The “plot” here is incoherent and strange even by my standards (and I watch Godfrey Ho films on a regular basis). The first half an hour is just kids tooling around in Shaolin Temple. They’re trainee monks and, while they do display some decent acrobatic skills, the ridiculous dubbing and lack of any story or characters make it difficult to engage with. There’s an extended sequence where one kid steals some wine and shows the rest how to do drunken boxing, which is kind of funny if you find the idea of children getting blackout drunk amusing (who doesn’t, let’s be honest) but that’s all you get to pass the time.

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The enjoyment is countered quickly by a subsequent scene in which all the kids are given flutes to blow in case of danger. Anyone who’s spent more than two seconds around a kid would know you should NEVER GIVE A KID A FLUTE. To make matters worse, there is plenty of danger lurking around the Temple so they get their taels’ worth out of those bloody flutes. An Evil Princess seeks to murder a young Prince who apparently is in hiding at Shaolin Temple. There are Reasons – some vague Ching Dynasty conspiracy nonsense that’s mentioned once – but these are soon forgotten. It’s all just an excuse for a bad character to send a load of different fighters in to Shaolin.

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It goes weird because, for Reasons (never really clarified this time) all the adult monks have gone on some kind of mission and left the kids in charge of the Temple, right at this key moment. The drunk boxing kid is made into the makeshift abbot and has to become a man by training his many mini-monks to defend Shaolin against the ongoing swarm of attackers. I’m probably making this sound more coherent than it actually is. There’s no structure, little explanation of why anything happens and the dialogue – which, let’s not forget, is all delivered in creepy Mickey Mouse voices – is atrocious.

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Still, this is Ninjas All The Way Down. We’re here for the ninjing, right? I’m sure patience is taught early on when learning ninjutsu and you’ll certainly need it here… The second act presents waves of increasingly weird fighters that aren’t ninjas – a group of (I think) drag queens (or maybe gypsy bandits?) duff up the little kids first. This has some psychotronic value, seeing dudes in bad make-up and dresses literally throwing kids off bridges and the likes, but isn’t exactly fun. A guy shows up who might be a vampire too (he hisses and bites the kids on the neck so he’s either a vampire or a mental pervert), and then the drag queens inadvertently stir the grave of (I think) the ghost of a Shaolin master. None of this is explained. He just leaps out the ground on very visible wires, growling and snarling, as the screen distorts, everyone screams and he flies around duffing them up. He turns into a skeleton shortly afterwards.

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There’s a subplot involving a little girl who dresses like Tarzan, wields a whip and lives in the jungle. She helps the actual hidden Prince, who winds up lost and injured in a jungle for some reason, but this comes to nothing. Once he’s healed, he goes back to Shaolin and ditches her in a “comedy” scene where he’s, like, “BYE!” and she makes a “hmph! men!” face at the camera.

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FINALLY, the Evil Princess – 1 hour and 2 minutes into the film – says it’s time to “release the Japanese Units” (ha). “Are you sure?” asks a henchman. “They are quite brutal and mysterious”. By this stage, I’m shouting “YES YES YES RELEASE THE JAPANESE UNITS!” at the screen and eventually, ninjas happen.

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I guess it’s something I’ve not seen before – ninjas lurking around Shaolin Temple (doing actual stealth work) and flinging shuriken into the faces of unsuspecting little kids. People often say that the scene where a child takes a throwing star to the face in Revenge Of The Ninja is shocking but this happens about four or five times in The Little Hero Of Shaolin Temple (strangely not censored from the UK VHS – I guess even the BBFC couldn’t stay awake throughout this film). That’ll teach ’em to blow flutes.

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I don’t usually like to give away the endings of films on the blog but this one has to be shared to be believed (and may save you from actually watching it). The kid abbot decides that he’s going to strap dynamite to himself and go blow up all the ninjas, kamikaze-style. The other kids all scream that they can’t lose their abbot so a bunch of them rip dynamite sticks from him, run at the ninjas and explode, one after the other. Yes, this film climaxes in a shower of exploding children and ninja dummies.

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After this, the Evil Princess realises that violence is senseless so both she and the makeshift child abbot shower each other with Buddha’s blessings and make peace. Everyone agrees Buddha is best and “THE END” flashes on screen. Phew. I know you’re probably thinking this sounds like fun but it’s a serious chore to get through. If you absolutely insist on watching a heady mix of little kids and mindless violence, I’d recommend Hawk Jones (click for the trailer) as a far more enjoyable way of getting your kicks. The Little Hero Of Shaolin Temple is just awful, tasteless and bizarre. For the ninjologists, there is approximately seven minutes worth of ninja footage in this and they’re really not worth the other seventy-five.

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The Hero of Swallow (1996)

Underrated and underseen within the ninja canon, The Hero Of Swallow is a film out of time. It was the final film from veteran filmmaker Sang Siu – a guy who’d been shooting wuxia and kung fu movies since the early 60s – and it’s kind of a swansong that waves fond farewell to an old-fashioned style of Chinese cinema that, by 1996, was long out of fashion (similar in that respect to Chang Cheh’s Ninja In Ancient China (1993))…

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The legendary Yuen Biao plays Li San, a folkloric Robin Hood style character who was apparently at large in the 1920s/30s and who’s been portrayed onscreen a few times before and after this film. Li San’s particular USP is that, besides stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, he also has quasi-mystical martial arts abilities that allow him to climb walls and leap great heights, seeming to fly from the scene of the crime like a bird (hence his nickname The Hero Swallow – or The Thief Swallow, depending on the financial status of the person describing him!). Although allegedly Shaolin in real life, In this version of the story, Li San dresses and acts like a ninja.

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Anyway, the love of Li San’s life here is a girl named Chinny (Athena Chu), who has been raped, kidnapped and sold to a brothel somewhere in Peking (it’s a very rough province they’re from!). Li San therefore swears to track her down and rescue her, which is why he has been training in ninjoid arts. Once he gets to Peking, the local authorities are well aware there is a “Flying Thief” at large so he needs to lay low to avoid being captured and killed. It’s a task made harder by dark conspiracies afoot in the Imperial City involving a local aristocrat, a precious “Jade Chop” and the eternal lurking evil of the Japanese…

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Li San amasses a small band of helpers to aid him on his adventures – a wily Peking Opera singer (Yvonne Yung Hung), a loyal soldier whose mother’s life he saves (Elvis Tsui) and a plucky young lady thief-in-training who dresses like a man to avoid attention (Lily Chung Suk Wai). Between these useful allies and his ninja skills, all looks on track for rescuing Chinny, locating the Jade Chop and saving the day. However, things don’t go as expected and the film takes an incredibly dark turn for its final third.

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Arguably the bleakness is milked a little at the very end but the tragic climax is undeniably affecting. Sang Siu may love a bit of melodrama but he directs these last scenes with such a grandiose poetic style, he gets away with it. The use of swallows is particularly effective and evokes John Woo and his doves. Of course, it helps that the cast here is so spectacular too. Yuen Biao never gives a disappointing performance and this is one of his best. He may not get chance to do much of the complex acrobatic kung fu he displays in other films, but he’s able to show off his acting skills, from charismatic comedy to gut-wrenching emotion. Lily Chung Suk Wai (who fans of Cat III cinema may recognise from Red To Kill) also steals the screen with a nuanced turn as the cute cross-dressing thief; I could watch an entire side-movie about her character and not get bored.

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Admittedly, the fighting in Hero Of Swallow isn’t the best but it’s by no means the worst either. There are a few decent brawls but it never quite takes off in the action stakes (e.g. the climactic duff-up between Biao and Eddy Ko, while super-tense within the narrative, is way too brief). That said, if it’s ninjing you’re after, there are some cool sights to see – Biao in his ninja suit leaps through the sky on wires quite often and there’s also a small squad of lady ninjas who have a lively scrap with Eddy Ko. We also see a lot of actual stealth ninja work as well. For anyone accustomed to the Godfrey Ho style ninjing of “LET’S ALL WEAR CANDY PINK AND GOLD AND BE SUPER-VISIBLE IN ANY SETTING!”, it’s a nice change to see someone using the costume as bonafide camouflage.

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Where The Hero Of Swallow shines is on the drama. There’s nothing groundbreaking here but it hits the right emotional beats and tells a fast-paced, engaging story around its fight scenes. It’s shot beautifully and has a lilting, atmospheric score played on traditional Chinese instruments that really transports you into its world. It would be a good, accessible ninja film to show to someone who’s maybe not too deep into the genre and, for fans of old-skool wuxia, this is a lovely – albeit bittersweet – tribute to the glory days. One could even consider its downbeat finalé as an allegory for its genre; the bloody, messy demise of true cinematic chivalry…

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