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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