Ninja The Battalion (1987)

Directed by the pseudonymous “Victor Sears” and produced by Tomas Tang, Ninja The Battalion (1987) is one of the weakest of the late 80s Filmark cut-and-paste films. It was released in some territories as The Super Ninja 2 to cash-in on the more entertaining Super Ninja (also starring Alexander Lou) but the similarities end there. This isn’t even set in the same period! It’s just a particularly choppy mash-up of Lou ninjing around in some new footage with a 1982 Taiwanese Triad drama called The Alliance of Hung Sect (dir: Fong Chiung), set in the 1940s… How do these seemingly disparate elements combine? Well, the answer is they don’t. At all.

Ninja The Battalion

[Not sure why this DVD artwork chooses to depict Lou emerging from a Fly-style telepod?]

After a barely readable credits sequence of white text on mostly white action (you can make out enough to see the usual array of anglicised Filmark fake names like “Cathy Joe” are all present), we get a great opening line. “It’s 12 noon in Central Park and the password is Battalion,” intones a random Aussie voice, while Alexander Lou (handily playing a character called Alex) walks through the greenery. Two Japanese guys dressed as Samurai attack him, there’s a punch-up, and he’s saved by a random white dude called Steven. Without using the password “Battalion” (which, in fact, no one uses at all throughout the whole film), they figure out that they’re both on a mission from Ken Yong – The Number One Secret Agent – to rescue four scientists from the clutches of the evil Japanese, so they team up and do exactly that.

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Normally in these Filmark efforts, the source film’s plot is more or less retained with the odd few ninja twists thrown in but I got the impression that a lot more was being changed here. From what I can understand, The Alliance of Hung Sect pitted rival Triad gangs against Yakuza whereas here they seem to be mostly government or corporate organisations that are trying to prevent World War II from escalating further in Asia. To make their intentions even harder to follow, they all communicate in codes that are mostly either arcane teacup formations (yes, teacup formations) or absurdly conspicuous hand gestures.

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There are more than a few freako subplots including Special Agent Joey, a Chinese guy who’s undercover with the Japanese and gone a little rogue with regards to his love of torture; a group of all-female assassins known as the Tigress Gang; Ken Yong himself (Taiwan’s answer to James Bond – he wears a bow-tie and tux and introduces himself as the Number One Secret Agent, instantly blowing his secret identity in much the same way Bond does every time he blurts “Bond, James Bond”); and, my personal favourite; the Russians. The Russians appear only in the Filmark footage and are the usual Caucasian non-actors that Filmark liked to cast in such roles. They’re on the trail of the missing scientists and, as revealed in a fierce interrogation sequence, have their own amazing secret code:

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“We say ‘welcome’
He says ‘don’t mention’
We say ‘ya ya ya’ four times
Then we say ‘is the weather good in Shanghai?’
They say ‘yes yes yes’ four times 
Then ‘is the weather going to be good in Moscow?’
Then we say ‘I tell you it’s gonna be goooood!'”

So wait, what? We say ‘ya ya ya’ four times? So, uh, ‘ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya’? Who are we? Lorde? Even more hilariously, the only time we see anyone use this secret code, they mess it up by ending the exchange with “Is it cold in Moscow?” and “YAAAAAAAAAAA” respectively. Useless.

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Did I mention that everyone was a secret ninja? At first, when Alex and Steven are attacked by ninjas, this almost makes sense since they’re fighting the Japanese but then it turns out that they – the Chinese – are ninjas too and, when the chips are down in the final reel, a black American ninja (played by the inimitable Eugene Thomas) rocks up to join the action. And, oh boy, the action here is bad. There are the obligatory Filmark ninjas on wires and mysterious throwing star apparitions but also some grass burrowing ninjas (literally a vaguely human shaped pile of fake grass being yanked along on a string). There are a lot of gunfights from the original footage and they try to edit ninjas into these so you have people shooting at imaginary people from entirely different movies. Dialogue takes the same over-ambitious approach to splicing with plenty back-of-the-head-only doubles pretending to be characters from the source film making it hard to even work out if who anyone’s even supposed to be at any given time.

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The whole thing culminates with a “Glorious Ninja Death” and, when I say that, I literally mean someone dies and, as they expire, they croak the words “Glorious… ninja… death!” Sadly, this and the Russian’s secret code are the two high points of the film, which probably gives you an idea how bad the rest is.

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People are quick to dismiss these films as much of a muchness but that’s unfair. The best of the cut-and-paste films keep things simple, zippy and a little bit crazy and can be hugely entertaining, inventive pictures. The worst, like this one, are just a total mess. It’s easy to see sometimes what they were going for and I can appreciate that – given how many they were pumping out per year – they were experimenting to keep themselves occupied, but here the ambitions to take a deeply pedestrian Triad drama and turn it into a WW2 epic with scientists, ninjas, Russians and all the rest of it were wildly unrealistic. The same year “Victor Sears” made Ninja’s Extreme Weapons which, conversely, is one of the more fun examples of the format. I’d recommend watching that one instead unless you believe you can only complete your ninjology studies by watching every… single… movie… with… ninja… in… the… title… But that would just be the behaviour of a madman, right?

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