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The Blazing Ninja (1980)


When I was a kid, The Blazing Ninja had something of a reputation for being a bad tape to rent, albeit one that had to be seen to be believed. No one who’d seen it knew quite what to make of it. The UK VHS cover art was an incredible illustration (credited to one “G. Francis” – anyone have any more info about this guy?) of a bright red ninja, two busty barbarians and an exploding temple so hopes were, obviously, high for the content. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of a film that delivers so little of what’s promised. There are no barbarians, no explosions and no visible ninjas (although the dialogue valiantly tries to convince you otherwise). However, what’s left is one of the weirdest, most psychotronically incoherent films of the video era. It’s also of interest to deep ninjologists as it’s an early example of Godfrey Ho’s cut and paste filmmaking technique and may make you appreciate the relative sophistication of his later work…

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First, a little housekeeping. I can’t figure out where a lot of this footage comes from. The bulk of it appears to be a Korean spy drama (possibly unfinished/unreleased?) but almost all the fights are taken from a mix of other films. I recognised a couple (including one of Bruce Lai fighting Bolo Yeung) from Enter Three Dragons (aka Dragon On Fire) but the rest could be from almost anything. The director’s credit for the whole thing goes to Godfrey Ho who – as far as I can tell – didn’t shoot a frame of this but whom I imagine wrote the new “story” that’s dubbed over the top of it. The opening credits roll over Dragon On Fire footage of Bruce Lai fighting while dressed in the Game of Death jumpsuit. Just because. This is the kind of logic we’re dealing with here so bear with me as I try to explain it…

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The film is set in the late 1930s, during the Japanese Occupation of China, and focuses on a group of Chinese Resistance fighters. One of the first scenes in the movie sees some Japanese guys laughing in squeaky voices about how they’ve beaten everyone in China, only to be surprised by a Resistance fighter barging in and barking – in an Australian accent – “I’ve come to join you for breakfast! Are you scared, you ninja bastards?!” He proceeds to beat them up and banishes them from China, telling them if he sees them again, he’ll kill them.

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Unfortunately, the Resistance are in for a tough time because Yoshida is coming to China. We are told he is “the most famous spy” (doesn’t being famous actually make you a terrible spy though?) and “a respected ninja”. His street cred is built up quite a lot before we see him, so viewers will be invariably disappointed when he rocks up as a skinny Korean guy in a leisure suit with a bad combover (played by someone credited, hilariously, as “Sony Tanaka” to really convince you he’s Japanese). Yoshida’s bodyguard is also in town and must be killed, which is what leads to the aforementioned Bruce/Bolo fight being spliced in to the plot, despite being visibly set in a different period altogether. Later, we have a character talk about his murdered grandfather, which allows for another “flashback” fight (footage from an unknown film clearly set in the some distant Dynasty). This is how smoothly it flows…

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The period thing is an amusing quirk of the film actually. While the various fights may span several hundred years, even the 1930s-set footage all looks like the 1970s on account of no effort being made whatsoever with the costumes, cars, or hairstyles. The incessant disco/funk soundtrack further adds to the 70s vibe and includes Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft, among other stolen goods.

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Somewhere in all this mess, a plot arc develops about Yoshida and a Chinese friend of his – Tong Man (although everyone pronounces it “Tongueman” which just sounds like the grossest superhero ever). Tong Man’s sister is pro-Resistance so Tong Man sells her husband out to Yoshida, and there’s lots of crying and drama, leading to a surprisingly bleak ending where no one wins. I don’t usually post spoilers (so skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re sensitive) but the ending here is worth noting. Tong Man reveals himself to actually have been in league with the Resistance the whole time, trying to gain Yoshida’s trust so he could betray him. Then he fights Yoshida on the beach. Sadly, one of Yoshida’s henchmen shoots Tong Man and, as he dies in his wife’s arms, Yoshida screams at his henchman, a final line that’s almost poetry. “Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve shot my dearest enemy!” There’s a lot of terrible things about this film but I feel, in another, better production, that could’ve gone down as one of cinema’s great end quotes. If I ever formed a hardcore band, I’d probably call it My Dearest Enemy. In fact, having just written that, I googled and found that there are already several hardcore bands called My Dearest Enemy. I’d like to think at least one was named in honour of this film.

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Anyway, I digress. The Blazing Ninja feels like, in trying to cut together a film for the western market, Ho thought “what do Americans like?” and came up with “ninjas, Bruce Lee and funk music”. He didn’t have any footage of any of those things so made sure everyone said the word “ninja” a lot, cut in some Bruce Lai fights he had lying around and set it all to a thumping stolen funk score. The intentions seem sincere but the result is so hellaciously strange, even by Godfrey Ho standards, that it’s hard to describe. He really didn’t know what he was doing here at all. His dubbing team deserve special mention too. In addition to spouting great dialogue like “You’ve fallen into my trap! I’m not a real doctor! But you’re really dead!” they deliver an array of accents – Cockney, Australian, faintly Germanic – and make sure ALL the bad guys talk in ludicrous high-pitched voices. Some of them sound like the Headcrusher from Kids In The Hall and others like The Wicked Witch Of The West but all of them are entertaining…

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It’s almost a shame that we know as much as we do now about Godfrey Ho and his technique because The Blazing Ninja, in the wider context of his work, is just one of many bizarro movies made from scraps. It’s certainly not his best – the technique was very much refined later – and it’s too hilarious to be his worst but it is still reasonably easy for ninjologists to deconstruct how and why it was made (even if naming some of the source material remains a challenge). When I first saw this on VHS, I had no idea it wasn’t a proper film, that it was multiple movies cut together. I didn’t know about Bruce Clones and I didn’t even know the Theme From Shaft. I just thought The Blazing Ninja was the hard, genuine work of an utter madman, someone so preposterously unhinged I couldn’t believe they were allowed to go near a camera. And I loved it for that. It’s sad, in a way, that I can’t go back to that innocent feeling. I’ve seen too much now and it has lost that magic of just thinking “WHO *IS* THIS MAN?” in awe. Still, if you’ve never watched a Godfrey Ho film before and you’ve just stumbled upon this blog looking for something else (instructions on how to set ninjas on fire perhaps?) then I would urge you to start here. You will laugh. A lot.

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Ninja Champion (1986)

Usually, when I write about the IFD and Filmark ninja films of the 80s, I start with an introductory paragraph to ease any unfamiliar viewers gently into their world. With Ninja Champion, there seems little point. This is deep into the dojo. One of the weirdest, most impenetrable of a weird, impenetrable genre. If you’re new to studies of Ninjology and not already in tune with Godfrey Ho and his directorial style, this is not a good place to start. In fact, you could get some form of mental whiplash going too fast from conventional martial arts cinema straight into Ninja Champion so please proceed with caution. Perhaps try something like Ninja Terminator first? For the rest of us though… here’s Ninja Champion. Although, in honesty, I can’t promise this won’t cause at least some disturbance in even the most hardened of viewers..

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The opening credits alternate the usual aerial shots of the Hong Kong skyline and stolen synthesizer music with bizarre quick cut-ins of a woman tied to a tree, seemingly being raped by clowns (you see? I told you to proceed with caution on this one). From here, we cut to a diamond smuggling deal going down elsewhere in the city. The female smuggler has hidden the diamonds in her top and, as she takes down her top to reveal them to her employer, they shine brightly enough to obscure her breasts…

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Since this – and the gratuitous disco scene that follows – will leave viewers already reeling and confused, Bruce Baron pops up (seemingly dressed in Richard Harrison’s clothing) to explain everything. He is a ninja called Donald. He’s on the trail of some diamond smugglers and, one of them, a girl named Rose, has been raped and is seeking revenge on her rapists. Rose’s ex-husband George is working for Donald. There are some evil ninjas in town (led by the ever-watchable Pierre Tremblay) but they’re all under strict instructions to “not do anything”. This is, of course, because they’re from a completely different film to the rest of this and it would require more effort than is available to splice them properly into the story. And as if splicing two movies together wasn’t enough, we also get some bonus footage of actual Richard Harrison talking on his Garfield phone. This is ripped straight from Ninja Terminator but is redubbed so it seems like he’s talking to Bruce Baron about Rose and George. This is also billed as a “SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE” in the credits.

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Most of the footage here – Rose, George, et al – was originally a 1985 Korean rape-revenge film with the catchy name of Poisonous Rose Stripping The Night. This was directed by Shi-hyeon Kim – who also made Uninvited Guest of the Star Ferry – the film IFD recut into Ninja Terminator – so there’s quite a pedigree there. Sadly, despite both of them starring Jack Lam (who here plays George – not quite as iconic a character name as Jaguar Wong!), there’s a massive dip in quality. Poisonous Rose is quite a scrappy feature, rough around the edges and probably in quite poor taste but – even before you add the ninjas – Godfrey Ho and his team have re-edited and redubbed it in a way that renders it completely surreal and a far more baffling movie than it ever could’ve been by itself.

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To give you an idea, the first rapist that Rose takes revenge on, she starts by seducing him. After they roll around on the bed and he sucks her breasts, he starts choking and accuses her of poisoning the wine. “Not the wine! My nipples, you jerk!” she replies. Yes. This film contains poisonous nipples. She then drowns him in the bath, strangles him with a plug chain and castrates him, after all of which he expires (and fair enough, really). The police accept this as an accidental death.

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Rose, incidentally, is adept at disguises so none of the rapists recognise her until she whips off the disguise and announces her identity. These amazing disguises include glasses…

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…and glasses.

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Hmm.

Still, it does the trick. She keeps on seducing them and killing them. One outrageously tasteless scene involves one of the rapists realising who she is, handcuffing her and asking if she has any last requests before he kills her. She asks if she can put some make-up on before dying because “You know what it’s like. I’m a woman. I want to look my best”. He replies, “Okay, but don’t do it too well or I might want to rape you again before I kill you! Ha ha ha!” Thankfully, it’s a trap, Rose uses the distraction to get away and the rapist winds up with his hand crushed in the car door, and a slew of broken bones as Rose runs him over with his own vehicle.

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There are some mental subplots too, like George’s current wife who is struggling with getting sex out of George because he’s still in love with Rose (“I won’t make love to you!” he barks, “Go take a cold shower! If you’re in a hurry, why don’t you pay someone to screw you?”). However, as the story develops, George falls in love with diamond smuggler Jenny. D’oh. We also get a mentally stunted bald guy who tortures and is tortured; a ton of people get shot at a dockyard; Rose’s revenge gets lost in the mix and ALL OF THE ABOVE is revealed to be a carefully constructed trap that the evil ninja has set up. For REASONS. We don’t really get to work out what’s in it for him but he does a lot of maniacal laughing so clearly gets a kick out of it.

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But is there much actual ninjing? Not really. There are four fight scenes cut in at random intervals where Bruce Baron picks fights with the evil red ninjas who – having been explicitly told to stay out of the action – are just hanging around practicing their ninja tricks. One guy has some cool hoops.

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Another spins plates on swords and shuriken balanced on his nose. They’re basically a ninja circus (which – in its owned warped way – might explain why Rose’s rapists were dressed as clowns?). Anyway, they all get their asses kicked.

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We finish off with the obligatory fight between the two strongest ninjas although this time it takes place at a children’s playground. It’s strange. Usually we get a building top or a hill or a forest somewhere, which feels like the kind of low-key location where ninjas would fight but, nope, here it’s a kiddie park. In broad daylight. Which is just plain weird. Even weirder is that it all ends with what appears to be the evil ninja getting a sword rammed up his ass while splayed out on the monkey bars. This is a very, very strange film. I can’t, with any conscience left in me, say it’s actually good but if you like the psychotronic side of these movies and can accept an almost total lack of coherence, Ninja Champion is worth a look. Just stay off the monkey bars…

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