City Ninja (1986) aka Tough Ninja : The Shadow Warrior

First of all, the usual housekeeping. The film I watched (on the American Neon Video release) and am writing about today is City Ninja (1986), not to be confused with City Ninja, the alternate title for Ninja Holocaust (1985). This one was released originally as Tough Ninja : The Shadow Warrior and about two-thirds of its footage are taken from a 1982 Patrick Kong crime melodrama called Unreal Dream. City Ninja’s director is credited as “Larry Hutton” but it’s almost certain this is a pseudonym for Philip Ko, who starred in the original Unreal Dream film and is known for assembling several of these cut-and-paste ninja efforts for Tomas Tang’s Filmark (unsurprisingly, the production company behind this). Oddly, considering two of the actors from the original (Ko and Addy Sung) return as part of the new ninja footage edited into it (looking a good three or four years older than they do in the Unreal Dream scenes), this still manages to be one of the least coherent or convincing splice jobs I’ve seen. But it is pretty far-out…

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The plot of the original Unreal Dream involves a trio of Mainlanders who escape to Hong Kong to try and find their fortune, only to get embroiled in drugs, robbery and prostitution. For this redubbed, re-edited version, our trio (now called Judy, Lily and Johnny) are escaping not from an oppressive regime but from ninja school. Yep, that’s right. Ninja school. The opening sequence shows a ninja in camo gear barking out instructions to his pupils. He imparts wisdom such as “THIS IS THE NINJA UNIFORM. NEVER SHOW YOUR NAKED FACE!” and “IT’S A QUESTION OF TALENT! IF YOU DO IT WRONG, YOU FAIL! AND A NINJA CAN’T FAIL!” but this is clearly all too much for our heroes so they run off into the night, along with an ill-fated recruit called Godfrey (a dig at Tomas Tang’s former colleague Godfrey Ho?).

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It’s impossible to see what’s going on in the getaway sequence as it’s so abominably lit, but we hear a lot of dogs barking and I think Godfrey gets mauled to death by one of them. Amusingly, the synopsis on the back of the VHS sleeve says they escape using “the magical powers of invisibility” which is the most imaginative/diplomatic way I’ve seen of saying “the magical powers of shooting at night with no lighting budget”…

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From here, shit gets weird. The next scene is an unrelated-to-anything fight between a Bruce Lee impersonator wearing a t-shirt that says EUROBOY and a bunch of random guys. It’s likely that this footage is taken from a Joseph Kong Bruceploitation film (as his name is on the City Ninja credits as screenwriter!) but I can’t place which one (answers on a Ninja Challenge Card, please). More footage of ‘Bruce’ fighting pops up later with the only justification being one character yelping “Hey! Remember that guy? Let’s beat him up!”

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It’s impossible to know what else is happening but let’s see… There’s some kind of jewel heist and car chase involving Wai-Man Chan (who does some neat stunts); a bunch of shifty looking gangsters in big 80s sunglasses; an interminable comedy kidnap/ransom sequence involving Lily, her aunt and a dog named Gaddafi; a sweaty, bug-eyed man who goes round robbing people at penis-point in public urinals; some sex trade that centres around a very groovy neon disco where Lily gets a job as a hostess; and the occasional interruption by ninjas. Apparently the guy who runs the ninja school is an American who learned ninjutsu in Japan and is now involved in most crime across Hong Kong (“Robbery is just a sideline for a ninja warrior!” he says at one point, lest anyone question the realism), and this is how the new ninja footage is tied to the rest.

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I don’t think any of the original Unreal Dream story has been retained, even if there’s at least an hour’s worth of footage from it here. Everything’s been dubbed with improbable, possibly improvised, new dialogue that gives the film a persistent surreal atmosphere. At one point, an argument in the park between a group of teenage girls dressed for aerobics turns into a deadly feud with dialogue thrown around like “We are the five lady ninjas!” and “Well, lemme tell ya, I’ve been around and I HATE ninjas!”

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It’s all very very silly. The nonsense reaches its peak in a scene where a pair of ninjas use owl-like bird calls to lure Addy Sung into a fight.

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So what about the ninjing then? Do we get much bokken for our buck? Well, apart from the fact that most of the action sequences from Unreal Dream take place in pitch darkness, the choreography (presumably by Ko) looks pretty good. Lily Chan (who plays Lily) is a superb athlete and does some crazy stuff in the final fight, which culminates in her literally eating her opponent alive (not kidding, she takes gory chunks out of him with her teeth!).

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We do also get a few cool ninja fights with lots of laserbeam sound FX, pink smoke bombs, swords, shuriken, disappearing tricks, sped-up ninja tree-climbing and a great long duffing-up between Camo Ninja and a hastily-drafted-in White Ninja. The choreography here is decent but it’s perhaps let down (or made more enjoyably silly?) by the fact that the non-Asian actors who deliver the dialogue are VERY obviously replaced with Asian actors once the stuntwork starts and no effort is made to hide this. Ah, just chalk it up to ninja magic…

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City Ninja / Tough Ninja : Shadow Warrior may not be a good choice for beginner ninjologists as its total lack of a plot to follow and ropey production values make it tough to sit through unless you’re already deep into this. Advanced ninjologists won’t have their minds blown either but there’s definitely enough Filmark-fuelled ninjoid nonsense to trigger a mild ninjasm or two for them. And I mean, really… All ninjing aside, it’s worth it just to see Lily Chan LITERALLY EAT A MAN ALIVE during a fight. I’m amazed no one’s turned this into a YouTube clip yet with Maneater playing over the top…

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