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Ninja Operation 3 : Licensed to Terminate (1986)

Don’t worry if you’ve not seen Ninja Operation 1 or 2. Neither have most people involved with Ninja Operation 3, except perhaps IFD Films svengalis Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho. This is yet another of their cut and paste efforts where they splice new ninja scenes into a re-edit of an old non-ninja film and give the whole thing a new story/dub. Ho claims responsibility for the screenplay here while Lai takes the director credit (not something he often did) but it’s hard to imagine how they actually divided the work when these films are so unconventionally made (one of them cut, one of them pasted, perhaps?). Anyway, Ninja Operation was one of several “franchise” names they created to string together films that were not really related except to the extent that all IFD films are part of one perpetual and bizarre ninja mission. There were 7 Ninja Operations altogether, in case you wondered. I already covered Ninja Operation 4 : Thunderbolt Angels (aka Ninja Powerforce) – whose ninja footage was undoubtedly shot back to back with this one owing to identical costumes, sets and casts – and Ninja Operation 7 : Royal Warriors (aka Hands of Death) and will get round to the rest in time, don’t worry…

This one opens with the Black Ninja Empire (who have undergone a confusing re-brand by wearing red and blue) outlining the premise for us. Their goal is to “lead the world to evil” so they can “rule an evil world”. Seems like they’ve been doing a good job of this but now the Prince Of Justice has been born and put a damper on things. His name is Alpha and his reason for existence is to “destroy all evil”. The head of the Black Ninja Empire dispatches a guy called Temple (played by a guy called, uh, Grant Temple) to stop the Prince Of Justice now, while he’s still newborn, before he can do anything except cry, poop and lie down. Essentially the Black Ninja Empire’s mission here is to murder a baby… which is pretty dark, I’d say. Also kinda biblical.

Luckily, the Golden Ninja Empire has other plans! The head of the Golden Ninja Empire (Louis Roth) has assigned Ninja Master Gordon (Richard Harrison) to protect Alpha, the Prince Of Justice, at all costs. To help him know where he has to go, Gordon stares into a mysterious crystal ball that – as if by magic – forms a picture that leads us into some footage from the Taiwanese source film…

It’s difficult to establish exactly what this film is but my best (vaguely educated) guess is that it’s something called The Daredevil from 1981, directed by Chui Yuk-Lung. I’m happy to stand corrected if I’ve identified it incorrectly but, whatever it’s called, it’s a film that straddles two genres. There’s a crime element with some martial arts sequences but also a tremendous amount of melodrama, common to the Taiwanese “black film” genre that was big in the early 80s and gave us many of the source films for IFD movies.

The main character is Rick (played by Ma Sha), a truck driver who’s recently been released from prison and is trying to go straight, despite persistent badgering by local Triads to get involved in their criminal activity. Meanwhile, we meet Yvonne, a young woman who’s living as a concubine in a luxury apartment, beholden to the local Triad boss. She’s recently had a baby and, no surprises, this is Alpha, the Prince of Justice! She is worried that the Triad boss – whom we soon find out (through the wonder of editing) is working with the Black Ninjas – will try to hurt Alpha so she gives the baby to Shelley, her kooky friend who always dresses like she’s at a building site, even when she’s not…

Shelley drops Alpha randomly in the back of Rick’s truck and Rick, being a decent sort, takes in this baby and tries to look after it. He even goes to a shop to buy a bottle and, when offered a “good one or a cheap one” goes for “the good one” which is one of several curiously mundane sequences that play like Three Men And A Baby only without the other two men or indeed the laughs. Still, Joseph Lai knows his onions and edits these bits together with lively footage of ninjas watching Rick’s every move to spice things up. The ninjas have zero stealth – there’s one magnificent scene where a ninja in a sparkly blue and red suit does cartwheels and leaps and rolls along the street in an effort to keep hidden (!) – but somehow go unnoticed…

For the most part, the ninja sequences – while they do contain silliness like that – are better spliced in than is often the case. There’s actually one scene, where Rick tries to leave the baby on a doorstep, that’s improved dramatically by the addition of ninjas. One of them prepares to shoot the baby with a crossbow dart while the other sets up a flying disc to stop the dart in midflight and it turns what (I assume) in the original was quite a melancholic low-key scene into something genuinely tense.

And that’s where these IFD films really work. It’s such a ludicrous way to make movies on paper but those moments where it all comes together and you think “YES! What this film needed was more ninjas!” are just a joy. Because, let’s face it, in my heart I wish all films could benefit from extra ninjas yet experience teaches me that’s not always the case in practice. So it’s nice to be proven right once in a while.

Anyway, the rest of the film plays out much like you’d expect. Rick goes on a journey of self-discovery while resisting the allure of crime, there’s a lot of heated soap opera style discussions, Yvonne storms out at one point to say she’s going back to working at a bar so she can “get rich”, “buy a house” and “be back real soon” (that’s how bar work goes, right?). Then every now and then there’ll be a fight. Or a hilarious sequence like the one where a pair of Caucasian students in flowery shirts – playing Hong Kong police officers – follow Richard Harrison around, waiting for him to turn into a golden ninja, then looking utterly baffled when he does.

The ninjing is of a decent standard with more fights than you get in some IFD movies and a cool final showdown at Devil’s Rock (it’s ALWAYS at Devil’s Rock) that involves a giant wicker shield being rolled around and more backflips than are entirely necessary.

Basically, if you like your brightly coloured ninjas, Rambo-style headbands that read “NIN * JA” on them, amateur dramatics and dialogue of a calibre like “We know all of you… you’re friends of assholes!” then Ninja Operation 3 will be a treat for you. And if you don’t like any of those things, well, there’s a good chance you’re reading the wrong blog…

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Ninja Destroyer (1986)

Another day, another cut and paste ninja film from the good folk at IFD. This one blends about 15 minutes of new ninja mayhem with re-edited and re-dubbed footage from a 1983 Thai movie called Black Emeralds starring Sorapong Chatree. He’s an interesting actor in that he was one of the biggest, most beloved stars in Thailand throughout the 1970s, he won the Thailand National Film Association Best Supporting Actor award in 2004 for his role in transexual boxing drama Beautiful Boxer and yet, tragically, outside of Thailand he’s been most widely seen in IFD and Filmark ninja films. Yep, Chatree has been unwillingly spliced into at least 9 ninja epics as well as more outlandish cut-and-paste efforts like Crocodile Fury and the infamous Robo Vampire. I wonder if he’s ever seen any of them? Or if he even knows they exist?

[Note the superb painted artwork on VPD’s Ninja Theatre UK VHS release here. I particularly like how the only hint of ninjing is that Stuart Smith is wearing the ninja slippers!]

As these things go, Ninja Destroyer is a bit of a mess and not one of the best examples of the form. Under the watchful directorial eye of Godfrey Ho, it’s technically competent (on the scale of these things). The edits between the source film footage and the new ninja footage are quite smooth and the fight choreography (by the great and recently late Philip Ko) is a lot of fun. But the problem lies in the plotting which starts out pedestrian and ends utterly incomprehensible.

We start with a fight between IFD stars Stuart Smith and Bruce Baron who – rather than using the usual magic hand gestures – transform into multicoloured ninjas while running towards one another. They have tiny crossbows and fight one another with these and various hand weapons until it’s revealed (with a grin and a strut towards the camera) that they’re actually friends and just horsing around.

Flash forward many years to the Cambodian border of Thailand (and footage from Black Emeralds). People are being shot and stuff is exploding. We go straight in to one of those insane and unmistakably Thai action sequences in which a ton of huts are blown to pieces while unfortunate goofballs fly out of the way (sometimes from a great height) just in the nick of time. Obviously, the devil-may-care budget stunt work is jawdropping although I do feel sorry for whoever’s job it was to build those huts in the first place. Must have been a tremendous amount of work only to see them destroyed immediately. But hey. Beats having to jump out of one while it goes up in flames, I suppose.

It turns out that all this is a fight between some “rebels” and a Thai family who own a very lucrative emerald mine. The rebels want to steal the emeralds and only a girl named Julie and her elderly mother (blatantly dubbed by a much, much younger woman to quite surreal effect) stand in their way. It’s curious because usually in films, the rebels are the good guys and the rich people are bad but that’s not the case here. However, there are some added complications coming from the ninjas (and Godfrey Ho’s feverish rewrite) that muddy the waters. Apparently, Ninja Michael (Stuart Smith) has been training the rebels in secret ninja training camps, which is why they fight so well…

Who can stop the violence? Well, over at US Green Beret HQ (!), Captain Byron (Bruce Baron) – who is also a ninja master – is told about the situation and sent to Thailand on a special mission to destroy Michael (because, as we all know by now, only a ninja can stop a ninja). He doesn’t want to at first because, as we saw in that opening scene, he and Michael are friends from way back (presumably ninja school?) but his superior insists on it and Byron eventually relents (“well, an order is an order”, he muses, wiggling his moustache).

The link between the two films lies in Sorapong Chatree’s character, Chester. He is apparently working for Captain Byron but I think this just complicates what’s already an intricate set of shifting loyalties for him. He’s supposed to be doing some kind of double agent work, switching between the rebels and the emerald miners but it’s never quite clear what he’s doing or why. He seems to be a very bad agent, at one point nearly blowing the whole thing to stop and have a comedy sex scene with a woman he’s kidnapped. It’s also never quite clear what the mysterious Harold (“A bad enemy!”) has to do with things, nor the group of women dressed in the black who call themselves the Black Knights and ride horses around in the dark, killing people.

So yeah, while it has a few big setpieces, the source film has been butchered to the point where it no longer makes any sense at all, which really only leaves ninjologists to enjoy the new IFD footage. In fairness though, this is where all the good stuff is. We get a major bokken for our buck with disposable red ninjas duffed up every ten minutes or so courtesy of white and gold ninja Byron. Some of these fights take place in what I guess are Hong Kong skate parks so there’s some really rad 80s street art on display in the background.

To be honest, I wish the whole film had been set in these hotbeds of urban entropy, as the Thai jungles get very samey and dull to watch after a while, whereas who doesn’t want to see a ninja emerge from a doorway next to some obscure graffiti (which I’m guessing was put there by producer Joseph Lai on the day they shot it – an interesting clue, as it’s hard to pin down when some of these films were shot but I reckon this nails Ninja Destroyer as definitely February 1986)?

Anyway, the final fight is typically berserk with Smith and Baron – after briefly flirting (“You look alright” / “You look alright too”) – leaping over each other, disappearing and reappearing, attacking with fists, kicks and swords as they duel to the death after having a fierce argument that includes such choice lines as “Fuck the politicians!” (specifically in relation the Vietnam war but a proclamation of universal relevance) and “I’m not trying to be a fucking Rambo!” Obviously it all ends with sudden death and a purposeful walk into the sunset, as all IFD films do. This is by no means an essential example of what they can do but if you’re thirsty for ninjing and this is all you have on tap, then drink up.