The Action Mutant…
doesn’t even know what that means!
review by Joe Burrows
I have read everything from “It’s the greatest martial arts saga ever made” (with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, I’m sure) to “Why wasn’t this ever on MST3K?” Reading this kind of “buzz” made me want to see Ninja Death which, as at it turns out, is not just a feature length film but a three part serial. I should have realized this when the first part didn’t really end…it just kind of stopped in mid-stream. Then again, does a film that has no opening or closing credits really end to begin with? End…to begin with? Did I just say that? Harrumph! I had obviously found a formidable film to review in Ninja Death, a flick so bad (or good) that it could make my head spontaneously combust in a bright, red scream…or just develop a dull headache after thinking about it too much.
The Plot, as it was:
Alexander Lou is Tiger, a bouncer at a Hong Kong brothel who is dismayed to learn that another brothel has opened up on the other side of town. The Grand Master (the owner of the new brothel and, judging by his costuming, an extra from Flash Gordon) did not just set up shop to compete as he is looking for the man that possesses a tattoo of a plum flower on his chest. The tattoo is symbolic of future greatness for the one who wears it…and a target for those wanting to take him out. Tiger’s mentor The Master (who apparently isn’t good enough to be “Grand”) readies his tattooed pupil for combat against GM and his many fighters, which includes Devil Mask, a crazy cat that can be lulled into calmness or combat by a play of Grand Master’s flute. Oh, and there’s seemingly a dozen other parallel plotlines that appear & reappear without rhyme or reasoning.
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Knowing of Ninja Death’s existence is one thing; watching the whole 254 minute trek from bell to bell is another. I did NOT watch this all in one sitting, mind you. I may be a masochist but I don’t advocate running crotch first into a cactus either, since both of these activities are as equally risky. Let’s put it another way…think of every amateurish trapping that cheap kung fu flicks that air on your local TV station at 2 a.m. are known for. Now think of them running non-stop for a little over four hours. Mind bending, no? Though viewing Ninja Death in three increments doesn’t make it any better in quality, it does help absorb the eternal badness of it all. The first part is not only loaded with some (admittedly) good fight scenes but enough gratuitous sex & raunchy jokes to make you think this was produced in Canada by two guys from National Lampoon (and with a budget to match, too!). Part two gets relentlessly talky & ends up making for a boring midsection by trying to fill in all of the backstory at once (like anyone is actually watching this for the plot, which is a mess to put it lightly). The concluding third goes all out with the fight scenes & actually ends this polarizing craziness about as well as it can be. All of this doesn’t make the viewer forget that this is staggeringly horrible, yet it is strangely watchable in its ineptness. Hell, the dubbed voices switched from American to British mid-way through the first part! The SFX & dialogue are laughable (In response to Tiger wanting a fire to be made, Master retorts “If we made a fire, the cold air would go directly into your body and kill you!” Remember that one for camping trips, scouts.) and some of the deaths are absurd to the extreme. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all you can ask for in your grade Z, chop socky fare & Ninja Death delivers in spades. If only there was more Devil Mask!
Body Count/Violence: 126! (Part 1=73, Part 2=16, Part 3=37). Seeing as it clocks in at over four hours, the rate of death in Ninja Death may not be as great as you’d expect. However, the troublemaker kid in you will be on the floor once ninjas of all kinds are stabbed & slashed with swords from every corner. Along with the standard martial arts (which are pretty fun & actually the one part of the production resembling competence), there’s a decapitation & a bashed in head or two. Of course, Devil Mask provides the best NINJA DEATH as he rips off a guard’s head & pulls what appears to be phone cord covered in cranberry sauce out of another guard’s chest (or out of his vest…I could have been mistaken).
Sexuality/Nudity: Tiger’s whorehouse shows off a good deal of bare breasts & behind, either in undress or in some sexual position. There are two lengthy sex scenes, including a flashback scene complete with the screen focused in a golden tint so…that’s classy, huh?
Language/Dialogue: Not a lot but there are a few “shits” & Tiger responding to his whorehouse being slain by yelling “Who did it, motherfuckers?” in a manner so out of place you’d think Van Damme said it.
How bad was it?:
Apparently, only a small number of reprobates and/or unemployed know of Ninja Death because there isn’t much in the way of opinion for it. Every piece of fan feedback I read pretty much echoes my statements of it being one of the most hilariously inept kung fu epics ever put on celluloid.
Did it make the studio’s day?:
There are only two credited actors & an unaccredited director listed on IMDB so I’m just assuming this crap was produced by magic, crack smoking pixies and distributed by some one with a Mexican black tar heroin addiction. It was supposedly distributed in Hong Kong in 1987 but it looks like it was made a few years before that to me. It’s available on DVD through Reel Classic Films (two disc set, no less!) or in the now infamous Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack Collection that you can find on Amazon for fairly cheap.
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****
Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.