Thursday, November 17, 2011

No posts on any of my blogs this week.

I am having really bad eye trouble. Hopefully, tomorrow's trip to the doctor will start to make things better.

I hope you'll check in at some point in the future.

Monday, November 14, 2011

'Sister Street Fighter': The cutest girl to ever kick ass

Sister Street Fighter (1978)
Starring: Sue Shiomi, Masashi Ishibashi, Emi Hayakawa, and Sonny Chiba
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When her older brother goes missing while on an undercover assignment for the Hong Kong police, teenaged martial arts prodigy Tina Long (Shiomi) travels to Japan where the drug-ring he was investigating is headquartered in the hopes of finding him. Her search brings her into conflict with dozens of martial artists in the employ of the gangsters, including the deadly Hammerhead (Ishibashi), a sworn foe of her brother. One young girl can't possibly prevail against such an array of evil, so she is joined by two Japanese martial artists (Chiba and Hayakawa) who, although belonging to a Karate school that espouses pacifism, kicks ass every bit as efficiently as Tina.

"Sister Street Fighter" is an immensely amusing and entertaining martial arts film. Sue Shiomi is quite possibly the cutest ass-kicker this side of anime. Like most actors in chop-socky movies from this period, she actually knows how to fight... and the extended battle scenes are all the more entertaining for it.

Another aspect of the film I found entertaining was the downright weirdness of it all. Although Tina is on a serious quest and fighting some very deadly enemies, the film has a cartoonish (and later video-gameish) quality to it that starts when she sets foot in Japan and feeds flies she skewers on toothpicks to drunken sailors who harass her, and continues through to the film's final battle royale. We have villains with odd quirks and signature weapons or outfits, we have trap doors that Tina just happens to stand on, we have gravity-defying leaps and martial arts moves, and we have distinct "encounter areas" where Tina faces bad guys that get progressively tougher and more bizarre.

The film also has a very little plot to get in the way of the fight scenes. The reason the bad guys go after Tina is flimsy in the extreme, and the ability she seems to have to pop up where needed (not to mention survive certain death) isn't explained, and the film moves so fast that the viewer doesn't really care. This is one movie where a lack of logic actually works!

This is not to say that the film might at one point featured a more logical, less video-game like story progression. The cut I viewed, which by all accounts is the standard North American release, had been subjected to some fairly obvious editing. Tina's first fight with Hammerhead starts in a forested area by a fence, but one jump-cut later, they are suddenly on cliffs by the sea--a chase or the beginning of the fight is clearly missing. Several gory deaths and a very unpleasant rape scene have also been truncated or completely cut from the film. These clumsy edits have probably gone a long way to making the movie seem as cartoonish as it is. (I suspect Tina's amazing survival after falling from a rope-bridge is actually explained in a version of the film somewhere out there.)

If you want to see one of the cutest martial artists to ever grace the silver screen in her first starring role--and aren't particularly bothered by logical lapses--I recommend checking out this movie.

I do want to caution those of you who might be interested in "Sister Street Fighter" because you believe it to be part of Sonny Chiba's "Street Fighter" series. The title and even the film's credits would lead you to believe that it is... and I've seen more than one online movie reviewer make a similar claim. However, the truth is that this film has nothing to do with Chiba's "Street Fighter" movies. Yes, the share several actors, including Chiba, but Chiba does not play Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi. Further, the tone of this film is completely different than the grittiness found in the Street Fighter movies... they are filled with outlandish violence, but they still feel more down-to-earth than the cartoony vibe that pervades "Sister Street Fighter". (In fact, this film was the first entry in an entirely separate series of martial arts movies that focused on Shiomi as Tina.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

'Challenge of the Lady Ninja' is so bad it's good

Challenge of the Lady Ninja (aka "Never Kiss a Ninja") (1987)
Starring: Elsa Yeung, Kam Yin Fie, Peng Kong, and Chen Kuan-Tai
Director: Tso Nam Lee
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A young Chinese woman (Yeung), trained in the secret ways of Japanese ninja, returns home to China to fight against the Japanese occupiers during World War 2. When she realizes that her one-time betrothed (Kuan-Tai) has turned traitor and is working for the Japanese, she creates a fighting force of other female ninjas to put an end to his evil and to battle her old rival from the Ninja Academy (Kong).

"Challenge of the Lady Ninja" is one of those movies that is observably wretched, yet so very fun to watch. For example, while the film makes a big deal out of being set during World War 2, there is very little attempt to dress characters in period costumes or otherwise make the film look like it takes place in the 1940s. All the fashions, gear, and cars all date from the 1980s.

Then there's the ninja spell that lets a woman transform her bright red ninja suit into a bikini and lets her perform a version of the Dance of the Seven Veils that fills onlookers with distracting lust. Add to this the rampant hatred of Japanese that was so common in Chinese action films through at least the 1980s, and you have a movie that's one that should be reserved for an audience with very specific tastes... or just bad taste.

For all its quirks and faults, the film is a lot of fun. The ninja hi-jinx are as silly as anything you'll find in a Joseph Lai/Godfrey Ho production, but they are fully integrated into the film's story and generally make more sense. It's also action packed, with a fight or a chase breaking out every five or so minutes, and each one as energetic as the one that came before.

The main selling point with this film is cute ninja babes kicking butt, and that it delivers in spades. The extended final showdown between our red-clad ninja heroine and the film's main baddie is well worth waiting for.

If you like goofy martial arts pictures, and especially if you enjoyed a film like "Sister Street Fighter", "Challenge of the Lady Ninja" will brighten your day. It would be a great addition to any Girl Power- or martial arts-themed Bad Movie Night. Just turn your brain off before you turn the DVD player on.

The deadliest of blogathons....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nine Days of the Ninja:
The Mystery of 'Ninja Death'

"Ninja Death" is a film and/or movie trilogy as mysterious as the ninja themselves.

Although I've done the same level of research that CNN does when vetting submitted questions for a Republican YouTube debate, I've been unable to discover much information about "Ninja Death". I've been able to identify a very small number of the actors in the film, I have no idea who directed it, originally produced it, or if it was even ever finished and released in its original homeland of China (or maybe Taiwan).

What I do know is that the "Ninja Death" trilogy was originally a REALLY long movie that was broken into three parts. Although a credit sequence was filmed--with ninja and each principal actor doing a couple of martial arts tricks and poses, no credits are listed on screen. The English dubbing seems to have run into financial difficulties, as the voice actors change a couple of different times throughout the movies--most noticably in "Ninja Death I" when the American/Australian voice actors are suddenly replaced by a bunch of British actors who all sound like they just got back from the Gay Pride Parade--so the lack of credits might be a result of the film being abandoned in the middle of the localization/export process.

Another theory I have is that the film wasn't even finished and released in its country of origin. It could be that the bloated running time of a little over four hours is where the film stood after its first cut by the now-anonymous director and editor... and that further editing would have taken place, but they never got to it. (There's an entire subplot with a farmer and his daugther that probably would have been cut if another editing pass has been done on the film when it was to be a single work.)

Whatever the case, "Ninja Death" was a production in trouble and it ran out of money at least once, perhaps even twice, and no one bothered to spend any money to completely finish it. Abandoned, and chopped into a "trilogy" it's now available in budget collections like the "Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack" (which is where I came by it/them). If anyone out there knows more about the history of the "Ninja Death" film/films, I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, here's my take on the three movies.

But first... important facts learned in "Ninja Death": Ninjas vote Republican, and nothing says romance like somnambu-rape.

(By the way, the films has a very catchy main theme. As I'm typing these words, I'm finding myself whistling it. Of course, the movie also strangely uses random James Bond themes and possibly music from other sources I'm not familiar with, so it could be that the "Ninja Death Theme" I'm humming is also originally from somewhere else.)

Ninja Death I (1979? 1983? 1999?)
Starring: Lo Yiu, Luk Yee Fung, and Alexander Lou (based on web research; no names on film)
Director: None credited
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The happy-go-lucky bouncer at a small-town Chinese brothel, Tiger (Lou), finds his life turned upside-down when secrets known only to his Kung Fu master (Fong) bring the Master and his hoard of fanatical, bloodthirsty ninja to town. As the ninjas are butchering beggars and prostitutes left and right, Tiger struggles to unlock his own mighty Ninja Power that lurks within his breast. But will he manage to do so in time, or will Ninja Death II" feature an all-new cast?

"Ninja Death I" is an example of what happens when a film project runs out of money and is abandoned. Not only do the voice actors change completely halfway through (suddenly, everyone in the film developes British accents, and the voice actor portraying Tiger goes from American and moderately talented to British and totally talent free), but no one even bothered placing English language credits over the extensive opening sequence or even to add a "To Be Continued" over the spinning Bad Guy at the abrupt end of the film. (And there's no doubt the film was made to have credits, becauze each major character gets to do goofy ninja stuff against a red background and then pose at the point the actor's name and the character he or she portrays should appear).

Speaking of Goofy Ninja Stuff... this film has it in spades! This is the kind of movie I was hoping to come across when I decared November Ninja Month. The film features an Evil Ninja Cult Leader (the "Grand Master") who has come to town with his band of black-clad ninjas, a red-clad, masked madman who is unleashed by the playing of a flute, and a band of prostitutes who are going to help him in his quest... which is to find a man with a plum flower tattooed on his chest. (And what better way to get a look at beefcake than to have an abundance of Japanese prostitutes on hand?)

And the ninjas are exactly the kind of ninjas you'd expect. They are creeping around in the forest and attacking people. They are running with tiny steps and in single file while holding their swords at awkward angles. They are killing Japanese lords while they are having sex. They are wiping out entire households. They are scamperring up ropes while barely hanging onto them. They are leaping into treetops from a standing start. They are performing acrobat tumbles for absolutely no reason. They are hiding deep, dark secrets. They are infiltrating the citizenry and each other's ranks, just because they can. They are killing beggars and whores just because they can. AND they are appearing and dissapearing under the cover of smoke boms! Ah, joy... Goofy Ninja Stuff in abundance!

In addition to the Goofy Ninja Stuff, this film has lots of silly and extreme martial arts training techniques and nonsensical "wisdom" from the martial arts master, not to mention lots of really badly translated dialogue that is made even funnier by the questionable talent of the voice actors.

On the downside, "Ninja Death I" is unnecessarily crude at times. I'm by no means a prude, but the unmotivated sex scenes and sexually charged behavior and language from some characters was more irritating than entertaining. (The extended sex scene during the explanation of "what is a ninja" was particularly obnoxious and dull. If you're going to put crap in your movie in search of an R or X rating, at least make it entertaining.)

"Ninja Death I" is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It's not even that good a movie, but there are some nifty martial arts fight scenes and much silly Ninja Stuff! (Plus, this is the film that proves the statement "Ninjas Vote Republican". Why else would they kill all the beggars and Chinese prostitutes in the town?)

Ninja Death II (1979? 1983? 1999?)
Starring: Alexander Lou and Fei Meng (I think; no credits on film)
Director: Someone whose name was left off the credits
Steve's Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A young martial artist-in-training named Tiger (Lou) is being stalked by Evil Ninja. After his master and adopted father is defeated by Ninjas, almost killed, and then commits suicide by punching himself in the head for God-only-knows-what-reason as he hadn't finished telling telling everything he needed to know about his past, the deadly Masked Ninja, and why the Grand Master's Evil Ninja Cult that's out to kill him, Tiger continues to study the Art of the Ninja under new masters, including a pair of double-agents among the Grand Master's own ranks. But will he survive when he chooses to confront the Grand Master before his training is complete?

"Ninja Death II" is the middle part of a looong Chinese martial arts film that was divided into three seperate movies for export, and it feels like the middle of a long movie. Very little actually happens in the "film" and about 20 minutes are actually repeated footage from "Ninja Death I". (Oddly, these flashbacks don't do a whole lot to explain who the various players in the movie's plot are, so they're included more for padding than to catch up those who haven't seen the first installment in this trilogy.)

"Ninja Death II" also repeats the credit-less opening and closing sequences that were featured on the first film, but the voice actors (which suddenly became British halfway through "Ninja Death I") are back to being American. As a result, our hero, Tiger, is back to sounding like a doofus instead of a Gay Pride icon.

In this installment of the series, we are treated to boring, overlong sequences with Tiger trying to master the fighting style of Ninjas (which, in this film's conception is the "royal style" of Japan's nobility), we learn a few secrets about Tiger's history, and we have Tiger rape yet another girl while sleeping. (His first somnambu-rape was of a ninja call-girl in "Ninja Death I". Here, he forces himself upon an innocent peasant girl while dreaming about his first victim. And, just like the ninja call-girl, the peasant woman seems to fall in love with Tiger after being raped. Those wacky Chinese....) The only interesting plot developments occur when the Grand Master--who's the only Oriental villain with worse fashion sense than Fu Manchu--discovers the traitors in his ranks and sends his Ninja after them, and the Masked Ninja escapes and ends up on a fatal collision course with Tiger, who, unbeknownst to him, is the son of the Masked Ninja.

As for the fight scenes and Ninja Death Action that made "Ninja Death I" entertaining, we don't even get much of that here. With the exception of a fight where the Grand Master shows that he has big balls (in both senses of that), everything else in "Ninja Death II" is subplot material, filler material, and tasteless somnambu-rape scenes.

Speaking of rape.... For some reason, the filmmakers used James Bond theme music in both scenes involved forced sexual encounters. The first scene was in a Japanese household where the theme from "You Only Live Twice" is heard as a drunkard rapes the adopted mother of three boys as they watch. Then, we hear the theme from "Man With the Golden Gun" as Tiger rapes the peasant girl. And it's not downbeat or suspense-oriented versions of the tunes either... it's quiet, romantic renditions. Nothing says romance like somnambu-rape!)

Ninja Death III (1979? 1983? 1999?)
Starring: Alexander Lou, Fei Meng, and a buch of other actors whose names aren't on the credits
Director: Someone whose name was left off the credits
Steve's Rating: Four of Ten Stars

In the third installment of this epic tale of revenge, Tiger (Lou) discovers he's the son of the Japanese emporer's sister, completes his training in the martial arts style of the Imperial Japanese (and some other obscure fighting style that comes from who-knows-where), and joins his allies-- a blind Kung Fu master, three monks who live in barrels, a samurai, and a brother/sister pair of ninja--in a final battle to the death against the evil Grand Master and his cult of murderous Evil Ninja.

"Ninja Death III" is all about Kung Fu fighter and ninja killing. There's some plot here--including the soap operatic elements of Tiger and his mother being reunited--but it's so nonsensical and badly motivated that you're better off pretending it doesn't exist. The confusing isn't help any by the fact the characters are speaking lines so badly translated into English that in some places it's hard to grasp their meaning. (If you watch this film and can figure out why the Blind Master and Sakura, Tiger's Ninja Squeeze, decide to play a game of cross and double-cross with the Grand Master, drop me a line. It makes absolutely no sense to me.)

Although a step up from "Ninja Death II"--and it starts promisingly with a brief and useful recap of the previous films--this closing chapter dissapoints more than it entertains, despte the good fight scenes (where many of the bizarre excersizes Tiger's ninja trainer back in the first film subjected him to come in handy). The biggest dissapointment is the Masked Ninja. He is unleashed yet again, but we get very little payoff action- or storywise for all the buildup.

"Ninja Death III" is as full of goofiness as the first two chapters in the series, but I am hard-pressed to describe it as "good", or even recommend it for a Bad Movie Night; it's a little too stupid and some parts feel padded. (The best thing I can say about the film is that Tiger gets through it without raping a single girl in his sleep.)

I wonder, though, if this film couldn't be salvaged with better dubbing/translation and extensive editing. The creditless credit sequences seem to show that this film was abandoned while in process (at least as far as the exporting of it went), and I wonder if there is a single 95-minute good movie lurking within the 260-minute running time of the current the three installments.