Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Mysterious 'Ninja Death' Trilogy

"Ninja Death" is a film 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.


  1. it's entertaining for sure but the above is pretty spot on accurate.

  2. After accidentally watching Ninja Death I last night and seeing the amazing Devil Mask cliff hanger ending, I immediately started to watch Ninja Death II only to fall asleep and re-awaken at the same exact Devil Mask cliff hanger ending to realize there were 3 Ninja Death movies! So I'll obviously have to watch Ninja Death III (as soon as I can re-watch Ninja Death II of course) and almost feel like taking on my first "Editing" gig after reading this review. All I know for certain is that Ninja Death I was the most amazing movie I've ever stumbled upon.

  3. Weird thing about this movie, when I watched it when I was younger the whole brothel scenes were taking out and all three movies were edited into one...better dubbing and as I remember It the one I saw was a lot better than these originals