184. NINJA CHAMPION (1985)

“The script… for one thing, it would be written in twice translated English. So we would be sitting there looking at it saying ‘what the hell does this mean?’ for one thing. And then Godfrey would sort of explain the plot, in his kind of hyper, babbling way, and then we’d sort of make it up on the spot and try to figure out for him what he wanted. Then they’d splice it together and really the only time I’d see what he was going for was when I’d see the thing in the dubbing studio when we’d come back a month later when it was edited. But even then, as you know, they really really don’t… make… sense. There’s the merest suggestion of a hint of a plot somewhere in there. But no, it was very much making it up as we went along.”–Actor Ed Chworowsky on the experience of working on Godfrey Ho movies

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Nancy Chan, Jack Lam, Bruce Baron,  Pierre Tremblay, Richard Harrison

PLOT: Rose infiltrates a diamond-smuggling ring intending to kill the three men who raped her. Rose’s ex-lover George, an ex-Interpol agent, leaves his new wife to help her attain her vengeance. Meanwhile, another Interpol agent, who is also a ninja, gradually kills off other ninjas who, though a convoluted scheme, are behind both the smuggling operation and the rape.

Still from Ninja Champion (1985)
BACKGROUND:

  • Ninja Champion was selected to go on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies in the 5th Readers Choice Poll.
  • The 1981 movie Enter the Ninja (with Sho Kosugi and Franco Nero) was a modest exploitation hit that introduced Western moviegoers to the concept of the stealthy Japanese assassin. In the early and mid 1980s there was a mini-craze for ninja movies, which producers Joseph Lai and Betty Chan and director Godfrey Ho attempted to cash in on by making dozens of movies with “Ninja” in the title. Ho’s methodology was to acquire older martial arts movies (some unfinished or unreleased) and shoot new footage involving ninjas, which would then be clumsily spliced into the older film to make a new movie. This filmmaking technique is known as “cut-and-paste,” and Lai’s Hong Kong-based IFD Films and Arts Limited released almost a hundred of them before the fad died out.
  • Godfrey Ho may have directed IFD movies under other pseudonyms, and sometimes cut-and-paste movies have been attributed to him although there’s no clear evidence Ho worked on them. The Internet Movie Database credits Ho with directing 119 movies. Of these, 50 incorporate the word “Ninja,” including such titles as Ninja the Violent Sorcerer, Ninja in the Killing Fields, Ninja Terminator, Clash of the Ninjas, Bionic Ninja, and Full Metal Ninja.
  • According to the website Neon Harbor, the base film to which Godfrey Ho added the ninja footage to create Ninja Champion was a Korean movie called Bam-eul Beosgineun Dogjangmi (translated as Poisonous Rose Stripping the Night).
  • Prolific, down-on-his-luck B-movie actor Richard Harrison contracted to make a few movies in Hong Kong for Ho; unbeknownst to him, the footage he shot was cut up and used in approximately twenty-one new pictures. He was sometimes re-dubbed so he could speak lines related to the new plot. In multiple movies (including this one) he plays an Interpol agent named Gordon who is seen delivering orders to field agents while speaking into a telephone shaped like popular comic strip cat Garfield.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Normally, you would say the image of two Caucasian ninjas engaged in a duel to the death while wearing headbands that read “ninja” would be hard to beat. In this movie, however, the unforgettable image has to be Nancy Chan’s topless scene, where the luminescence of her diamond-studded breasts makes the bottom half of the screen look like someone smeared Vaseline all over the lens.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s two weird movies in one, as a ridiculous Korean rape revenge martial arts movie gets a Godfrey Ho makeover with an overlaid Interpol/ninja plot that turns the original from a baffling trifle into a truly deranged and nearly incomprehensible example of exploitation cinema.


Clip from Ninja Champion (courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment)

COMMENTS: Ninja Champion doesn’t necessarily make it onto the List of the 366 weirdest movies on its own merits—although no one who sees it could possibly come away thinking it was anything but a bizarrely misguided attempt at moviemaking—but instead as a representative example of the weird life work of inimitable cut-and-paste ninja master Godfrey Ho, who’s something of the of Hong Kong. We might just have easily enshrined Ninja Empire on the basis of its exploding ninjas, or chosen Ninja: the Protector for its ninja cult in heavy guyliner. And I half-fear that, after I finally see it, I will regret not holding out to anoint Ninja Terminator and its gas-spewing toy robots as the true champion of Ho’s entire opus.

Ninja Champion does boast significant bizarre assets, however, including the ridiculousness of the underlying rape-revenge movie that’s packed with more “WTF?” moments than is standard even in this illogical genre. It all starts with the eyebrow raising scene where, to prove her smuggling cred to an opium-smoking crime boss, our heroine Rose opens her blouse wide to display the diamonds she has been hiding.  It’s obviously a cheap ploy to smuggle some nudity into the film—but—the actress’ breasts (and the pilfered jewels) are blurred so that nothing can be seen. (It’s not a case of censorship, as a naked nipple does appear in the film later, courtesy of a body double). It looks like someone smeared a thick wad of Vaseline on the bottom half of the camera lens. We are even treated to leering, full-frame closeups of her smudged, impossible to ogle chest. This begs the question: is this the first exploitation movie in history to manage the oxymoronic feat of including a gratuitous topless scene with no nudity in it?

Rose’s incredibly confusing tale also involves a blouse that magically reappears after being ripped off, an ophidiophobic gangster subject to abrupt nightmare sequences, a “retard” (the movie’s word, not mine) henchman who talks like a seal, and an identical twin subplot for added obfuscation of an already impossible-to-follow story. But where Ninja Champion really shines is in its absurd dialogue. In between trying to follow the twisted, ludicrous plotline and watching for continuity errors, you can thrill to sparkling lines like these:

“OK, you can help me kill them if you like, but I’m still going to kill you!  It’s over, George!”

“We ninjas are getting bored.  Can we start now?”

“You know how we women are. I’d like to go to my death looking my delectable best.”

“My gun shows no compassion.”

And of course, this immortal exchange:

“The wine, there must have been something in it!  Oh God!”

“Not the wine, my nipples, you jerk!”

Even the crummiest Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest cheapie usually salvages some entertainment value from its fight scenes, and Ninja Champion is no exception. The battles in the base movie are standard issue kung fu fun, but Ho’s ninja addenda really up the insanity level. First off, “white” ninja Bruce Baron always discovers the evil ninjas he is stalking while they are practicing their circus tricks. (He comes across one who is spinning plates). The final battle, however, is a doozy in which Ho uses his whole bag of tricks. Set in an abandoned playground, it’s preceded by a two-minute bad guy monologue (punctuated by evil belly laughs) in which the red-clad villain attempts to tie himself into the plot of the movie with a convoluted explanation of why he arranged for Rose’s rape. This angers the white ninja, so he crosses his hands and disappears into thin air. So does the red ninja, but the both soon reappear with their faces cloaked, each wearing a headband that helpfully identifies him as a “ninja” (in Chinese, English, and pictogram!) They somersault towards each other, grasp each other by the forearm (the Foley crackles with the intensity of their bone-snapping holds), and then the combatants cross ankles and shuffle to and fro like they’re performing some bizarre 80s dance craze. Various weapons and shields materialize in their hands. Standing backflips are their preferred defensive maneuver. The contest seesaws back and forth until the bad ninja makes the fatal mistake of lying on top of the monkeybars, which exposes his entire torso and allows the good ninja to anticlimactically stab him from underneath. The entire battle is set, naturally, to faux “Miami Vice” synthpop. Try not to get a crick in your neck from shaking your head in disbelief.

Godfrey Ho was a unique artist who believed there was no movie so bad, no cinematic problem so intractable, that could not be salvaged with the addition of ninja footage. To Ho, basic continuity was a luxury that only big-budget productions could afford; he was confident that the meat-and-potatoes masses wouldn’t care if a movie makes absolutely no sense, as long as it had frequent ninja battles. You must turn off your rational faculties to enjoy Ninja Champion. Otherwise, you will be rewinding the DVD every five minutes, trying to solve riddles like “where did that actress’ new blouse come from?,” “who was that guy and why he just disappear for no reason?,” and “how in the heck did she get those handcuffs off?” It’s a chopped-up chopsocky that will drive you mad if you try to understand it on a logical level; it can only be championed as an exploitative explosion of idiotic id.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…simply one of the most insane so-called ‘movies’ that I’ve ever seen.”–Keith Bailey, The Unknown Movies (DVD)

“…a sometimes unpleasant, sometimes (unintentionally) hilarious and always confounding work of dumbassery.”–Joe Burrows, The Action Mutant Reviews (DVD)

“By Godfrey Ho standards, this particular outing is relatively straightforward. By any other standard of moviemaking, it’s still a silly, nonsensical oddity, but what we have here is more or less a revenge drama with a couple of spliced-in ninja moments.”–Comeuppance Reviews (DVD)

IMDB LINK: Ninja Champion (1985)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Ninja Champion – The Cinema Snob – 23-minute snarky comic video review

AoA #3: My Man Godfrey (Ho) – Good background information on Ho and IFD, using Ninja Champion as an example of a typical production

4 Reasons “Ninja Champion” Is the Best Ninja Movie Ever – Observations and background on the film from the Neon Harbor website (look for the fun animated gif of the plate-spinning ninja)

CAPSULE: NINJA CHAMPION (1985) – This site’s original review of Ninja Champion. Material from that piece was incorporated into this entry to make an entirely new review.

DVD INFO:

 The best deal to obtain Ninja Champion is to buy Mill Creek’s “Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack,” which also contains the Godfrey Ho-directed features Ninja Empire and Ninja: the Protector alongside other borderline weird chopsockies like City Ninja (scripted, but not directed, by Ho), Kung Fu Arts (co-starring “Sida, the French monkey star”), the epic fantasy Return of the Kung Fu Dragon, and 44 other silly (and occasionally even good) butt-kickers. Be warned that there have been at least two different editions of this set, as Mill Creek has lost the rights to certain movies over the years, but Ninja Champion should always be a cornerstone. With four movies are pressed onto double-sided disks, the picture quality is not good, but then again each of these movies has been copied from VHS masters and there aren’t any restored editions made from pristine prints for most of them (Ninja Champion included).

Should you prefer to save a few dollars while sacrificing 49 bonus movies, you can buy Ninja Champion on its own from Synergy Entertainment (buy). If you look around you can also find it on various double-feature kung fu discs.

Ninja Champion can also be rented or downloaded on video-on-demand (rent or buy) (it’s free if you have Amazon Prime).

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