Ninja: American Warrior

Director: Tommy Cheng (a.k.a Godfrey Ho)
Joff Houston, John Wilford, Glen Carson

As you have probably seen if you've been exploring this web site for a while, I try to keep a steady balance for the most part. True, I restrict myself to movies that are more or less unknown, but I do my best to review all sorts of unknown movies, from comedies to fantasy films. However, as I have pointed out before, if you look at my "genre" index, you will see that one particular genre easily beats out the other genres in the amount of movies I have reviewed for that genre. And that genre happens to be the action genre. There are several reasons for why that is so, but one of the biggest reasons - if not the biggest reason - is that I consider myself a macho kind of guy. I am a man, and I like manly things, the more manly the better. And it can quite often be hard in other aspects of my life to find manly things that can satisfy my desire for things that are macho. For instance, when I trot to the local book store I am often appalled to see certain books for sale that are extremely popular with other people, from the Twilight series to Life Of Pi. What about television? Well, there are occasionally some manly things broadcast on the medium, but often when network programmers think is manly is really a joke. Take the cable channel Spike, for instance, a channel that is supposed to be for manly men. I find a lot of their programming terrible. For instance, there was the reality television show World's Worst Tenants, a supposed hard-hitting look at the crazy world of property rental and crazy tenants. I suppose a show with a premise like that could have been really interesting, but the show was instantly ruined by the decision to totally fake all the situations and supposed tenants, a fact that was painfully obvious to any viewer with half a brain.

So you may understand that more often than not when I need some assurance that the world is filled with manly men as manly as I am, I fall back on the reliable medium of motion pictures. To be more specific, motion pictures that deal with the action genre. One doesn't have to do much work to find an action movie that deals with real men doing manly things, no matter what country you might live in. It isn't just the United States that makes action movies after all, and foreigners often make action movies with their own spin that can seem fresh to westerners like me. One of my favorite kinds of foreign action movies are those that deal with ninjas. Even just a brief look at these movies reveals the appeal of the ninja. Ninjas are trained in the martial arts, for one thing, and as you probably know, martial arts battles are more often than not more spectacular than simple slug-fests. Ninjas also happen to carry a vast collection of weapons - such as swords, shurikens, and sais - that can inflict a great deal of damage and cause a lot of blood to start squirting, which can be great eye candy. Most of all, ninjas are highly skilled at their mission statement - to assassinate with stealth. What's not to like? There are a lot more people out there who admire ninjas than you might think. I know this personally. I have a friend whose brother, when he was in high school, admired the art of the ninja so much that he decided to construct his own pair of nunchakus in his family's garage. From what I heard, they would do real ninjas proud. Unfortunately, his mother was one of the few people who don't appreciate the art of ninjustsu, and got him to destroy the weapons, giving him the lame excuse that those weapons under Canadian law were deemed illegal.

But I have to confess that there is another reason why I enjoy ninja movies so much besides the action and adventure they so often deliver. I enjoy a lot of ninja movies because quite often they are unintentionally funny. True, there are some enjoyable serious-minded ninja movies Ninja: American Warriorlike Ninja Assassin and the Isaac Florentine Ninja, but those ninja movies are in the minority - most ninja movies have plenty of ludicrous elements. In their quest to make ninjas superhuman warriors, filmmakers have gone over the top in these portrayals. The fact that many of these movies take previously shot non-ninja movies and edited in ninja footage makes them even silllier. In the past I've reviewed several such insane ninja movies, and I thought that was enough. But recently I got a sign that I should review at least one more. That sign was stumbling across a 4 movie DVD set of ninja movies in a pawn shop - 4 ninja movies from the Hong Kong studio Filmark, the kings of cut-and-paste ninja movies, most made by the notorious Godfrey Ho. It was difficult to pick which of the four movies I would review. In the end, I chose Ninja: American Warrior. The title alone was silly enough, not just that it was obviously aping the silly Golan/Globus American Ninja movie, but with its suggestion that the ninja was a product of American culture. Anyway, to the movie! The first bit of silliness comes with the opening credits when they state the names of the actors. There is one actor listed with the name of "Joff Houston". No, not "Jeff", but "Joff". Yes, a little research reveals that "Joff" is a real first name, but the Internet Movie Database entry for the movie reveals that the actor's real first name is indeed "Jeff". I don't know if Mr. Houston insisted on using a pseudonym or if it was a spelling mistake by the credits guy, but it's the first sign that we are in for a big ride.

As the remainder of the credits unfold, the movie starts underneath them. A white-clad ninja and a yellow-clad ninja are sneaking around in an area of tall grass. Suddenly in this same area we see a young Caucasian woman clad in yellow sweatpants and a yellow sweatshirt, with a blue bandana around her forehead. My first instinct was that this woman got lost on her way to the aerobics studio, but she seems to be at this location for some purpose. Suddenly the yellow ninja appears and attacks the woman. Wildly whipping her arms and legs as if she was at an aerobics studio, she defeats the yellow ninja. For no apparent reason, she then immediately leaps into the air and lands a few feet away. Seconds later, she is attacked by a red-clad ninja, one carrying small hoops as weapons. Though the red ninja tries to defeat the woman with '50s nostalgia, he is quickly defeated, and vanishes into thin air. The red ninja is then seen several feet away, and while observing the woman in hiding, he rubs his glove-clad hands in anticipation so hard that his hands are soon ablaze. With fire on his gloves, he launches a new attack on the woman. But despite fire on his side, the woman makes short work of this ninja, pummelling him with blows that don't always make noise when they connect, and sometimes making noise when the woman's feet and hands are away from the ninja's body. Seconds after the defeated red ninja disappears in a puff of smoke, the now gleeful woman exclaims, "Ha ha! Now only the black ninja Cougar remains. I'd deal with him tonight!"

She then starts to put on a pale white mask with long black hair. Abruptly, the movie cuts to a sunset, followed by stock footage of some unidentified Asian city aglow with neon at night... while what sounds like Italian spaghetti western music playing on the soundtrack. Then we cut to a traditional-looking large Asian house, where we see an unidentified young Asian woman sneaking around the complex. As she sneaks around, she is attacked by several guards, all of which are carrying swords and other traditional weapons instead of guns for some reason. Maybe it's to fit with the style of the house. Anyway, she makes quick work of these guards until she gets to a darkened room on the second floor. She is suddenly hit by an arrow. Wounded, she finds herself attacked by a black-clad opponent who in short order kills her. Seconds later, a well-dressed man enters the room flanked by two guards. "Very good - just one minute," says the well-dressed man to the black-clad fighter that killed the woman. The black clad fighter reaches down to the dead woman, and pulls off a mask, revealing the face of the Caucasian woman in the first scene of the movie. But... the mask the woman put on in the first scene wasn't the least bit detailed in the face to look like an Asian woman. There is an explanation for this, though. Obviously, the first scene was some newly shot footage. Then taking some older footage made for another movie and editing it in, while also inserting a new shot of the dead Caucasian woman when the black-clad fighter bent down to examine the body of the woman, the filmmakers no doubt felt they made a seamless new story. Well, I've got news for them: the deception is VERY obvious. I have the feeling things are going to get crazier from this point.

The well-dressed man asks the black-clad fighter what his price is. The black-clad fighter says one hundred thousand dollars, explaining that he has been trained in "time warp kung fu". After the well-dressed man says he'll pay the fee, unless "Amazonia" is killed, we cut to the morning, where two Caucasian men in a rowboat in the ocean paddle to a beach where three Asian men are waiting. It's soon made clear that a drug deal is about to happen, a deal that is being watched by some police, who quickly leap in and capture the five drug criminals. As the criminals are being handcuffed, one of the Caucasian men, a young-looking chap, suddenly grabs his chest and moans, "My heart! Give me my pills!" In the confusion, he grabs a cop and the cop's gun, and hold the cop hostage, demanding the other cops "untie" his fellow criminals... who are actually handcuffed and not tied up. Chaos soon reigns, and what follows is some of the lamest martial arts I've ever seen in a movie, as the cops and criminals duke it out. Soon the cops overpower the criminals, though one gets away in the process. As the cops lead their prisoners through the jungle, they are followed by a mysterious white-haired man. The man eventually leaps in with his gun blazing, and cuts down the cops. Freeing the very happy prisoners, I couldn't help but notice that now there were only three criminals as prisoners. Where on earth did the fourth prisoner disappear to? Well, I think that by now I should have not been expecting the movie to make any sense.

We cut to a tall building in downtown Big Unidentified Asian City. Inside, two western men are talking about one Justin Taylor, and it's mentioned that Taylor has just, for the fourth time, has used war techniques against the Hong Kong police. Okay, now I know where this is all happening, though frankly I'm surprised the filmmakers added just a little sense to this movie. Anyway, we learn that Taylor is now the biggest dealer in narcotics. In talking, the senior of the two men mentions that he knows the man he's speaking to knew Taylor in Vietnam. Also, this particular Vietnam vet happens to be well-versed in the art of ninjutsu, so he has two things going for his assignment: Stop Taylor. It's also mentioned that the still-unseen "Amazonia" has been trained by the Hong Kong police and will help this still-unidentified ninja Vietnam vet in his assignment. Well, those murky details are quickly corrected. We next see Amazonia in training, showing her skills in firearms as well as kung fu, and in short notice she meets the mysterious Vietnam vet, who is identified as "John". But then the movie immediately turns to being confusing again. Suddenly we cut to a previously unseen man at a shoeshine stand passing something to the child shoe shiner, telling her to pass it to his cop friend. He is then chased down by two unidentified men and eventually cornered, which makes him put up a good fight but eventually getting stabbed in the gut. He is searched by the two men, but they don't find what they were searching for, which I assume was the mysterious item he passed to the shoeshine kid.

While we in the audience are scratching our heads, the movie knows what to do next: introduce more characters so we have even more difficulty figuring out what's going on! The shoeshine boy goes to his Uncle Chow, and gives him what the gut-stabbed man earlier gave him, which is finally identified as a cassette tape. Subsequently, the criminals tracked down Uncle Chow, and he soon finds himself fighting for his life with a pair of pruning loppers. As he fights, his significant other enters the scene and cries out, "Charlie!" Charlie Chow? Is Charlie a popular name in Hong Kong? Anyway, to make a long story short, the criminals get the cassette tape and kill Charlie and his significant other. Next we cut back to John and Amazonia, talking as they walk down the street. In short order, it is decided that John will take care of Taylor, while Amazonia will take care of the local triads. In this scene, as well as the earlier scene where John and Amazonia met for the first time, there is a very obvious observance: In both of these scenes, you never see the face of the actress playing Amazonia. She keeps her back to the camera each and every second in these scenes. The explanation for this is pretty obvious: The people filming the new scenes for this mishmash couldn't get the services of the actress who played the Amazonia character in the previously filmed movie for one reason or another, so they had to get a stand-in to play the character. A stand-in that didn't look anything like the original actress, which is why she is shown with her back to the camera.

Not to worry, if you missed the original actress - the next scene of the movie consists of original footage of the Amazonia actress. Sitting at a disco, Amazonia laments to a previously unseen character (later identified as "Ricky") about the demise of the Chows. A third person, an Asian woman named "Tina" joins them. They then discuss one of the triad bosses in the area, a woman named "Shrew". They decide that this is one shrew that has to be tamed, though she is guarded by two right hand men. Suddenly the trio are jumped by some unidentified man, and a fight breaks out. The fight is soon resolved in the favor of the three heroes, though who attacked and why is not made very clear. After Ricky and Amazonia exit the disco and walk the mean streets of Hong Kong at night, they are quickly attacked. First it's with fired bullets, which make a ricochet noise when they miss Ricky and Amazonia and land instead in a pile of dirt. The two go into a construction site for cover from the attacking bad guys - one of which happens to be that black-clad fighter who first appeared in the second scene of the movie. As you remember, he was ordered not to kill Amazonia, but he attacks her all the same for some unknown reason. Then... well, that's about the first half hour of the movie. There's still about an hour to go. There is definitely a lot more insanity to unfold before our eyes, but I have to confess that I didn't find the last two-thirds of the movie as hilarious as the first third. The story gets bogged down, and the rapid-fire pace of craziness slows down. Still, there are definitely some really dumb moments to come, and when you combine those moments with the hysterical ones of the first third of the movie, the movie comes up with enough entertainment to make it well worth it to those - like me - who can't get enough of crazy ninja movies like this one.

(Posted August 17, 2017)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Mafia Vs. Ninja, Ninja Champion, Sakura Killers