A Life Of Ninja (1983)

Directed by: Lee Tso-Nam
Written by: Sze To-On
Producer: Richard Cheung Kuen
Starring: Chen Kuan-Tai, Chen Hung-Lieh, Elsa Yeung, Yasuaki Kurata & Peng Kong

 

Distributed in English by Tomas Tang's Filmark (although in an unaltered state, aside from the English dub), Lee Tso-Nam seems to be aiming for a fine depiction of ninjitsu but soon he reveals that being fine about arts is not proper art in this case. No, the art of ninjitsu OF COURSE contains female mud wrestling and on a path A Life Of Ninja has set us on via this inclusion mixed with rigorous training akin to children athletes out of China.

Before he gets us to the rather mundane and way too seriously told plot about a ninja expert played by Chen Kuan-Tai being hired as a bodyguard (and used by the police for his expertise) by a company boss (played with constant anger by Chen Hung-Lieh) who is targeted by the Eiga clan (led by Yusuaki Kurata), Lee from the suitably smoky hideout for the Eiga clan demonstrates further. One such demonstration revolves around the fact that ninjas operate in the dark but the film curiously cuts to a shot with them operating in daylight and the various art of lady ninja tactics, including flashing, must not be left unmentioned. Lee's frame of mind is definitely correct and his combo of thrash and sleaze easily outweighs the otherwise straight faced narrative. In a normal cinematic world, this would mean elements and a big ol' ugle clash but it becomes oddly beautiful to see Lee Tso-Nam pour it on while the actors and characters are forced to never crack a smile. Which includes Elsa Yeung as the sister-in-law of Chen Hung-Lieh who's also in danger as well as her business.

Working with possibly a medium budget by Taiwanese standards but in reality quite a low one, Lee Tso-Nam and crew shows such a passion and skill towards finding ways to depict special techniques of ninjitsu and rarely stops after pouring it on from frame one with various ways to blow out candles (via spinning blades, arrows etc). Equally adept at being shameless as well as entertaining, clearly they want colour out onto a rather standard scenario so WHY NOT have Elsa Yeung in her first scene fight Chen Kuan-Tai wearing tight leather pants. It's an eye brow raiser still today.

Throwing in several scenes of clever poisoning tactics (one inspired bit involves a female ninja pouring the deadly powder into scratch marks while having sex with her victim) and a varied amount of fight scenes (Chen Kuan-Tai vs a wrestler from the ninja camp and various sword and hand to hand fights are very fast, clear and of high caliber, especially the final battle between Chen and Kurata), it simply becomes a pleasure to follow his directorial energy. Whenever putting his mind in the right place, the intended audience detects genuine fun and direct genuine respect towards the filmmaker is generated. A filmmaker in Lee Tso-Nam who's at his most inspired here.

 

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson