Lethal Ninja (2005)
Directed by: Herman Yau
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On the run and clamping on hard to a red box of his, Dr. Kikuchi is ambushed by ninjas and subsequently beheaded. Put in a high tech jar in order to extract his memories about the content and instructions on how to open the box, villainous Brian (Waise Lee) figures out that the key to opening the needed content is Copy. No, not duplicating but Copy (Dayo Wong), an alcoholic flute player who no one understands but he will have to understand that he's wanted now. Both by evil ninja clans, good ninja clans and it's the latter that manages to snag him away in order to fulfill Dr. Kikuchi's wish of having the box content opened and transferred somewhere safe. Taken to a remote village and living with Master Basho (Eddy Ko) and his granddaughter Xiao Ling (Eva Huang - Kung Fu Hustle), Copy's sense of purpose in the world slowly begins to emerge...
Who on earth should have the idea in 2005 to resurrect ninjas on-screen, in hokey ways or not? Well, it makes sense Herman Yau at least tries it out just to get a feel, see if he has any feel and if he can make audiences feel. He will have stuff to do regardless how poor, decent or good he fares cinematically anyway. Although the talent in front is untested and lacking talent, Joseph Lai and Tomas Tang (IFD and Filmark respectively) need not feel threatened. They're still kings of the C-movie swamp of hilarity via their cut & paste ninja flicks starring the likes of Richard Harrison, Stuart Smith and Mike Abbott. Equal kudos points still exists in Yau's Lethal Ninja as in any other Godfrey Ho helmed flick of the same content. Why? Ninjas, that's why (or for the very initiated...ninjers). Some pre-release buzz managed to surround the flick thanks to the 10 Herman Yau fans out there and after a longer than usual hiatus between wrapping and releasing, at least that number of people got to see what Yau had up his sleeve. Which in all honesty isn't much, rather poorly made but something definitely likeable despite, even if only based on the ninja inclusion alone.
There's a warm, fuzzy feeling sinking in when you see the subtitle "Block the ninjas!" on-screen, in a 2005 effort and contemporary setting. However Yau manages to conjure up rather less than stellar viewer-response during his opening as it's clear we're not in for high budget-treats of the various ninja techniques (computer generated water and blood rears its head later to poor effect too) nor rather clear looking ones either. It's all very non-stationary, lacking flow and all there is left is the amusing thought of actually seeing ninjas in a new-ish movie. Approaching laughable when stopping to present factoids of almost each and every ninja is, however hard it is to admit, something for folks of Yau's ilk and fans of bad movies to feel even more warm about however.
Although it IS more ambitious than anything with Godfrey Ho's name on it, the sole connection one can make to the craziness of that production period is their cut & paste creation Ninja Commandments. A strange, surreal mixture of punishing Taiwanese melodrama and ninja religion, where Lethal Ninja fits in is through its exploration of the art, whether it's the art of living, feeling and training. We're now past the only so-so display of actors in colourful pajamas and in a rather attractive looking, village-set part of the flick that sees our main characters gain their standard, canned enlightenment about various crap. Yes, representatives from the rival clans unite, re-evaluates and it's all somehow Herman Yau-esque competent. Quite ballsy to treat this material seriously, where he ends up contains passable diversions when not in action and less silly, contemporary-set ninja shenanigans subsequently. Those more rooted elements are mere stock ones as well, such as when we get glimpses into our mega-villain of the piece as essayed by Waise Lee. In his high tech headquarters with bodyguards loaded up on bullets and throwing stars, it's almost laugh out loud amusing to hear THE BIG PLOT spelled out as it blurs the line between laziness and satire to a point. It's not worth pondering that or any journeys taken by the main characters however. Although Dayo Wong's Copy is acted with a level of loveable loser-aura, affect and effect is missing and the only respectable performance comes out of a good, automatic one courtesy of Eddy Ko as Master Basho.
Quite lovely and harmless, when Herman Yau ends up doing himself only a semi-decent favour, Hong Kong cinema BARELY a favour and genre-content the biggest, most ambitious favour in a long time, Lethal Ninja becomes a respectable representation of what Yau can do. Which is often not enough but also good enough at the same time. But I'm now done with it, digested it and it has passed out the natural way. Next please!
Joy Sales presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Light damage at sparse points, decent colours and sharpness accompanies the transfer.
Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles range from at times amusingly odd to properly coherent for the material so no complaints overall here. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extra is the trailer that cuts before it's even finished.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson