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Ninja Dragon (1986)

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Written & directed by: Godfrey Ho
Producers: Joseph Lai & Betty Chan
Starring: Richard Harrison, Bruce Stallion, Melvin Pitcher, Pierre Tremblay, Chang Kuo-Chu, Shut Chung-Tin, Lily Lan & Miao Tian

As much fun as it was seeing IFD pair up their ninja action footage with a wildly different movie they acquired in order to create a new, internationally marketable product, the initial start of these cut and paste actioners is almost AS interesting. Because it features a Godfrey Ho at the helm not yet going on repeat, the elements that would become clichéd and calculated at IFD turn up first here or not at all plus there's no ninja headbands...yet. Not that it all is a period of true ninjitsu on screen but the sparse IFD filmmaking (sparse meaning their short shoots in order to create the 10-15 minutes or so of new footage) is more stylish and creative during this particular period and Ninja Dragon represents it well. Plus it's paired up with a fairly good Taiwanese gangster actioner (1982's Dark Trap, directed by Lee Wing-Cheung).

Gordon (Richard Harrison) has his close associate Ron (from the other movie) assassinated by rival Shanghai gangsters and businessmen. He seeks revenge on them on his own, main goal being Bruce Stallion's (aka Paolo Tocha) character and henchmen while he enlists Dragon (Chang Kuo-Chu) to do his bidding in the Dark Trap footage. After Ron is assassinated, there is a power shift as Fenix (Lily Lan) steps in as leader and the family's lifelong enemy Fox Chan (Miao Tian) is trying to divide up and take over territories violently...

Even apparent in the opening that Godfrey and company are trying to shoot something distinctive, the ninja action demo is nicely acrobatic and acts as a mood setter. All before they'd rely on Hong Kong skyline as credits material plus certainly opening with gambling (and a plethora of delightful languages and accents, including Russian and cockney) and not playing the ninja action card until a third in or so signals difference. Especially for us who've been through the most fun and the lowest of the low of IFD's products.

The transition to Lee Wing-Cheung's footage is very smooth and even when putting either Harrison or Tocha in the scenes with the original actors, the illusion is a little bit stronger than usual. Plus Lee, based on the footage that is still intact and dubbed into English by IFD, crafts a familiar but violent and gritty gangster tale. There's no surprises here but by presenting skills in working the template to violent effect, throughout there's equal interest in what Ho and Lee respectively are brining to the table. In particular the action beats as performed and edited are very sharp in Dark Trap and its aim to be violent rather than stylish works well.

That the story dictates ninjas appear in it too is of course absolutely ridiculous and if anything in familiar, it is the various scenes of Harrison taking out his victims. Featuring a scene of looking at and throwing a knife or star into a photograph, thankfully the short action that follows is fast, fluid and acrobatic so the Hong Kong action flavour that could thrill globally is very much present. Entertaining, dark, gritty and acting quite well as a market product that IFD could take pride in, Ninja Dragon is one of the better examples of the IFD formula. It always needed ninjas to stand out (the kickboxing era did not as a result) but even that grew staler over time. Ninja Dragon is therefore fresh.

 

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson