9

Ninja The Protector (1986)

Written & directed by: Godfrey Ho
Producers: Joseph Lai & Betty Chan
Starring: Richard Harrison, David Bowles, Clifford Alan, Andy Chworowsky, Phillip Ko, Wa Lun & Lee Miu Chan

Clearly possessing so many Taiwanese movies in their library, it almost seems IFD were forced to deal with the fact that they not only had action movies at their disposal to merge with their own ninja action-footage but also dramas. The ill fit created many of the finest, most surreal productions though with Ninja Commandments leading the pack but Ninja The Protector is a fine example of what Godfrey Ho brings to the table. The Taiwanese footage does its thing rather anonymously instead.

Richard (Richard Harrison) leads a special unit out to arrest the minds behind a money forgery operation that uses a modeling as its front and is led by Bruce (David Bowles), a ninja. He has sent in Warren (Wa Lun from the original) as undercover but he gets too involved with the minds of the organization that he alienates his girlfriend and brother David (Lee Miu-Chan). Slowly but surely, Richard, who is also a ninja, arrests the henchmen and the final battle with Bruce draws near...

While rarely STELLAR, there is something to be said for the energy Ho had in his footage. Especially during these first 2-3 years of making ninja movies (or the short stretches of shooting that was needed for this purpose). It's calculated for sure but done with a sense of pace in the action and certainly fun in their narrative scenes as clearly no one thought they were making art here. Initially quite awkward and stiff though as Richard leads a long briefing with extended looks at photographs of all the players involved, their footage may dominate for a while but it's not until it starts mixing in fight scenes that Ho finds a rhythm.

Rhythm that is certainly not present in the Taiwanese footage that obviously had nothing to do with ninjas originally and probably not even forgery (IFD dubs in news of deaths but no one really reacts like you would in the older footage, making this a truly pasted in story beat). A darker melodrama by design with a rather bland leading man Wa Lun (who's more effective as villains admittedly. See Deadly Darling), he's on a downwards spiral and on his way to losing it all but no emotional investment seems to be present as made. It's pretty flat filmmaking and not a gritty Taiwan classic hidden by IFD's re-edit and the new dub.

But when Godfrey Ho unleashes the handful of ninja scenes Ninja The Protector springs to life. Quite calculated as they are not very different conceptually (find the henchman in the photograph that is often exercising before Richard Harrison comes into the scene for their 1-2 minute battle), the acrobatic and weapons exchange equals quite solid choreography. With the narrative scenes with Clifford Alan and Andy Chworowsky arresting henchmen Richard the ninja has taken care of for them, it reveals some mildly funny attempts at banter, and a lighthearted aura to the film (that includes the classic exchange 'What's a ninja? - Oh, they don't exist). It's clear IFD were on their way to being extremely predictable but in the midst of a production line that allowed for a natural conjuring of fun, cheesy celluloid. Especially so since the finale involves motorbike jousting. Ninjitsu after all...

 

 

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson