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Nezha Conquers The Dragon King (1979)

After Taiwan and Hong Kong had a go in the 60s and 70s to portray the story of Chinese protection deity Na Cha, Shanghai Animation Film Studio took the origin story of little boy Nezha fighting the Dragon King, committing suicide to save his people and ultimately keeping the dragon at bay as an immortal into animated territory. Running just under an hour in length, especially in remastered form (for its 25th anniversary), the adventures of Nezha comes through splendidly. With this being a world of gods, demons and humans, it's territory for creative animators to dig into and as directed by the trio of Wang Shu-Shen, Yim Jing-Hin and Xi Jing-Da, the results are swift and creative. Tailored almost firmly to a younger audience as said, our villain is at times a goofy presence therefore. But fact of the matter is the story does not shy away from the fact that Nezha kills himself. A dark event on screen and it helps the movie isn't overly cute considering its demographic. The humour and light side comes off as well placed and the production cares more about committing these literary events to colourful celluloid. Again, splendidly so. Dubbed into English and released as Little Nezha Fights Great Dragon Kings, considering the original score is a very percussion based and a classically Chinese structured composition, this international version is therefore rescored by British composer Ivor Slaney.

Night Caller (1985) Directed by: Phillip Chan

Highly regarded by those few who knows of it, Phillip Chan's excellent thriller scores so many points, it almost works its magic unconsciously so that you don't have to/can spell out the reasons why it's terrific. There's never quite been something this sharp in Hong Kong cinema, starting with an opening murder reminiscent of Dario Argento's style, leading to the hunt for Inspector James Wong (Melvin Wong) who is captured by the killer. Best friend and loner Steve Chan (Phillip Chan) leads the case together with boyish rookie Siu Lok (Pat Ha).

With well-setup friendship between Wong and Chan's characters, the tension is fine as the broken Steve can't afford to lose a valuable part of his life. On the other side, James has taken in the daughter of a murder victim, representing his chance to actually have and raise one. So a lot is at stake and director Chan even finds time for suitable lightheartedness while also highlighting the fact that the police do need local populous involvement for them to succeed (a reward is announced for helpful tips in catching the killer at one point). It's refreshing to see the cops not being tuned and how irrationality can destroy characters. Despite an early reveal of the killer's identity around the one hour mark, Chan keeps the piece strong, mixing in small but disturbing images of torture along the way. If there's a weak link here, despite a wonderful gallery of supporting characters (the wacky coroner chief among them, a fella who uses the freezer compartment for the corpses as his freezer and half a cranium as an ashtray), Pat Ha is left out of the tuned work. I understand she's a character that needs to grow into her job but Siu Lok's highs and lows aren't well enough supported by the actress or her director. Stuart Ong, Pauline Wong, Dick Wei and Alfred Cheung also appear.

Nightfall (2012, Roy Chow)

Inspector George Lam (Simon Yam) tries to solve the case of brutally murdered pianist Han Tsui (Michael Wong) and all evidence points towards newly released Eugene (Nick Cheung) being a prime suspect... considering how much he hovers around the family and in particular the daughter Zoe (Janice Man). Roy Chow (Murderer) provides a decent mystery and procedural, certainly feeling cinematic but also has familiarity across the board preventing it from representing a breakout voice. But competently executing the gradually unveiling mystery does signal competence in the young director. As the family-secrets gets more pronounced (through a lot of clear dialogue that doesn't represent evident exposition-dumps), there's fair investment and certainly suspense. Through Nick Cheung's silent and mute performance, roaming the night, stalking the family, there's genuine tension on display. Even though this is a very standard, almost TV in feel style of mystery. The attempted emotional resonance between cop and suspect falls rather flat though as Yam's alcoholic, destructive cop really comes off as pretty sharp overall and not this ticking time bomb. Michael Wong is partly effective as the abusive, dominant father but latter scenes go on an overdrive that removes some of that impact. Certain stylish flourishes like an aged look for the flashbacks and super slow motion for violence are traits Chow could probably lose once more confidence is gained but what's here has promise. Also with Candice Yu, Gordon Liu, Felix Lok, Mike Leeder and Ken Lo.

Night Life Hero (1992) Directed by: Yuen Chun-Man

Fine action and stunts greatly elevates this otherwise messy comedy. Max Mok and Chin Ka Lok lead the cast and while the former does absolutely fine, this show belongs to Chin action-wise. Among the very few funny things about Night Life Hero is Shing Fui On's performance as a traumatized triad boss and a decent parody of A Better Tomorrow. Also with Woo Fung and Fennie Yuen.

The Night Rider (1992) Directed by: Jamie Luk

Somewhat on a roll after Doctor Vampire and Robotrix, Jamie Luk turning serious on us generates this flat action-drama. With Simon Yam as Tommy, the premium night rider of Hong Kong on the run from the police along with his fellows, girlfriend and an infant, Luk focuses on character choices of an unsympathetic nature. Yam's Tommy never shows remorse or restraint and certainly belongs only to the world of crime. This portrayal would've been fine if there had been some meat about loyalty, a different kind of heroism or motivation but when all we get is mostly characters wanting to be bad, there's no reason to care what happens to them. A grating Ng Man-Tat as the supposed father figure is the final nail in the coffin.

Standout elements however exists in Carina Lau and Danny Lee (who is credited with the story). The beautiful Lau as the girlfriend turned wife and mother thinks of the future but is in the end largely only drawn to the unspoken, natural bond with Tommy. Something that sounds on par with mentioned characterization of Tommy but it's motivation that equals depth the film doesn't have otherwise. Danny as the more humble cop flows naturally into that state of being. Also with Eric Kei and Shing Fui-On.

The Nine Demons (1984) Directed by: Chang Cheh

Fresh out of Shaw Brother's, Chang Cheh utilized part of his acting troupe such as Ricky Cheng and Lu Feng for this revenge tale with devil magic twists. Atrociously dubbed in English on Ocean Shores video, despite being a period martial arts/weapons/fantasy flick, someone saw fit to name main characters Gary and Joey! So the period revenge adventures of Gary (Ricky Cheng) and Joey (Lu Feng) start with the former making a pact with the devil in order to obtain the powers of the nine demons. Having his wish granted (thus becoming Demon Joey), with him is always the bloodthirsty demons either manifested in the form of flying skulls or acrobatic kids and the main one becomes a gorgeous woman. With very basic and repetitive special effects, it's still fun to see Chang Cheh not thoroughly make this film according to the template. Overall it's no different style-wise though but solid, acrobatic action (featuring weapons, hand to hand combat and a finale in a marsh on little surfboards!) is a reason for fans of the Venoms to look in. But trying drama as there's musings over Ricky Cheng's moral predicaments among other things really does turn The Nine Demons into a hokey mess when the filmmaker perhaps wanted the effect to be more felt. The Chang Cheh of this time simply couldn't. It was therefore wise to make it a wild and colourful extravaganza as well.

Ninja Death Squad (1987) Directed by: Tommy Cheng

TROY'S REVIEW: Here we are again with yet another dose of cut & paste ninja goodness as dished out by that master of the direct to video crap-tacular, Mr. Tomas Tang. In fact, this entry wastes no time at all in starting off in the inept manner it means to go on... namely by listing completely erroneous cast credits. A tremendous start I'm sure you'll agree. Yes, incompetence is very much the name of the game here, with the usual quota of bad dubbing, hopeless editing and abysmal acting - well everything in fact. But when did such an inconsequential factor as quality ever bother our man Tang? Of course it never did and frankly, he was quite correct as it happens, at least as regards to his cut & paste ninja turd-fests, for what they lacked in anything remotely resembling coherent story telling and overall quality, they invariably more than made up for in unintentional hilarity. Sure enough, the film here is no exception and it is precisely the gross ineptitude that makes the film so much fun in the first place. For proof of the above, just check out the special (or more appropriately, not so special) effects in this for a start. Trust me when I say this - you will never in your life witness again such a hopeless attempt to show invisibility on screen! And don't even get me started on the ninja snake charming, dimension bending, ninja cloning, a spiky umbrella used as a weapon and last but not least, a ninja earthquake! Ah, good old Tomas Tang; For consistently demented and entertaining output, you simply can't beat the man! Also known as Ninja Warriors From Beyond.

Ninja, Demon's Massacre (1988) Directed by: Tommy Cheng

Neither a demon's massacre or barely a ninja flick, Tomas Tang still finds time after his made-up credits to inject his favourite movie content at random, illogical points. With Stuart Smith playing the CIA operative Robinson Collins, something is surely being done right in Tang's production looking at the character name alone! Then intercutting their modern day cop vs. thugs plot with a rather stale Thai action/adventure where a rural setting becomes the center for power struggles of some kind, Ninja, Demon's Massacre is really an assault on the senses because you'll literally get a headache trying to figure out what on earth is going on and why. Best not though as Western-genre esthetics, CIA agents posing as tutors and a character firmly expressing that "5 days is enough time to know each other before marriage" are just further random elements created by Tang for the benefit of his own wallet. But by god, it is thoroughly fascinating to see this commercial machine at work. A highly off-key, rusty machine that figures logic is not in the tiny details. The excuse for getting ninjas (with even cheaper suits than in an IFD flick. I.e. no headbands) into the mayhem then? Add a soothing narration about the Robinson Collins character being good friends with the golden ninjas. As far fetched as it is, at least we get a first encounter of what happens when a golden ninja is defeated. Yep, last tactic is to explode! Nothing is good though and sometimes barely so bad that it's good but as always, if you've gone this far, might as well like something like Ninja, Demon's Massacre a bit too. Even if it's your mind post-viewing that actually entertains you.

Ninja Destroyer (1986) Directed by: Godfrey Ho

TROY'S REVIEW: Regular IFD ninja fans will delight to know that this stars everyone's favourite crap actor Stuart Smith who as always succeeds in delivering unto his loyal, legions (?) of fans, a sterling, over the top and frankly, mesmerizingly inept performance as all round bad guy Michael who we're expected to believe is the head of a gang of Filipino terrorists (courtesy of a completely different film of course) and who amongst other antisocial endeavors, are attempting to seize control of an emerald mine. Fair enough. Catching wind of Michael's crooked ambitions however, Interpol are none too impressed and resolve to sort matters out by sending in, Byron (played by fellow regular IFD actor, Bruce Baron), Michael's former Green Beret buddy and ninja to boot! Yep, as you can probably well imagine, a climatic battle between these two warriors is very much on the cards here and sure enough when Michael predictably refuses to come back to the United States to face the music for his crimes, there are no options left than for our boys to duke it out to the death in true ninja style. Filipino superstar and regular face in the numerous cut & paste flicks produced by IFD productions and Filmark International, Sorapong Chatri headlines in the non-ninja original film here (although I'll wager that he didn't receive any royalty payments for it) in which he seems to curiously spend the entire time being alternatively captured and beaten by various cronies. Nonetheless, it's the ninja action that really matters here so behold with amazement such scenes as Smith and Baron shown 'interacting' with members of the cast from the original film (solid editing there Godfrey...) and even better, check out the expletive filled diatribe from Smith's character at the end of this - priceless stuff indeed!

Ninja: Extreme Weapons (1986) Directed by: Victor Sears

TROY'S REVIEW: What does a suitcase full of drugs, a female prostitution racket, a magic ring, an evil wheel chair bound villain and lots and lots of ninjas have in common? Erm... well absolutely bugger all to be honest but humour me for a moment for they do happen to serve as the staple ingredients in this decidedly head scratching affair from Tomas Tang's infamous Filmark International. Yes indeed, as is very usually the case with our Tomas's output, what his films lack in even the remotest coherence, they more than compensate for in utter hilarity and true to form, this entry is no exception. Of special mention, I frankly defy anyone viewing this not to half-die of laughter during such scenes as the aforementioned wheel chair bound, bad guy's sudden miraculous rejuvenation. If you have a penchant for trash cinema, then you'll simply lap this up. Also known as Ninja's Extreme Weapons.

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