Ninja The Final Duel (1980)
by: Robert Tai
the DVD at:
now for something completely different...
Ninja movies excite people and the golden era of those was probably the 80s where we got some really hokey but fun productions coming out several movie making industries (including Sweden!). According to movies Ninjas had a wonderful array of useful and pretty much worthless techniques and some of the more worthless ones makes a movie like Ninja The Final Duel so much fun to watch. Four words: water spider assault unit.
Originally a series created for Taiwanese television, versions in feature length format have been born out of the reported 12 hour running time, such as this film and Shaolin vs. Ninja. So for us who missed the latter edit, a quick and funny recap is shown and told by, what seems, to be someone who dubbed old war propaganda movies (Let's hear it for the boys in blue!). The plot in this movie then goes a little something like this:
A Japanese ninja master commits hara-kiri after a lost conflict with the Chinese Shaolin monks and his followers decide to take revenge and destroy Shaolin for good. At the same time an newly graduated Japanese shaolin monk (Alexander Lo who was also in Shaolin vs. Ninja) comes to Hong Kong and gets forced into the battle...
This is not high art and the plot has been seen and done dozens and dozens of times in martial arts cinema. There are movies though that don't need any more plot than this to be enjoyable and Ninja The Final Duel is one of them. The movie is a mess with pretty big plot holes and stuff thrown in for no reason other than to have action but despite all that Robert Tai manages to somehow keep the main plot going somewhat. Director's of your run of the mill kung-fu movie probably never wanted to be extremely visual and that applies definitely applies to Robert Tai. He doesn't waste too much time on dialogue and of course the shooting of those scenes are not very inspiring. There's hardly time to think about that though since there seems to be new fight scenes each minute and frankly dialogue shouldn't be part of a hokey movie like this one. Robert does seem to like the wide angle lens though for either point of view shots or to create some sense of scope in an action scene. He's also said that he always wanted to try out something new and different and there sure are things in this movie that are different including:
The Water Spiders, Alexander Lo's big fight scene as part of his graduation to become a monk, the Black Monk (played by Eugene T. Trammel) and for all the lads out there...Alice Tseng's nude fight!
The Water Spiders are part of the different assault techniques used by the Ninjas and not surprisingly they don't look too menacing. The low budget nature of the film doesn't allow for the flying effect in particular to be very effective so it just comes off as pretty silly (but fun). Wires are used for this scene and back then we hadn't witness how wire work could be used smoothly and fluently in films so what you're seeing most of the time here is basically hoisting. I've said it before though that I admire Asian filmmakers for at least trying stuff out no matter how crap it would look in the end.
Ninja The Final Duel only has its fight scenes to rely on and while there's nothing really special about these, there is a certain energy about them that is quite contagious. The first really big set piece is the mentioned graduation fight scene where Alexander Lo has to face off against techniques such as The Swastika Trap. This scene and many others aren't a showcase for great skill but you will get the sense that there was some thoughts and innovation put into the choreography. They sure seemed to work hard to achieve their goals somewhat successfully. The takes aren't very long and a flow to the choreography isn't really well created through the editing. The editing also feels a bit choppy especially when it cuts to and from a wire stunt. Overall it's is the frantic pace and energy in the action that makes it bearable.
The, according to the Shaolin Monks, legendary Black Monk is a memorable character thanks to some seriously funny dubbing where we get to hear ghetto style jive talk used to the max. In one scene where The Black Monk has burned a decapitated woman (who the hell knows why he had to burn her) he says the following line to a protesting Alexander Lo:
'She's ash, now so don't give me this thrash.'
I'm speechless and speaking of that I wonder if the original language track had English on it because it didn't the hilarious nature of The Black Monk would be completely lost. Last but certainly not least Alice Tseng deserves some credit for getting her kit off and doing a nude fight scene with the ninjas.
It's a really varied character gallery on display in this movie and it's worth noting that the westerners get quite a bit of screentime and dialogue, something that wasn't very common in these types of movies I think. Another fun aspect about martial arts movies was the fact that they used to steal entire sections of scores and music cues from Hollywood pictures and in Ninja The Final Duel I spotted the theme from Das Boot (and they left the submarine sounds in!) being used frequently as well as a short cue from the Ghostbusters tune.
Acting wise there isn't that much to say. Alexander Lo plays our Japanese hero of the piece and his character provides no surprises but he sure looks like he's trying his best and it seemed like a fun movie to be apart of. It's actually the different westerners that make the biggest impression in the movie like the mentioned Eugene T. Trammel and Silvio Azzolini who plays a Californian monk.
Would I really recommend this movie to anyone? I would rather say that if you're out for a perfect Saturday night kung-fu flick (in combination with beers) then it's a good choice. Also if you're curious about just how much insanity can be put into one movie, I think you should check it out. There's only one territory in the world that produced a movie like this...
Crash Cinema claims widescreen on the dvd box cover but all we see is a tiny black border on top of the picture that is shifting slightly up and down throughout the movie. Maybe the aspect ratio adds up to something like 1.5:1. but all the fights can be enjoyed though and very little cropping is evident.
It's a poor looking dvd that is clearly taken from a worn VHS print of the movie. Colours are weak, it's soft, lack detail and has print damage throughout. Also one scene that takes place at night is unwatchable due to being very dark. Having said all that it's ok to watch and we're probably not going to see this remastered anytime soon.
The mono English dub sounds adequate and dialogue is intelligible at all times. The only extra is an English language trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson