Overview: An American CIA agent becomes a "Bionic Ninja" by reading a book.
Directed By: Godfrey "Tomas Tang" Ho, 1986
The Case For: This film proves ninjas can still be funny, as long as they're bizarrely filmed magical characters in a fantastically inept yet ostensibly serious movie rather than tediously "random" characters in someone's moronic attempt at Internet humor.
The Case Against: At least half the movie has nothing to do with ninjas, and roughly all of it has nothing to do with bionics.
In 1986, Exploit-Asian Cinema stalwart Godfrey Ho sold his production company Filmark to his protégé Tomas Tang. Tang directed an outrageous amount of films, using a style suspiciously identical to Ho's cut-and-paste butchery, before selling Filmark back to Ho, one of several reciprocal transactions. Tang died in a 1993 apartment fire, but this setback didn't stop him from directing or producing a dozen or so more films. Anyway, Bionic Ninja helped establish Tomas "Tax Dodge" Tang as an alias to watch for in the bad-movie realm.
"Hong Kong is a modern, busy society and very prosperous," booms the opening-credits narration, which sounds as though it's amplifying the voice of God through a megaphone. But it's not all skyscrapers and stock-footage traffic jams in this bustling metropolis. A white-clad ninja addresses eleven ninjas of the standard black-clad variety, in what initially looks like a lopsided Japanese installment of Spy vs. Spy. It turns out the White Ninja is the master of the clan, and he sends his henchmen on a very important mission. First, they must peer around corners. Then, they must somersault in mid-air repeatedly. Next, one of them whispers something to a bemused looking bystander, a message that sounds a lot like "Gordon thinks you're cute." Finally, the ninjas vanish completely, making the standard "bloop" noise during their teleportation into oblivion.
In Blazing Ninja, ninjas obsessively distributed notes. Here, they're used to spread gossip. Apparently ninjas are so common overseas that they're forced to work as humble couriers for sustenance, doing grade-school-level tasks we Americans delegate to cold, efficient mechanical means such as text messaging.
While the Black Ninjas deliver their Somersaulting Telegram, some bandits hijack a very important film strip. This attracts the attention of the high-tech American CIA, who receives news of the burgling via electrical telegram. Perhaps accustomed to corresponding through telegram speak, a CIA boss tells agent Tommy Foster the details of his assignment, then conversationally adds the letter-style signature "All the best." Maybe he was just re-emphasizing Foster's standing as "the best," as he was idly -- and expositorily -- remarking "you're one of our best agents" with the urgent message arrived.
Foster's Hong Kong police contact tries a bit too hard to appear casual during their initial meeting -- not only does he do the standard carefree whistling, but also he leaves his shirt largely unfastened. Hong Kong Cop apprehends a purse-snatcher in the women's bathroom, but the ladies ignore his "you're all witnesses, so don't go away" warning when he disappears into the stall. The black ninjas play some inexplicable role in this sequence, or, more likely, footage of them peering, jumping and disappearing was inadvertently reinserted.
Foster jogs through the park wearing yellow sweatpants and a neon yellow tank top emblazoned with the phrase "On Stage." He looks like a ballerina banana. The black ninjas surround him, but they go POOF after Hong Kong Cop fires a warning shot in the air. Foster inquires "who are those bloody wizards?" His contact reveals they've been hired by the Russian KGB, an organization as synonymous with ninjas as Americans are with phrases like "bloody wizards." "Is there a ninja master here in Hong Kong?" Foster inquires. "Maybe, why don't you go look for one?" Hong Kong Cop responds. Some fifteen years later, this sort of helpful guidance would resurface in the same Hong Kong setting during Shenmue II.
Several fight scenes between nameless characters interrupt Foster's heroic progress toward bionic ninjadom, the best of which involves a hunted crook throwing woven baskets at his pursuer, then pulling a cardboard box over his head, leaving him temporarily and ridiculously trapped. A somersaulting ninja blows a dart at Basket Tosser, but he must have forgotten the poison-dipping process, because the guy just plucks out of his neck and keeps moving. When confronted with the whole black-ninja crew, Basket Tosser flings a Coke can into the crowded mass, managing to miss everyone. Coke cans appear frequently in this film, which must mean Godfrey Ho really loves Coke, as he was unlikely to have been the beneficiary of a product-placement deal.
Foster finds his way to a meditating ninja master, who claims most of his visitors come "out of curiosity, to see how odd I am." Foster explains he's there to learn about "ninjers," because Russians are using bad ninjers to "disrupt world peace." The Ninja Master refuses to teach him, but he does give him a copy of the Yellow Pages decorated with a giant Chinese character. When he sees the color of the book, Foster knows it's destiny.
After another stock fight, mostly noteworthy for 1) the dramatic, unauthorized use of the Miami Vice theme song 2) the black ninja's inexplicable decision to climb tall ladders rather than simply teleporting to the roof, we see Foster, again in his On Stage outfit, putting the Yellow Book's ancient secrets into practice during a training montage, during which he does lots of push-ups and hurls throwing stars into trees in a public park.
These skills serve him well during the climactic battle with the black ninjas (and White Ninja!), who are all unmasked and look a lot like the weird European industrial band Laibach. Foster wears normal clothes when he confronts the ninjas, but when he fights the last couple challengers he's suddenly wearing a ninja outfit of his own. This provides one of the movie's greatest disappointments, because Foster becomes a Red Ninja, when all signs indicated he would become the first great Yellow Ninja. As for the the film's other letdowns, the footage in which the Red Ninja kills the White Ninja appears to be missing, as Foster simply jumps into the air, and when he lands his opponent is dead and bleeding. Also, most crucially, he wasn't fucking bionic.
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Former Navy SEAL Jeff Caliber survived tier one special ops and is now studying creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. And fighting terrorists.
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