It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to something like Ninja Terminator. This 1985 actioner from Hong Kong director Godfrey Ho is the stuff of Z-movie legend, with its cut-and-paste technique, madcap music, insane plot, bizarre characters, Garfield phone, off-kilter cinematography, toy robot, and throwing stars amounting to one of the most entertaining “bad” experiences in cinematic history.
With a story attributed to the numinous AAV Creative Unit and a screenplay by Ho, Ninja Terminator doesn’t exactly pack masterful dialogue or an intricate narrative. Raymond Chang is accountable for the cinematography, which mostly involves a process of figuring out where the actors are before swinging the lens in their general direction.
The film opens in Japan, where a mysterious Golden Ninja Empire is born. The Supreme Ninja spirit has been infused in three parts of a golden statue, with the spirit making ninjas impervious to injury. But the statue’s parts have been stolen and whisked away to Hong Kong, where ninja Harry (Richard Harrison) is trying to get his hands on the whole thing.
Other ninjas are afoot and are honing in on the statue. Harry presses his henchman Jaguar Wong (Jack Lam) into action, while another heinous ninja uses Tiger (Hwang Jang Lee) to get the goods. There are lower level thugs and there are women, with Lily and Machiko as pawns in the whole game.
Ninja Terminator is the sort of movie in which every amount of mystical terminology is emphasized to the hilt. It matters deeply that the Golden Ninja Empire exists and it matters that the ninjas are partaking in the 20th anniversary of the organization, complete with unnerving ceremony and swordplay. There is no cake, so that’s a bit of a loss.
The ninjas are represented by various colours, with red, white and black ninjas flapping around. Harrison’s ninja stands out with his camouflage pyjamas. He’s one of a few ninjas to display a wicked coat of guyliner and he’s the only ninja to conduct his business on a Garfield phone. Harry also assists his wife in the kitchen when she spills live crabs everywhere.
Tiger is no ninja, but he does sport an incomprehensible blonde wig. He also spends most of the movie standing at the top of a staircase, where he gives his henchmen a number of second chances to make a first impression.
Jaguar, meanwhile, is the most compelling character. Lam does most of the martial arts and all of the swaggering. He takes down thugs wherever he goes and sometimes even beats the hell out of the opposition with his hands in his pockets. His kicks are lethal, with double-kicks and direction changes highlighting the action.
The fight scenes of Ninja Terminator are actually terrific. Where they come from is another matter, as there’s some sense that many things in Ho’s picture aren’t actually in Ho’s picture. Hwang Jang Lee, the kicking machine from Drunken Master, gets into it with Lam’s Jaguar in the most impressive scene, but it seems the fight’s a little too good in comparison to everything else.
Ho’s flick is by no means consistent or sensible or good. By any standard of assessing cinema, it’s a terrible movie. But in terms of entertainment value, Ninja Terminator comes up aces. From its excessive dubbing to the wobbly cinematography to the slowest car chase in the history of car chases to its robot VHS threats to the watermelon, this is an experience not to be missed.