• Film reviews

    #483 – The Ninja Mission (1984)

    The Ninja Mission (1984)

    Film review #483

    Director: Mats Helge Olsson

    SYNOPSIS: Scientist Karl Markov is defecting to the west from the Soviet Union, and the CIA are planning to undergo the operation to extract him. However, the operation is interrupted and the Russians extract him instead under the guise of being the CIA agents. Markov is taken to what he believes is Sweden, but is instead a Soviet facility, where he is finishing the work he is undertaking. In order to undertake a new rescue mission. The CIA decides to send a team of ninjas to get Markov out, led by Agent Mason, and prevent the Soviets from completing Markov’s work and tipping the balance of power in the Cold War forever in their favour…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Ninja Mission is a 1984 Swedish martial arts action film. Set in the depths of the Cold War, the film opens up with an operation to aid in the defection of Karl Markov to the west led by the CIA. Markov’s research will tip the balance of the Cold War into the favour of the Soviets, and so he wishes to defect to the west to maintain the current balance. However, the rescue mission is botched, and the Russians pretend to be the CIA agents and take Markov to a Russian facility to complete his work, which he believes is a UN facility in Sweden. The CIA mounts another rescue mission to get Markov out, with agent Mason leading a…team of ninjas to carry it out. The plot of the film is way more complex than it needs to be, and a lot of the runtime is devoted to explaining this overly-elaborate plot that constantly slows the film to a crawl and bloats the film with unnecessary exposition. What you really want to see in a martial arts movie is some martial arts and cool fight scenes (surprisingly), but the film just doesn’t deliver on it for the majority of the runtime. Things pick up in the last act, and boy does it overcompensate for the lack of action by making the climax utterly ridiculous with exploding henchman everywhere, but the first two acts of the film are really slow and misdirectioned such that by the time you get to the third ac, you may have already tuned out.

    The characters are a typical bunch of 80’s action tropes, with the rugged action lead, the sole female character, the cold war setting, and so on. The plot concerning Markov and his estranged daughter really serves no purpose and only further complicates the film. The question that primarily arises from this film is probably why are the CIA undertaking operations using ninja operatives? As expected, there is no rhyme or reason for this, so you just have to go along with it. The martial arts stuff that we do see is fine, but there’s nowhere near enough of it.

    The Ninja Mission is a low budget, low-end production; of that, there can be no doubt. The English dub of the audio is pretty bad, but that’s something you somewhat expect of martial arts films of the era, so it fits in, in a roundabout way. The car chase scenes aren’t too exciting, and there’s far too much standing around talking when there should be action on the screen. As mentioned, the film does pick up in the third act, when soldiers start being shot with syringe bullets (?) that make their heads explode, and there’s finally some martial arts on screen, but nothing that’s too special. The body count in this film is utterly ridiculous: lines of soldiers just casually get gunned down in single scenes, and its so overblown it’s quite funny. I’m not sure the film gets into the “so bad it’s good” category due to the problems mentioned with regard to the pacing which sucks a lot of entertainment value out, but some parts definitely stand out. The film has earned a “cult” status and strangely become one of the highest grossing Swedish films ever, by being redistributed across over fifty countries. Overall, it’s not a particularly memorable film, but fits into the 80s martial arts genre with its low/no budget and poor dubbing. Some parts are entertaining in a ridiculous way, and other parts are so bloated with dialogue it ruins any kind of pacing. It’s a mixed bag that be forgotten apart from maybe one or two scenes.

  • Film reviews

    #482 – The Almighty Tycoon of the Ninja (2008)

    The Almighty Tycoon of the Ninja (2008)

    Film review #482

    Director: Aris Kaplanidis

    SYNOPSIS: Yakinthos, also known as the Ninja Tycoon, is battling evil corporations and cyborgs in order to avenge the death of his parents and wife. he must battle an evil conspiracy to destroy him and save the world when he gets a chance…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Almighty Tycoon of the Ninja is a 2008 Greek comedy martial arts film. From that description alone, you can probably guess this film is going to be bonkers. Let’s try and explain the story here: Yakinthos is a tycoon whose parents, themselves tycoons, were killed, along with his wife (this guy can’t catch a break can he?). Now it is Yakinthos’s turn to get revenge, and he is prepared to go through an army of robot ninjas to get it. That is basically the story…I think. This is only the second film I’ve reviewed which I could not find English subtitles for (the other being the Soviet version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), so the intricacies of the plot are lost on me; but I’m pretty sure there really aren’t any intricacies, as the film is very much a straight up homage and parody of classic martial arts movies, and all you need to know is who the hero is, who the villain is, and that the hero is going to trash an army of robot ninjas. There’s some semblance of a typical three-act structure that gives the film a decent flow, and there’s plenty of action and silly visuals to be entertaining. It’s never going to convince you it’s not just a student film filmed with a handheld camera, but there’s some gags and such that come out of nowhere that will fully take attention away from that; like why does Jesus suddenly turn up in a scene? I’m not sure even if I understood the dialogue I would be able to make sense of it (and to be honest, it’s still pretty funny without the explanation).

    The film constantly feels like a student movie; not only with the film being mostly shot on a handheld camera, and in abandoned warehouses and people’s homes, but also in the fact a lot of the cinematography is a mixture of techniques film students probably learn, and the film just throws them all in to demonstrate they can do them. This would perhaps be an issue in a film that was intended for mainstream audiences or had a serious story to tell, but The Almighty Tycoon of the Ninja is just a bit of harmless fun that can get away with doing anything and everything it wants. It’s also worth pointing out that the choreography in the fight scenes is actually pretty tight. It does feel a bit too scripted and fake sometimes, but the whole film feels that way, and that’s part of it’s appeal. Also the film uses famous songs it clearly does not have the licence or permission for, and I can appreciate the film just doing whatever it wants without any regard for its own limitations.

    Overall, it’s hard to be too harsh on The Almighty Tycoon of the Ninja: it sets out to make a very certain kind of film with no budget, and given that initial framework, it pulls off something absurd, over-the-top and fairly entertaining, even if it’s difficult to work out what is going on. The plot is pretty simple, but follows a trajectory and has enough structure to keep the film together. The characters are fairly distinguishable, and have enough personality to identify them. Despite the lack of budget and equipment, there’s a hidden degree of competency in its cinematography and choreography, but it definitely feels like a student film that’s showcasing a range of techniques without much curation. No matter the criticisms that be brought up though, it always knows that it’s a bit of satirical, silly fun that isn’t afraid to go overboard without fear of breaking all those filmmaking tropes and techniques it clearly knows. It’s not a film you need to watch, but if you somehow find yourself sitting through it and you’re not looking for anything serious, you can probably enjoy its humour even without the subtitles.

  • Film reviews

    #461 – Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

    Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

    Film review #461

    Director: Lloyd Lee Barnett

    SYNOPSIS: in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, a summit is called between the various ninja clans for peace talks, as clan leader Fumitaka believes the clans must come together to overcome an external threat that threatens all of them. The clans agree to the terms, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, with witnesses saying that Cage, leader of the Lost Ninja clan, was the one who did it. Cage and his fellow clan members are forced to flee, and must find a way out the bunker where the peace talks are being held, with all the other ninja warriors out to get them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ninja Apocalypse is a 2014 post-apocalypse martial arts film. Set after the collapse of society through nuclear war (as with most post-apocalyptic films), what remains of humanity seems to have banded into various ninja clans (for some reason). Fumitaka, the leader of one of the clans, holds a peace conference between the clans at his bunker, where he claims they must unite to fight an “external force” that threatens them all. The clans agree, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, and three witnesses claim it was Cage, the leader of the Lost Ninja clan, that did it. Cage and his clan ninjas flee, attempting to escape the bunker while fighting off the remaining clans. The story is fairly simple to follow, even if it doesn’t make much sense: why is everyone a ninja in the post-apocalypse? Why do they have magic powers? Are they mutations or supernatural? Not much is explained, but then again it is a martial arts movie, and doesn’t need too much explanation. The whole premise is very silly, and manages to get even sillier when it introduces zombies. Overall it’s not a story that will keep your interest, and while there’s a few twists and surprises, doesn’t offer too much.

    The various clans of ninjas we see at the beginning of the film all have unique special powers, including lightning, fire and illusion. As mentioned, there’s no explanation of these powers and whether they are mutations or supernatural, but it’s not too much of a concern. Apparently their powers have a certain limit and have to recharge, but it’s mechanics are not explained any further. These abilities make the film a bit more over-the-top and unique, but they’re not utilised in a massive way to bolster the film as a whole into a unique experience. The characters themselves are a fairly typical bunch of tropes, with Cage and his brother Surge being at odds with one another forming the most notable relation between characters. Cage’s rivalry with Becker, leader of the fire-based ninja clan, is also fairly interesting, and it’s fun to watch them interact, but there’s too little of it. The big reveal of the villain at the end has little impact too because we see very little of Cage and the villain actually interacting, so we are left only with exposition to fill in the gap.

    This is not a high budget production. The film is almost exclusively set in this nuclear bunker, which means there is no need for complex sets, and most of the action takes place in non-descript corridors, stairwells and industrial empty rooms. The CG is pretty basic stuff and probably something anyone could make in After Effects, but it’s not overused too much, and is mainly just to create blood splatter, which the film doesn’t linger too closely on (although sometimes the physics of the blood is noticeably off). The acting can sometimes be alright, but other times is very stuff and wooden, making the whole experience very uneven. The most important aspect of a martial arts film has to be the fight scenes, and the ones in Ninja Apocalypse are…fine I guess. The actual stunts and fighting are good, but the editing of them is often too sharp and ruins the flow. There’s plenty of variety though, from the various ninja clans and their unique powers to slicing up zombies. Overall though Ninja Apocalypse is a fairly forgettable affair with a threadbare story and limited characters. There’s a few decent stunts and fights, but they are ultimately hampered in their editing and composition. There’s not much to really take away from this film, apart from the premise should be much more interesting than what is delivered on screen.

  • Film reviews

    #380 – Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

    Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

    Film review #380

    Director: Kevin Chu

    SYNOPSIS: Four of the world’s top generals have been captured by Japanese forces. In order to rescue them, Lieutenant Don Wen assembles a squad of misfits to undertake the perilous mission. The squad must brave tribes, ghosts and Nazis in order to accomplish their mission, all the while being followed by Sammy and Lily, a pair of con-artists looking to get the reward that the squad have been promised…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISFantasy Mission Force is a 1983 action comedy film. The film opens up with a group of generals from different countries dressed in stereotypical uniforms being captured by Japanese forces (the Japanese are usually the enemy in Chinese films). The generals include the French “Pierre Retreat” (sly jab at the French there) and the American “Abraham Lincoln”. But this is only the start of the madness that this film throws at the viewer. We next see world leaders trying to formulate a rescue plan, looking through various people who might be able to pull it off, including 007, Snake Pliskin, and Rocky Balboa, all of whom are for some reason or another are unable to do it. With this in mind, Lieutenant Don Wen assembles a squad of the world’s most bizarre specialists in order to pull off the rescue. Alongside this, a pair of con-artists, Sammy and Lily, are following the group as they try and get a hold of the vast reward. The story, as you can probably tell from the outset, makes very little sense and is all over the place. I think the film is supposed to be set during WWII, which makes things even stranger when they bring up 007, Pliskin and Rocky who would not have even been alive then, alongside the vehicles definitely being not of the time period. As a comedy action film I suppose you can’t be too concerned about the integrity of the story, but it is so disjointed and all over the place that it is difficult not to pay attention to it.The story behind Jackie Chan being in the film is equally as strange, as the director apparently saved him from being killed in a mob hit, and Jackie Chan contributed to the film to pay him back.

    The group eventually wanders into a tribe of women, who take them prisoner, leading them to escape to a house that is haunted by ghost and vampires, before finally reaching the Nazi outpost where the hostages are being held. Again, all these different settings and characters add up to a very surreal experience which, while full of variety, really have no connection to each other. The film also has musical numbers too, just to make things even weirder. Nevertheless, the characters all have their own personalities and roles to play, so that helps keeps things consistent if nothing else does. There’s the drinking cowboy-character, the arguing couple, the comedic relief characters and more who have their own distinctive ways. Another of the film’s positives is the martial arts choreography, which is fluid and fun, although dubbed with awful sound effects. Overall, it’s difficult to be to harsh on Fantasy Mission Force: it’s clearly a low budget picture so you can’t expect much, but it is full of so many nonsensical settings and bizarre characters that you can’t help but marvel at their overall ridiculousness. It certainly isn’t boring, and you can easily be entertained by looking for all the different elements that do not go together. Its a fun, if nonsensical, film.