#548 – Bruce Lee Against Superman (1975)
Bruce Lee Against Superman (1975)
Film review #548
Director: Wu Chia-Chun
SYNOPSIS: A scientist, Dr. Ting, has invented a formula that can produce food out of petroleum, thereby potentially solving world hunger. A foreign country has their eye on the formula though, and hire a crime boss to kidnap Dr. Ting and secure the formula for themselves. There plans are being thwarted however, by the superhero The Green hornet, and in response, the villains hire the martial artist Superman to deal with him…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bruce Lee Against Superman (Also called Superdragon vs. Superman) is a 1975 martial arts film. The story is a fairly standard one, with a scientist called Dr. Ting inventing a formula that will apparently solve world hunger by making edible food out of petroleum (although I’m not sure using more fossil fuels will really solve the world’s problems). Anyway, Dr. Ting’s inventions have drawn the attention of a foreign country, who wants the formula for their own nefarious purposes. For this reason, they hire a crime boss and his goons to kidnap Dr. Ting and force him to hand over the formula. It’s all very typical for a martial arts film that came out around this time, as the popularity of the genre exploded, and companies were eager to crank as many of these films out as possible to capitalise on that popularity. But here’s where things go beyond that “standard”: The villains are stopped by none other than the Green Hornet (yes, the superhero) and his sidekick Kato, who after the opening scene, are instead dressed up in the red and black jumpsuits used by the Three Supermen in the film series of the same name (albeit with a hornet on the front). With the villains frustrated, they turn to hire Superman (no, not that superhero), a highly skilled martial artist, to defeat the Green Hornet, who barely appears in the film. The whole experience feels like it is a bunch of Western characters and names put in a blender with some martial arts action stringing them together.
To be fair, there is some justification to most of these things, but the sheer complexity of it all for a simple martial arts film is enough to make your head spin. Bruce Lee starred as Kaito in the 60′s Green Hornet TV series, which was edited into a feature-length movie, which explains why the Green hornet shows up. The “Bruce Lee” in Bruce Lee Against Superman is actually Bruce Li, a lookalike for the actual Bruce Lee who starred in a number of knockoff films due cash in on the popularity of the real deal. The red and black jumpsuits that Kato and the supposed Green Hornet wear occasionally are clearly, as mentioned, the suits worn by the main characters in the Three Supermen films, with the picture of a hornet on the front. These were probably left over from one of the Three Supermen films that had been released before which were produced as an Italian/Hong Kong co-production. The Superman thing…I have no justification for. he doesn’t even look like Superman: he’s just a martial artist with a black and white cape and some goons wearing masks.
The martials arts and action is underwhelming for the most part: the choreography in the fight scenes is fine, but bad camera angles and being unable to frame a shot makes watching them difficult. The car chase has the cars going really slow, as clearly no one knew how to do them properly. There’s also a bizarre scene halfway through the film where a guy is chased through street after street for about five minutes, resulting in the anti-climax of the hero just jumping on him from above when they reach an abandoned building. The film is a wild ride in terms of how mixed up and janky it is, and for that reason it might be worth a watch; just don’t expect anything amazing or serious.
#547 – Super Stooges vs. the Wonder Women (1974)
Super Stooges vs. The Wonder Women (1974)
Film review #547
Director: Alfonso Brescia
SYNOPSIS: A tribal village is constantly under threat from a band of Amazon women who lead raids and terrorise the people of the area. The villagers seek help from three men: a man with superhuman strength, a martial arts ,master, and a man who claims to be a God, and the three team up to stop the Amazons and save the village.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Super Stooges vs. The Wonder Women is a 1974 film, also known as Amazons and Supermen, Return of the Barbarian Women, Barbarian Revenge, amongst others. The film is a derivative of both the film Battle of the Amazons (itself a derivative of the 1973 film The Amazons), and the Three Supermen series. Interestingly, the film is actually made by the same production companies who made those films (with them making the 1973 film Supermen Against the Orient a year earlier). Despite these connections behind the screen, there are no returning characters or story points from these films, and the only similarity to the Three Supermen is that the film stars three men. The plot is simple enough: a tribe of Amazon women are terrorising neighbouring villages. One in particular has turned to a man who claims to be a God, who seemingly protects the village. The plot of the film is simply having these three men (eventually) team up and stop the Amazons. The story does take a while to get going and have the main characters meet up and confront the main threat of the film, but it’s entertaining enough with a mixture of comedy and martial arts. With a runtime of about ninety-five minutes,
Each of the characters have their own unique skills and talents, and perhaps surprisingly, their own story arcs. We have Moog, who has super strength, played by Marc Hannibal, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters. There’s also Chung, a martial artist, and finally Aru, who uses pyrotechnics to fool the villagers and Amazons that he is a God who is protecting the village, and also does a lot of acrobatics too. The variety in the characters and their different origins is pretty interesting, although they don’t really have much time to develop any chemistry between them with the main plot and the individual stories to deal with, but it is at least a decently defined cast.
The Italian/Hong Kong co-production, like in Supermen against the Orient, provides a mixture of Western slapstick comedy, with Eastern martial arts which were popular at the time. There’s a good balance between the two, and while there’s nothing that particularly stands out, at least there’s enough action to keep things energetic and entertaining. We also get some typically scantily-clad women in regards to the Amazons, and while their story doesn’t make too much sense, they get some very odd scenes, such as the opening, which depicts one of their forms of entertainment being to duel with bows and arrows on top of stilts or something…truly bizarre. Overall, Super Stooges vs. The Wonder Women is a silly, cheesy, and messy film that doesn’t offer anything special, does throw a lot of varied characters, entertainment and action into the mix to at least be interesting enough to keep your attention. The runtime is slightly too long for a low-budget film such as this, and could have easily have been trimmed down, but at least the pacing is good, and there’s no protracted scenes of inane dialogue to stretch it out. It feels well made and a decent effort in some parts for a low-budget derivative film, but nothing special otherwise. It’s a bit of a laugh in a “so bad it’s good way” if that is something you want to watch.
#546 – Three Supermen Against the Orient (1973)
Three Supermen Against the Orient (1973)
Film review #546
Director: Bitto Albertini
SYNOPSIS: FBI agent Robert Wallace is once again summoned on a mission just as he is about to get married: this time, he must find six agents who have gone missing in Taiwan. While there, he meets up with his old acquaintances Max and Jerry, the international thieves “The supermen,” and the three reluctantly team up once again to accomplish their goals: Robert to rescue the agents, and Max and jerry to rob the U.S. embassy…
THOUGHTS/ANSLYSIS: Three Supermen Against the Orient is a 1973 martial arts/comedy, and the fifth film in the Three Supermen series, released the same year as the previous Three Supermen of the West. The film follows the typical premise of these films, with an FBI agent teaming up with his old acquaintances the two international thieves, this time to save a group of six agents who have been kidnapped and are being held in the far east. The most notable thing about the film is, if you’ve seen the other films in the series, is that is completely incompatible with them in terms of continuity. For example, the three main characters know each other, which means their previous antics in the other films probably still happened, but the main issue is that the supermen don’t have their bulletproof suits, which is their main selling point. They get them about half way through the film when FBI agent Robert Wallace manages to persuade the American ambassador to hand them over, and the supermen are surprised by them being bulletproof. Adding this up, it seems that the previous films happened, but also didn’t happen at the same time? As far as I am aware, this is the first Three Supermen film to get an English dub, so maybe they wanted to reintroduce the suits for first-time audiences, but then why have the characters know each other prior to the film? It’s very confusing. On the one hand, there’s not too much continuity between the films, as they are self-contained adventures, but at least they didn’t contradict each other.
Apart from the continuity issues, the film feels very much like a typical martial arts film. The supermen don’t even appear until thirty minutes into the runtime, and all this time is spent Wallace wandering around the wrong city before he finally goes to Hong Kong. In some respects, it just feels like a standard martial arts film with the Three Superman shoehorned in, but the director of some of the previous films directs this one, so there is come continuity behind the scenes. There’s still the comedy elements of the franchise and a little bit of slapstick, but it doesn’t go so far as to spoof martial arts films, like it spoofed some other genres in the previous films.
As with some of the other films, the actors have been swapped around: this time, only Sal Borgese, who plays the mute Jerry, returns, with the other two being new actors. In fact, there names are different too, but they are supposed to be the same characters, which again makes the continuity even more confusing. The other characters don’t add too much, but fill their parts just fine. The typical acrobatics that the series is known for is put aside in favour of martial arts, and it’s a shame we don’t get a mixture of the two (the new actors probably don’t have the expertise too). The martial arts was choreographed by a young Jackie Chan, and on the whole it’s well executed and polished, but nothing overly special in the larger context of the huge volume of martial arts films from the seventies.
Overall, Three Supermen in the Orient combines the silliness of the franchise with yet another genre in the form of the martial arts films. However, it sidesteps the spoof and satire in favour of simply making a competent martial arts film with some slapstick western comedy thrown in from time to time. The plot makes no sense in the continuity of the series, but they’re all mostly standalone films anyway, so it can be overlooked. The film doesn’t really add anything to the series, or distinguish itself as a martial arts film, but it’s a decent balance of western comedy and eastern martial arts, backed by competent choreography that might appeal to a broader audience. however, fans of the series may not be too impressed with the riding roughshod over the continuity of the series, and having the main characters rake a backseat.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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/ANALYSIS: Fantasy 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.