• Film reviews

    #579 – Miami Connection (1987)

    Miami Connection (1987)

    Film review #579

    Director: Richard Park, Y.K. Kim

    SYNOPSIS: A drug deal in Miami is intercepted by a gang of motorcycle riding ninjas. Meanwhile, the Sister of one of the ninjas has joined the band “Dragon Soul,” and her brother disapproves, leading to a lot of martial arts fighting between just about everyone on the streets of Miami.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Miami Connection is a 1987 martial arts film. The film opens up with a drug deal being intercepted by a gang of motorcycle riding ninjas: just in case you’re wondering what kind of film you’re about to experience. The plot of the film is no less bizarre, as it revolves around a band named Dragon Soul, whose members are orphans and best friends, and learn taekwondo with their mentor and fellow bandmember Mark, played by Y.K. Kim, who co-directed, produced, wrote, and nearly bankrupted himself to get this film made. There isn’t really much of an overarching story here, other than everyone in Miami just wants to pick a fight with the band for one reason or another, so they usually have to fight their way out. There’s a plot concerning one of the bandmembers finding his biological Father as well, but nothing really leads to anything or goes anywhere. There’s a message about the band wanting to travel over the world spreading peace and love or something, but that seems rather drowned out by the mass fighting on the streets they get involved in every ten minutes or so.

    Despite all the woeful dialogue, bad acting, and lack of any real story, there is something very charming and enjoyable about this film: its cheesy and nonsensical, but it’s always entertaining as you never quite know what it is going to attempt next. It is a “so bad it’s good” film, and earnestly one of the best. You can tell Kim was deeply passionate about making this film and spreading a message about Taekwondo and brotherhood, but he had absolutely no experience making films in any capacity, and the fact that he had complete control over this film shows. There’s nothing mean-spirited or any sense of a cash-grab, and the good intentions of the filmmaker shine through.

    I think it’s safe to say you won’t see anything else like Miami Connection: it exists in its own universe of 80’s martial arts action and music that, while makes no sense and lacks any kind of filmmaking knowledge, still manages to make a cinematic event that’s still authentic and chaotic enough to make it entertaining, and worthwhile to watch. It’s really not the kind of film you can sum up and review, and perhaps that makes it a bit of essential cinema.

  • Film reviews

    #578 – New York Ninja (2021)

    New York Ninja (2021)

    Film review #578

    Director: John Liu, Kurtis M. Spieler

    SYNOPSIS: John, a sound technician at a TV station learns that his wife is pregnant. Shortly after, she is killed after witnessing a kidnapping. Determined to take revenge, and with the police investigation going nowhere, John becomes the “N.Y. Ninja,” and take down the bad guys on the streets of New York while searching for his wife’s killers…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: New York Ninja is a 2021 martial arts film. The story behind this film is very fascinating, and should serve as a backdrop to any analysis of the film: all of the footage was shot in the 80’s under the direction of John Liu, who also starred in the main role (also named John Liu). The film was never released, and the footage went unused until it was acquired by the film preservation company Vinegar Syndrome. The footage had no credits, audio, storyboards or script, so the six to eight hours of footage had to be cut down into a coherent film, dialogue written and recorded, and a soundtrack written. Thus, we get New York Ninja: a “new” 80’s movie in 2021. The plot itself concerns a sound technician whose pregnant wife is murdered because she witnesses some sort of kidnapping. From here the story gets completely wild: John becomes a vigilante ninja to bring criminals to justice, and hunting down the men who killed his wife, who apparently work for a serial killer called “The Plutonium Killer” who is somewhat mutated from radiation exposure or something.

    As mentioned, the film’s footage was discovered with no script or audio, so the editors had to somehow make a coherent story out of the hours of footage they had. To the editors credit, they do manage to make something coherent. However, just because it is coherent doesn’t mean it makes any kind of rational sense: the film is absolutely all over the place even with the editing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, that’s what makes the film so fun. This film is genuinely a case of not knowing what happens next, because nothing you see is a logical precursor to what will happen. you can have a ninja on roller skates fighting crime, then there’s “The Plutonium Killer,” whose origins are never explained. At one point, The Plutonium Killer manages to take someone else’s appearance by burning an photo of them: the whole thing has no rhyme or reason, and it’s glorious.

    You can tell that a lot of heart and good will was put into this movie, even if nobody had any idea how to make a film, and that’s part of its appeal. There’s some attempt at choreography in the fight scenes, but nothing overly spectacular, and there’s some effort put into the make up on The Plutonium Killer as his face melts off, but there’s nothing else really noteworthy about the effects or the production. This film shines through at being a fun “so bad it’s good” film, with over-the-top performances, quotable dialogue, fun fights and just being so damn unpredictable that it’s a riot to watch alone or with friends: probably both, because it’s perfectly rewatchable too.

  • Film reviews

    #577 – Diamond Ninja Force (1988)

    Diamond Ninja Force (1988)

    Film review #577

    Director: Godfrey Ho

    SYNOPSIS: Construction work unearths human remains that turn out to be the burial site of the magical Black Ninja Clan. Their descendants try to blackmail the land owners to sell the land of them but they refuse, forcing the Black Ninja Clan to hire a witch to mess with them. the owners hire Gordon, a magical ninja from another clan, to defeat the Black Ninja Clan.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Diamond Ninja Force is a 1988 martial arts film. The plot revolves around Gordon, a ninja who is hired to stop the evil Black Ninja Clan from blackmailing and threatening a landowner and his family who have unearthed the burial grounds of the Black Ninja Clan following some construction work there. The clan also hire a witch to use her magic on the landowner’s family, so they call in Gordon, another ninja to stop the Black Ninja Clan. If the plot sounds all over the place, then there is good reason for that: that’s exactly what it is. The film opens up with an introduction by martial artist Shô Kosuge, who introduces the katana to viewers; he does not, however, mention the film you are about to watch in any capacity. The film itself doesn’t make much sense, in part because it is composed of bits of different films stitched together that barely relate to one another. There’s a horror film about a family being haunted by an evil spirit that forms part of the plot, and the scenes with Gordon in are clearly made after to fit around them. As a result of this mish-mash of footage, the film has no sense of pacing or structure. Some scenes last far too long, such as the awkward sex scene, and the whole sub-plot concerning a horny witch relates to nothing. In fact, the whole element of magic just makes little sense.

    Gordon seems to be the least likely candidate for a ninja that you could possibly imagine: he is a middle-aged, moustached white man. What sort of Ninja clan he is supposed to be descended from I have no idea. Richard Harrison, who plays Gordon, also played a ninja in a previous Godfrey Ho film: Ninja Terminator, but this is not a sequel to that film, as the character he played in that film was named Harry. however, he had the same wife, ninja powers, and even the same Garfield-shaped phone he would use, which just makes things even more confusing. The rest of the characters don’t really make much of an impact: their voices are dubbed over the footage from other films so there’s very little holding everything together. While there is clearly a bit of choreography done in the fight scenes, it offers nothing exciting or special; just some backflipping to dodge some bullets which seems wholly inefficient. Overall, Diamond Ninja Force is a mess, but an expected mess typical of Ho’s work. The lack of any kind of pacing, reason or coherence in this film makes it tough to get through, and while there’s a few points that are pretty funny because of how bad or out of place they are (such as the Garfield phone), on the whole it just fails to be entertaining. Maybe worth a watch just to see how absurd it is.

  • Film reviews

    #576 – Eagle Island (1986)

    Eagle Island (1986)

    Film review #576

    Director: Mats Helge

    SYNOPSIS: A military installation in Sweden comes under attack by Russian special forces ninjas. The soldiers on the island attempt to fend them off from obtaining a secret code.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Eagle Island is a 1986 action film. Set on Eagle Island (unsurprisingly) somewhere near Sweden, a military installation comes under attack from a group of Russian special forces who might also be ninjas, looking for a secret code, and the inhabitants must fend off the attackers. There’s not much else to say about the story: it is both completely devoid of any substance, and overly convoluted with additional characters that serve no purpose. The main thread of the story (apart from the Russian ninjas) is a guard on the island who has to escort a woman trespassing on the island to take photos of the eagles that give the island its name back to the mainland. The two inexplicably fall in love and get together, and when they learn about the Russian ninjas, they decide to go back to the island to stop them or something. It sounds like a premise which might be interesting, but there is so little that actually happens in the film you’ll be horrendously bored and disappointed that the film doesn’t match the premise.

    Probably the most disappointing aspect is that the “ninjas” aren’t really ninjas at all, and just use weapons. Obviously the film wanted to capitalise on the ninja trend, but without wanting to do the choreography and stunts for it. The action is just the occasional gunfight, and as mentioned the story is all over the place and fails to establish any of the characters in any real depth. The most notable aspect of the film and it’s only real saving point is the soundtrack: it is the most eighties soundtrack you can ever imagine, and the synths and beat goes hard. It’s actually not a bad soundtrack either, but it is wholly misplaced in this film, and just adds to the sense of confusion experienced while watching. Overall, Eagle Island is a mess that is devoid of any real story, its characters have no personality or development, and the soundtrack is just so out of place it’s difficult to comprehend it. You don’t need to let you curiosity get the better of you with this one: there’s really nothing of value here.