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Lethal Ninja


(left) NINJAS! and (right) Dayo Wong and Eva Huang.

Chinese: 終極忍者  
Year: 2006
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Producer: Sam Leung Tak-Sum, Shin Yoneyama
Action: Li Chung-Chi
Cast: Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Eva Huang Shengyi, Hisako Shirata, Masato, Eddy Ko Hung, Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong
The Skinny: Everyone loves ninjas, but not everyone will love Lethal Ninja. Herman Yau's low-budget actioner doesn't have enough action, and the drama is largely canned. Then again, how can you hate a film with ninjas?
by Kozo:

It's finally here: Lethal Ninja, the low-budget action flick from director Herman Yau. Once upon a time, this film was talked about like it was actually going to get released very soon. Cut to eighteen or so month later, and Lethal Ninja finally got a release, though the number of screens and showtimes could probably be counted on one hand. And it's not really a surprise; while featuring fan-friendly icons like ninjas, Lethal Ninja is an obvious misfire, possessing only flashes of action, a ridiculous narrative and ninjas that would seem more appropriate for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie than a serious Asian action feature. Lethal Ninja is so off that it's laughable - but that may be its one winning conceit. When all else fails, camp is king.

Lethal Ninja gets off to a rollicking start with some mysterious business types making an unknown getaway by car. After someone delivers the immortal line, "Tell them to stop the ninjas," it becomes silly action central. A bunch of ninjas appear, chasing the car on foot, and using whatever nifty ninja tricks they have to prevent the getaway. Things go bad, the ninjas prevail and a Dr. Kikuchi gets beheaded. Kikuchi's noggin gets taken to evil bastard Mr. Brian (Waise Lee), who applies blatantly fantastic computer technology to steal secrets from Kikuchi's brain. Brian strip-mines Kikuchi's brain to find the key to opening a special red box that contains the secret of "Jinrui," a MacGuffin said to cure any disease, including all manner of STDs and even the common cold. Mr. Brian wants to use the cure to make a fortune, and with a bunch of ninjas at his side, success must be in the offing.

But Brian can't open the box. However, a clue exists in the form of Kikuchi's dying message, written in blood. That message: "Kill Copy." No, that isn't a plea against audience piracy, it's a message to kill some guy named Copy, played here by eternally snarky comic actor Dayo Wong. Copy is a street musician who loves playing the same tune on his flute, and Wong plays him in such a cynically blithe manner that he seems to be acting in another movie. Brian thinks Copy has the key to opening the box, and sics his pet ninja Tora Daisuke (Masato) after Copy. But Tora Daisuke is thwarted by ninjas Hibiki (Hisako Shirata) and Xiao Ling (Eva Huang of Kung Fu Hustle). Hibiki actually wants to fulfill Kikuchi's wish to kill Copy, but Xiao Ling and her teacher (Eddy Ko) want to preserve Copy's life because they're the good guys, and good guys don't kill musicians named Copy.

The good ninjas sequester Copy and the injured Hibiki to hidden Kirakure Village, where the movie slows to a glacial crawl and Copy learns the amazing ways of modern ninja. Not only do they look like Eva Huang and are insanely adorable, but they manufacture their own ninja stars out of recycled soda cans, and generally enjoy life while simultaneously learning deadly ninja arts. Copy teaches the local ninja kids how to play the flute, Hibiki starts to realize that killing Copy may be a rash idea, and Copy discovers that life as a modern ninja can be quite pleasant, though sometimes mystifyingly boring. The trio (that is, Copy, Hibiki and Xiao Ling) spend time ruminating on their personal dreams, while simultaneously preparing for the idyllic village festival. Meanwhile, Brian schemes to get Copy back, and the audience wonders if anything really interesting will happen.

Taken as a whole, Lethal Ninja is a bizarre cinematic concoction. On one hand, the film is presented seriously, with interludes for grave monologues, supposedly tragic romance (Hibiki and Tora Daisuke are ill-fated lovers on opposing sides), personal soul-searching (all the main characters make overblown wishes during the village festival), and some flirtation with actual bodily harm. On the other hand, the film has such ironic conceits as fourth wall jokes (at one point, a character talks to the audience), wacky wirework or cheesy CGI, and above all, Dayo Wong. It's safe to say that the parts don't fit, as the drama never truly convinces, and all the touchy-feely stuff that occurs at Kirakure Village embarrasses more than if affects. The action, while sometimes entertaining, is given to cheesy staging that seems more reminiscent of a seventies TV show than a 21st century motion picture. Plus the conflicts are routine, and the characters little more than cardboard. The lone exception is Dayo Wong, but again, he seems to be acting in another film. Given his self-conscious snarky performance, it almost seems like Wong knows that he's acting in crap.

Then again, director Herman Yau probably knows it too. Yau is a smart enough director to know when he's making something that's not up to standard, and Lethal Ninja is sometimes presented so seriously that you have to wonder if cheesy mediocrity was the entire point of the film. Was Yau (who was also responsible for the story) always aiming for B-level schlock, and was his casting of Dayo Wong intended to be his self-amused ironic commentary? It's likely that I'm looking too much into the film, but Yau's B-grade genre efforts have usually been a step above the forgettable. Stuff like The Untold Story or even The Masked Prosecutor were better than their genre trappings, and in retrospect, Yau's Troublesome Night films can be considered minor gems. Sadly, Lethal Ninja does not reach the rarefied(?) air of Yau's previous efforts, and exists mainly as a "so bad it's amusing" curiosity. If that was the goal, then Lethal Ninja is an unqualified success as it does amuse in a "that's one crazy bad movie" sort of way. And hey, it does have ninjas. The whole film doesn't make the grade, but thanks to the ninjas, extra credit is given. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Film and Video Distributors
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen