It started, as many misadventures in our household do, with my wife cackling madly at something playing on her computer and then insisting I had to… HAD to see it as well. That something was this:
No, it’s from a 1984 movie out of Taiwan called “Ninja Thunderbolt“. Here’s the story synopsis:
The Ninja Empire has been run by an evil master and one member decides to leave the empire. The ex-Ninja wants a Hong Kong detective to track down the new leader and end his reign of terror.
Okay, pretty straightforward plot. I mean, the skating ninjas are odd but kind of awesome at the same time. As a deconstructionist spoof of the grindhouse kung-fu flicks of the 1970s, Ninja Thunderbolt is ingenious in its…
Wait. What do you mean, it’s not a joke?
You honestly want me to accept that a movie that starts with this scene intends to be taken seriously?
Pull the other one, chum; it’s got shuriken on. That was scripting worthy of a Brad Grinter PSA (albeit with less coughing involved). As Ninja Empire mission statements go, I would venture that it needs work… but I don’t know, if they’re killing gods and ghosts who rise against them, I fear their attitude towards simple mortals with constructive criticism.
But by now we’re fascinated enough that Dawn sticks it in our Netflix queue, and we watch it, and… Jesus Smokebombing Christ, this movie is chock full of both batshit insanity and earnestness in equal measure. I mean, yes, it’s a low-budget Kung Fu flick, so you go in with a certain allowance for and even welcoming of cheese… but we’re talking at least four different plotlines running… no, tripping… no, colliding with one another in a murderous orgy of confusion and bad haircuts. That synopsis above? Useless. Effective scene transitions? Non-existent. It is a rare case you will identify all the characters in a given scene by the time that scene has ended. Many times, it’s because there’s a camera crew filming scenes at night or in dark areas that has no idea how to do lighting properly. As this review states, even for a martial arts flick “the whole thing makes about as much sense as a banana riding a tricycle”.
Looking back on Ninja Thunderbolt, I could almost make a case for the filmmakers being long-lost Asian ancestors of Tommy Wiseau. It’s just that much of a random patchwork of scenes (including a Skinemax-worthy sexual encounter). In fact I may give Tommy the nod for quality here, since at least The Room has a clear protagonist. Ninja Thunderbolt is like a Bruce Lee movie where the final battle doesn’t involve Bruce Lee, it involves that bureaucrat guy at the beginning who sends him on the mission. I’m not kidding.
Look, we have a phenomenon of denial in Yakmala! where we can’t accept that what’s happening was meant with any intention of being serious work. Our illustrious Dante is particularly prone to this, but I understand: our minds just naturally rebel at the thought something could have made it to the screen that was this bad, unless the people involved either didn’t care at all or meant it to be that way.
Godfrey Ho is apparently the guilty party here, according to this enthusiastic (if grammatically impaired) review on IMDB:
“Godfrey Ho is probably the greatest trash or b-movie director, he is notorious for his ninja movies, Ninja Thunderbolt is probably the most notorious of his Ninja movies.
Usually, the “plot” on Godfrey Ho movies are confusing and sometimes he “recicles” parts of his older movies and add’s them to his “new” movie (AKA: Cut and paste technique)…
Recommended for who wants to get approached in the craptastic world of Godfrey Ho !”
So that may go a long way to explain why Ninja Thunderbolt feels like several different movies trying (and failing) to co-exist at the same time. But it’s also a movie that has ninjas on rollerskates chasing a guy in a go-cart trike and seems to think it’s providing an experience on the same level as Bullitt. It has a cassette tape used as a lethal throwing weapon. It has a lady insurance agent that can get hit full-on by a speeding car and keep coming after you, with absolutely no explanation of how that’s possible (though I believe personally that she can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are adjusted).
The sincerity with which those moments are presented is the very definition of Yakmala! for me–so, friends and neighbors, you better believe that, despite the low bar set by the Kung Fu genre, I submit this for your consideration.
P.S. Don’t be fooled if you look at places like Amazon.com and see “Starring Jackie Chan”. He has a cameo and that’s all. It’s actually listed on IMDB as just that — (cameo). And after watching the film, I’m honestly not sure where that cameo is. Something for a repeat viewing, I suppose. But I need more beer for that.
P.P.S. Trailer. Dangerous because it makes the movie seem much more coherent. “Ninjaaaa!”