Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Duncean Bauer
Cast: Jeff Houston, John Wilford, Christine Wells, Glenn Carson, George Dickson.
There was a time in the 1980s and early '90s where ninja flicks were popular. We were exposed to cheesy but wonderfully choreographed pieces, and every time you watched one of these films you were hoping Sho Kosugi would be the lead actor. Ninja Phantom Heroes is not one of those films.
WARNING: I do not know any of the character's names, besides that of side characters who do not feature in the film for more than a couple of minutes. I guess Godfrey Ho thought it was a great idea and "innovative" to not give the characters actual names. Apologies for the confusion that is about to happen...I am still confused.
There are all kinds of craptacular masterpieces out there, and I can tolerate a lot of them, but this -- it REALLY tried my patience. When a film doesn't include the character's names, leaves no explanation for why they are doing anything, and not a single scene connects to one another, it makes you question if the film is going to get better-- this doesn't. Firstly, two caucasian martial artists meet in Asia to discuss -- OK, you know what? I'm not actually sure what -- because IT WASN'T MAKING SENSE! Then we skip to a Chinese couple who are arguing about going horse riding. And yes, they do go horse riding. Jump to another scene, Asian businessmen standing around in tuxedos and laughing really obnoxiously, and they are trying to plot something, but I don't even think *they* know what. And inserted in between were random cut-aways of ninjas training. For what? I am still not sure. Are you lost yet? I was lost at the 55-minute mark.
While sitting at that 55-minute mark, I contemplated the events that led me up to choosing this film. I was full of hope for schlock but so-bad-it's-good schlock. After having it on pause and venting out my frustration by swearing at my TV, I decided to keep going. The highlight of the film was seeing the two caucasian martial artists fighting in some random forest (not sure how they got there by the way). This part gave me hope because out of the blue they started fighting the so-called bad guy, who looked like the love child of Dolph Lundgren and Matthias Hues. And just as they started fighting, they crossed their arms and all of a sudden were dressed as ninjas! WHERE THE HELL DID THIS COME FROM? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? EXPLAIN THIS TO ME! GIVE ME A DAMN SUBTITLE ON THE SCREEN, OR HAVE A CHEESY VOICE OVER, I DON'T CARE BUT PLEASE START TO MAKE SENSE...sorry I don't mean to yell but GOD DAMN! The choreography is average at best, but it has definitely been sped up, which does not translate well on screen. If anything it looks like a Benny Hill re-run.
Then we jump back to the Asian couple, (oh, by the way, they got married, didn't see a wedding, but it freakin' happened! Apparently they think they were only married because the husband was after his new wife's money -- why? IT'S NEVER EXPLAINED? How the hell did we get to this part? I don't know...I am so close to crying in a corner while in a strait-jacket all because it's so hard to explain this damn film. Then we have a cut-away scene to random guys in uniforms -- I'm going to take a stab at it, and say FBI or something similar. Either way, they are discussing a certain character -- not sure who -- but this character managed to kill two million people. Yes, TWO FREAKIN' MILLION. It's not explained how or why. They then continue on discussing how it will cause chaos if they don't step in.
OK, stop right there a second. They think if they don't stop him now it will turn into chaos? The guy has killed two million people already, and only now is it chaotic? You would think these guys would have stepped in at least in the one hundred thousand mark.I guess that isn't chaotic enough.
By this point, we are reaching the climax of the film. And still nothing makes sense. Do the three plot lines come together in the final moments, finally giving the film the tiniest of redeeming qualities? No, they do not. People are hit by cars in one scene, and in another the ninjas fight near a cliff and what an underwhelming fight it is. Then it just ends. Not a single thing is tied up. And do I care? No, I don't care because at this point I am dialling my phone and telling the men in white coats to come and give me a lobotomy.
If you know Godfrey Ho you would know by now he is a director known for a couple of things. He directs ninja films...A LOT of ninja films, he works under pseudonyms such as Bruce Lambert, and lastly a lot of his films are old stock footage which he pastes together with the hope they all blend together nicely. I have a sneaky suspicion that this is one of THOSE films.
Godfrey Ho has a deep passion for ninjas and everything martial arts, and it's a real shame that he hasn't translated that passion on screen effectively very often. His films definitely do have a following out there, because a lot of people like the fact that he uses different stock footage to create a unique film, and you gotta give him that -- his films sure are unique.
I had hopes that this film would be fun, schlocky and make me laugh. Unfortunately it did none of those things. For anyone who has a specific martial art boxset called 100 Greatest Martial Arts Classics by Mill Creek Entertainment, this will not be under Ninja Phantom Heroes but instead be under the name of Ninja Empire - another Godfrey Ho film which it often gets confused with. So for the people who own that boxset, for your own sanity do NOT turn on the film Ninja Empire.
Does it even matter?