Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

Challenge_Of_The_Lady_NinjaDirector: Lee Tso-Nam
Starring: Elsa Yeung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Peng Kong, Kam Yin-Fei

Challenge of the Lady Ninja is a difficult film to describe because it refuses to explain itself. Not that any film should have to spoon feed an audience, but in this instance it almost comes across as if they were making the story up as they were going along. But let’s see if I can put the pieces together. Firstly, it is a contemporary film, meaning it appears to be set in the year that is was made – being 1982. I know this because the villains drive around in modern motor cars. Next point, Japan has invaded China, and now controls Shanghai. However there is an underground resistance of freedom fighters who are rebelling against the Japanese oppressors. So Chinese / Japanese animosity is at an all time high.

As the movie opens in Shanghai, we meet the villain of the piece, Lee Tung. We know he is the villain, because Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars plays when we see him first. Lee Tung lives in a luxurious villa, with high walls and four specialist bodyguards – skilled at various martial arts.

Lee Tung is a Chinese business man but is reviled because he works hand in hand with the Japanese, He is considered a traitor to his people. His uncle, and prospective father-in-law calls on Lee Tung and begs him to change his ways. Lee Tung refuses. Uncle has no option but to try and kill Lee Tung. But before he can strike, he is cut down by the body guards.

The movie changes location to Japan, and we are introduced to Yu Chow Wei. She is at ninja school, and the time has come for her to prove she is worthy of being a ninja by passing a series of tests. Wearing a fire-engine red ninja costume, during the test she is attacked by the other ninja students as she tries to make it through a forest to a temple where she must retrieve a medallion. It is during this test, we are introduced to Miss Wu’s special ninja power – which I have got to say is kinda goofy! Surrounded by a cadre of ninja men holding swords, with a Linda Carter Wonder Woman twirl, she magically appears as a smokin’ hot bikini babe. The ninja men go all slack jawed and goggle-eyed. They drop their weapons and rush forward to… well, I guess some kind of ninja gang-bang. Thankfully before the movie gets all rapey, it is revealed that the smokin’ hot babe shtick is all an illusion planted in their minds. She is standing to the side, still dressed in her ninja costume. She throws a smoke bomb at the ninjas who are groping thin air. Then she continues her quest.

Her last challenge is against the number one pupil at the ninja school. He is guarding the medallion. If she gets past him, she will become the first lady ninja. She does succeed by outwitting him. However, he thinks she is unworthy of being a ninja for two reasons. Firstly, because she is a woman. And secondly, because – shock horror – she is Chinese!

At graduation, Miss Yu is informed of her father’s death. If you haven’t worked it out, she is the first cousin of Lee Tung (and his fiance). It was her father that was killed in the opening scene. So now equipped with freshly minted ninja skills, she heads back to Shanghai for her father’s funeral, and naturally to avenge him – because she is a ninja!

Upon arrival back home, Miss Yu finds things are worse than she though in Shanghai. She decides to train three other women in the art of ninja-ism so they can take down Lee Tung and his Japanese lackeys. This provides the opportunity for a training montage as the ladies get into shape – and it must be said, it contains a studied amount of leering, upskirt, crotch-shot photography. I always like to use the words upskirt, crotch-shot where possible in my film reviews because it helps the blog attract more traffic. While I am at it, I would just like to add naked, nude and porn. They have little to do with the movie, but once again will increase the amount of hits this post receives. But the film does have boobies though, so there’s that. But where was I? Actually I think I’ve finished. So let’s wrap this up.

So the rebels, with the assistance of four lady ninjas take on Lee Tung and his bodyguards. Ninja mayhem ensues – swordfights, smokebombs and er, mud wrestling! Despite any veneer of being a cheesy sleazy ninja flick, Challenge of the Lady Ninja actually turns out to be a cheesy sleazy spy flick, complete with a twist ending (which I have to admit I did not see coming).

Needless to say, this film is not for everyone. But let’s face it, the name Challenge of the Lady Ninja tells the viewer everything they need to know. Ninjas. Ladies. And it’s relative obscurity means you’re not going to accidentally pick this film up. You’d have to seek this one out, and if you’re the type to seek out a cheap-jack Hong Kong film called Challenge of the Lady Ninja, then you know what your in for before you even start watching it. Therefore my thumbs up or thumbs down opinion is pointless really. But let’s just say the overall goofiness of the film won me over in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

For a more in-depth review with screencaps, head over to TarsTarkas.net

Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

American Ninja 4: Annihilation (1990)

Country: United States
Director: Cedric Sundstrom
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Dwayne Alexandre, Robin Stille, Ken Gampu, Jody Abrahams, Franz Dobrowsky
Writer: David Geeves (James Booth)
Music: NictenBroek

Sheik Ali Maksood (Ron Smerczak) has a grudge against the West. He also has a nuclear device that will fit into a suitcase (which he allegedly intends to set off in New York). The US President sends a team of Delta Force soldiers, to the un-named African country, where Maksood is hiding out, to retrieve the weapon.

However, what the Americans don’t realise, is that Maksood also has a army of Ninja training at his secret base. The ninja surround the Delta Force team, picking them off one by one, until only four remain. They are captured, and a video tape is send to the US, saying unless the government pays a 50 million dollar ransom, the soldiers will be killed.

A rescue mission is launched and G-6 agent, Sean Davidson (David Bradley – the ninja from American Ninja 3), and his sidekick Carl Brackston (Dwayne Alexandre) are sent to the un-named African country to rescue them. They parachute in and meet their contact, who happens to be a boy named Pongo (Jody Abrahams).

Maksood’s chief of security is a mad sadist, named Mulgrew (James Booth – who also worked on the script under the name David Geeves). Mulgrew hears about Davidson and Brackston, and goes searching for them (with the aid of an army). In a small village, our heroes are given shelter by a WHO nurse named Sarah (Robin Stille). Mulgrew’s search proves fruitless.

American Ninja 4
Michael Dudikoff is Joe Armstrong - American Ninja #1

But of course, Maksood also has an army of ninjas on hand, and they quickly track down our heroes. A fight ensues, with American Ninja, Davidson, killing many of the attacking ninja. But he can’t hold them all off. Davidson, Brackston and Sarah are captured and taken to Maksood’s fortress. However, Pongo manages to flee.

At the fortress ninja training is taking place, and it is revealed that Maksood has a whole variety of different colour coded ninja – red, blue, yellow, black… and my favourite the white nuclear ninjas.

American Ninja 4
David Bradley is Sean Davidson - American Ninja #2

So with Davidson’s capture, what will G-6 (and for that matter, the American government) do? They call on Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff – the star of the first two American Ninja films). Armstrong has retired from the ninja trade, and now works for the Peace Corps as a teacher. He just wants to be left alone. But once he hears how his friend, Davidson, has been captured, he has little choice but to go in and rescue him.

American Ninja 4
Evil Ninja have the American Ninja surrounded

But even the original American Ninja needs some help, so, with the aid of Pongo, he teams up with a gang of outcast rebels, who look like rejects from the Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior. They storm Maksood’s fortress and much ninja mayhem ensues.

American Ninja 4
One of the numerous 'falling ninja' in American Ninja 4

The first American Ninja was only a B-Grade, low budget affair – albeit hugely enjoyable (I like the second film best). Applying the law of diminishing returns (and therefore diminishing budgets), then it is fair to say that American Ninja 4 probably had less that a shoe-string budget. But most of that non-budget is up on the screen to be seen – mostly ninja uniforms, haircare product and explosions.

American Ninja 4
White 'Nuclear Ninja' load the atomic device on a helicopter

It is interesting to see both American Ninja together in the one film. David Bradley as Sean Davidson is clearly the superior martial artist – his fight scenes are more convincing than Dudikoff’s. However, Dudikoff, as Joe Armstrong, has the screen presence that Bradley lacks, and the film feels more alive in the second half when he is on screen.

The film isn’t high art and never tries to be. It simply tries to deliver a modicum of martial art entertainment and generally it succeeds (well, at least for undemanding viewers – and I guess I am one of those).

American Ninja 4: Annihilation (1990)

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Country: United States
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Michelle Botes, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway, Jeff Celentano, Jonathan Pienaar, Bill Curry, Dennis Folbigge, Ralph Draper
Music: Michael Bishop & George S. Clinton

American Ninja 2 is a huge improvement over the first film in the series. It is fast, furious and funny. Yes, that is right, it is funny. The series developed a sense of humour, which considering the silliness of the story, is very welcome. Also Dudikoff and James are much more relaxed and confident in front of the camera. Particularly Dudikoff, who displayed the acting skills of a plank of wood in the first film.

The story starts on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and three US Marines who are stationed there to protect the US Embassy are racing along a coast road on motorcycles. Before I go any further, let me explain that being stationed at St. Thomas is not like the usual military posting . It is pretty cruisy, with the Marines not required to wear uniform, and seem to spend much of their time, surfing and seducing the female population (the bulk of which, it would appear, spend their whole life clad in bikinis).

The motorcycling Marines stop at a bar for a drink, only to to accosted by some burly locals. Naturally enough a fight ensues, and two of the Marines are knocked out. From the back door a team of black clad Ninja (what is the plural of Ninja? Is it ‘Ninjas’ or is it still just Ninja?) enter the bar and hoist the unconscious men over their shoulders. Then they carry them out the back.

The remaining Marine, Tommy Taylor (Jonathan Pienaar) had been a part of the setup. It appears that he is being blackmailed, as the as yet unknown bad guys are holding his wife hostage. Of course, Taylor reports to his commanding officer (a man known as Wild Bill) that he was knocked out, and does not know what happened to his fellow Marines. However, at the bar, a young boy named Toto was hiding behind a pinball machine, and he witnessed the whole abduction and also reports it to Wild Bill.

The two abducted Marines brings the total of missing Marines to four, and two others disappeared of a motorboat, and Wild Bill makes his report to Washington, telling the tale of the strange black clad Ninja. He asks for help. And what does he receive? A squad of Marines to take control of the situation? No. Two Army Rangers, Sergeant Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Sergeant Curtis Jackson (Steve James). On a Marine base, Army Rangers aren’t exactly welcome, and immediately the two men are treated as interfering interlopers. However, as anyone who has seen American Ninja 1 would know, these two men have had experience at fighting teams of Ninja before.

For those not familiar with the characters, let me explain. Joe Armstrong was brought up by a Japanese man, who passed on the skills of Ninjitsu. Now he is the only American who knows the secrets of the Ninja. He is the American Ninja. Curtis Jackson is the enthusiastic amateur. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good martial artist, but good martial arts are nothing compared to the skills of a Master Ninja.

Of course, it isn’t long until turncoat Taylor tries to set Armstrong and Jackson up, and on a beach, a team of Ninja come for them. Naturally our boys fight them off, but of course, their resistance marks them as a threat, and the villains of the piece target them for extermination.

As for the villain, well he’s Leo Bourke (Gary Conway) – known to all and sundry as The Lion. The Lion is the world’s biggest drug dealer, and to stay Number One, he has a plan to create a SuperNinja Army. Utilising misguided bio-geneticist, Professor Sanbourne the Lion’s plan for world domination is close to coming to fruition. On Blackbeard Island, Sanbourne is close to completing a bio-engineered army of SuperNinja, all of them with ultimate fighting skills encoded into their DNA. That’s where the kidnapped Marines come in – they provide DNA for the SuperNinja. Of course, Armstrong and Jackson have to stop them and spend the climax of the movie beating up a whole swag of Ninja. The Marines get involved too, and lots of things blow up.

I cannot stress how much fun this movie is. Sure it has it limitations in budget, and some of that shows on the screen – for example when the Lion is addressing his team of SuperNinja, and outlining his plot for world domination, his corporate logo (half lion/half shuriken) looks to be drawn on a blackboard with chalk. But generally the film acknowledges its limitations and finds ways to work around them. Dudikoff is not a naturally gifted martial artist, so many of his action sequences are more of a typically American action film style; such as bar-room brawls and car chases, or more traditional fisticuffs. It is only at the end that he has to go Ninja, and use swords and knives.

As I mentioned at the top, Dudikoff and James were much more relaxed this time around and work off each other well. James gets the best of the comedy routines, and as the titled American Ninja, Dudikoff is front and centre during most of the action scenes.

Of course, a movie made in 1987 will have dated somewhat in its style. The haircuts and music in particular have an ’80s cringe factor, but you have to expect that sort of thing, and allow it to wash over you. If you can do that, and if you’re in the mood for some low budget Cannon Film (the sign of quality!) hijinx, then American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, dishes out all that could be expected from a film of its kind, and in fact, probably surpasses all expectations.

I cannot argue that this is a spy film, as our heroes are Army Rangers, rather than spies. However there are many familiar espionage tropes – particularly when our heroes storm the villains lair. The glass booths used by the Lion to create his new army of genetic SuperNinja could come out of any ’60s Eurospy flick (particularly Lightning Bolt).

Michael Dudikoff also starred in Avenging Force as a retired secret service operative.

Composer, George S. Clinton did the incidental music for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and its sequels.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)