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Ninjas are a sure fire way to get me to watch a movie. They are on a long list of subjects that guarantee I will, if given the chance, indulge in a film. I have hurdled through various genres or degrees of quality solely due to the promise of a ninja appearing on screen at some point. The movie doesn't even have to be good, which is great, because there are tons of bad flicks involving the mythic assassins. Ninjas go well with everything, but they meld especially well in trash flicks. In a way the ninja, as we know and love it, belongs to cheesy entertainment. Not that there wasn't historically a people labeled as such, but the stylized image most of us pull to mind when we hear the word has been mostly formed of uninformed (but fun) fiction. The dark clad magical death fairy we have come to recognize as a “ninja” is, in bulk, the product of sensationalist oral storytelling, literary action tales and repeating trends in b-movies. It's as if two separate things share the name with only a minor relationship. On the one hand, you have the very real group of sneaky mercenaries that purposely remained mostly unknown, and on the other, one of entertainment’s many beautiful bastard children in some cool/comfortable fight clothing. In films, they can range from a magical order of karate wizards to cronie cannon fodder for the hero to mop up in faceless droves. The fill-in-the-blanks nature allows them to be shoved into most situations with little struggle, be it as major characters or hired help. In a lot of cases, it just makes a bad movie better, like throwing in something like nudity or a chainsaw.  I fucking love ninjas, real ones and fake ones, whatever ninjas you got really.  I hope to one day marry a ninja. You know who else really fucking loves ninjas? Godfrey Ho... or at least I assume he does since he was so instrumental in my gratuitous affection for the fake kind of ninjas. A huge chunk of his life's work incorporates one, or a bunch, as well as a title that contains the word. This, of course, includes his unexplainably absorbing mess of kung-fu and incredibly bad dubbing- Ninja Dragon (1986).
The film opens up with a suspiciously familiar duel between two ninjas that freezes as the credits are displayed. Here we see The Ninja Master Gordon (Richard Harrison) having it out with a nameless ninja, using various techniques and styles. It doesn't actually tell you his name here, but he is wearing a camouflage hoodie and I have seen enough Ho films to say it’s a safe bet. After the credits' funky stolen music comes to an abrupt stop, and without giving a reason for the duel (ever), we cut to a table full of dudes in suits making “brumph” noises with little flags everywhere like a mini-UN luncheon. But after Ninja Master Gordon shows up, someone breaks out a deck of cards, and they all go in for some high stakes, nondescript gambling. I guess Gordon owns a bank or something, or maybe everyone owns a bank and he just has the best one (I don't really know). After he wipes the floor with everyone in whatever card game they are playing, he bounces out to do special mobster/banker/ninja stuff elsewhere. One of the players, Paul(Paulo Tocha), sticks around to do some shit-talking afterward. Because he hates losing at cards all the time, he decides to have rival gang leader, Furious Fox, kill Gordon’s “partner” Black Eagle. This (barely) leads to a scene on the street where a man is attacked by matching members of the men in black (but like pre-MIB movies when they had cool hats), after they cap a few of their own guys for dramatic effect (I think, it starts getting shaky about here and suddenly the background looks like Japan in the 50s). It turns out the victim was Black Eagle (who knew?), and there is a war going on between the groups, already involving another dead guy in a closet. Gordon gets word of his friend’s death while hanging out at his ninja cabin and vows revenge. But because he has important business to do somewhere...else (in the tall background grass), he leaves it up to his sharply dressed homie, Dragon. Able to move within the rival gang’s cartoon-mobster universe because of his attire, Dragon takes on most of the opposition, plotting as he navigates the Ninja/Mobster underworld and takes care of the deceased's family. Oh yea-- everyone is a ninja, all those dudes playing poker, the gangsters-- everyone.  It doesn't matter what the fuck you normally do in this flick, when it's time to ninja up, the background changes, and you fucking ninja up. Of course, at some point, Gordon shows back up in an economy car, dressed in his favorite camouflage ninja suit to fight that same old pesky ninja in red (from all the other movies where he does the same exact thing), and justice gets served to some degree...I think anyway. During a fight scene, the movie just kinda ends.
Ninja Dragon is the mash-up of recycled scenes lifted from the 1982 movie Hei Juan Tao (1982) (as well as possibly other sources) and Ho’s infamous stash of Richard Harrison footage. The rehashing from the earlier film Hei JuanTao, most likely accounts for the flattened thriller like tone the flick contains in its fluffy bulk. It was one of many Godfrey Ho films that Harrison “starred” in without his prior knowledge. As the legend goes, Cult films star Richard Harrison played a part in what he thought was two (or three) Godfrey Ho films during his b movie adventures in the Far East, in the latter part of his career. The experience was less than stellar on set and, much to Harrison’s dismay, Ho repeatedly used the footage shot for the films in future releases that billed Harrison as the star.  Godfrey Ho made over ten films in this fashion, each with Harrison on the cover. So distressed with the whole business, Harrison even later credited it with being the major factor in him stepping away from cinema and compared the situation to prostitution. This formula usually amounting to the story of a camouflaged clad ninja called Gordon who shows up in already broken storylines, out of nowhere, and at some point fights another ninja that is wearing red. This film is no exception to that rule, and despite probably being the driest of the bunch, it features my favorite chunks of the well worn Harrison fight scene.
The juxtaposed plot mostly takes its almost random points from mob movies, The Godfather series most obviously. I haven't seen the original film (Hei Juan Tao), but the reused scenes seem to indicate that it is a crime drama set in the 1950s. There is talk of "families" and "respect" to blend in with the well-dressed group dynamic, with the word ninja thrown in every so often to keep it on track. Harrison's character is awkwardly shoved in as some kind of broken Yojimbo, and except for a few small cuts every so often, almost serves as a wrap-around. Because of the tone set by the filler, it's a much less eccentric outing than other Ho/Harrison films, but the hilarious dubbing and even worse dialog keep it from being dull. Predictably the jumble of a story loses what makeshift wheels it has early on, and you’re left just kind of waiting for ninja fights. Because one of the warring clans doubles as the local cliche mafia, a lot of their villainy is done with old-fashioned guns in a “hit” like fashion. In fact, most of the Carnage in the film goes down with vintage shootouts and Mobland-esque murder. That is until without explanation, there are Kung-fu moments, and everyone turns into a ninja. I just assume they must have some kind of an unbreakable no Tommy-Gun rule when it comes to certain high profile fights, as those are martial weapons only affairs. The job of explaining the connection between each drastically unrelated scene is delegated to the character’s conversations, of which they are amusingly inept.  There is plenty of dialog, but nothing serves to make light of the haphazard details in the plot. You do have to give him credit for his cut and paste skills, as he tries his darndest to splice a conversation together between Harrison and Dragon. It is really pretty amazing, even though Dragon is inexplicably a gangster from what looks like a really boring low budget period piece. Unfortunately, that conversation is really the only time the two separate casts ever connect on screen. A lot of the film’s unintentional laughs come from the flimsy fastening of available footage using almost clever “writing” techniques. The two universes are anagrammed together to create a completely new third universe with little logic and its own set of rules.
Its pure garbage-- and the kind only Godfrey Ho can give you (I have written about a more atypical film of his previously). His use of extreme editing to create movies seems somehow greasier than other masters of the technique, like Fred Olen Ray(and his endless  stock) or Troma(with gags like the frequent car flip). The comedy provided by the film can only be created by accident, and no parody could do justice to it's fucked up charm. It would be silly to comment on the camera work or lighting, as most of it was created five years prior for another film. The kidnapped material is easily distinguished by it's set dressings and overall style. Despite being in at least two different worlds, all the clips involved, more or less, match in quality, and the director was well practiced in the film collage. The soundtrack is one of the best aspects. Even though I don't immediately recognize any pieces, it's most likely all been stolen as well.  To its credit though, it's got some well placed funky-ass jams that help make even the dullest, most pointless scenes accidentally some kind of multimedia art piece. It's as nutty and confusing as it sounds but the enigmatic spectacle ends up being a fun trashy watch, as long as you don't pay too much attention.
I don't think the so-called ninjas presented in Ninja Dragon provide any insight into nonfictional ninjas, ninjutsu, or banking. In fact, I don't know if the movie has any easily quantifiable value at all, aside from just being a frugally sourced, ninja flavored, cinematic hot dog. Personally, sometimes that's exactly what I want and find the mix of grimy byproduct tasty as fuck. If you are familiar with Godfrey, then you know what to expect, even with the addition of faux gangland elements and the more somber tone. I have watched far worse movies for fewer scenes of ninja action. I have even watched worse movies for the same scenes of ninja action.
1h 25min | 1986
 Director: Godfrey Ho


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