|Ninja-Master Harry, about to prostrate himself before a metal arm.
Richard Harrison (who is, alas, not Richard Harris) plays Ninja Master Harry. He has a moustache, but we're meant to think he's a really cool guy. The moustache kills it, and he comes across as one of those people who fill their house with swords and guns, and pose with them, and dress up as a macho ninja type, and have a moustache and spend all day waxing their wakazashi and taking uber-manly photos of themselves holding weapons, and growing a moustache. In short, he looks like a P.E. teacher, and I can't look to him with the same admiration for his colossal virility that he might admire in himself.
|Ninja-Master Harry has a moustache
I don't know why the moustache is such an issue for me, but apparently it is. Now, David Niven can wear a moustache, and so can Nicholas Courtney, or Frank Zappa, or Freddie Mercury. I appreciate Movember, and don't rail against it. Perhaps it's that these people know that moustaches sans beards are slightly bizarre, idiosyncratic things, not badges of manliness. Ninja-Master Harry seems to represent a coolness without irony, and it doesn't work. He's a hero who could never laugh at himself. His being a caucasian Ninja and also (with an implied 'therefore') the best Ninja doesn't help matters.
So anyway, this is a movie full of people fighting each other. Despite this, it's not as violent as I expected. The fights are fun and exciting, with very little blood. Sometimes just a trickle from the lip, to suggest that an opponent has been thoroughly trounced. Enemies are dispatched, not killed, and conflicts are as likely to end with the sudden disappearance of one ninja, leaving behind a cryptic message. Often the fights saunter into bizarre comedy, with the less credible of henchmen having their noses tweaked, armpits tickled, even the odd blow to the old family jewels, replete with agonised hopping about. Ninja movies are clearly a sort of drama to be played by dancers, not orators. I like the way they move, the dynamic, rather angular way characters sit up, or turn around, or even double-take.
|A henchman who knows how to moustache properly. His hair and mine are alike.
The aggressive cheapness of the opening credits (the music for which sounds to have been extracted from a cassette) left me expecting a less impressive film than I got. True, the dubbing into English was questionable, and Ninja-Master Harry had something of Garth Marenghi about him - but much of the footage seemed to have time and genuine skill put into it, especially the fights, and anything featuring the stylish Jaguar Wong, who can carry out whole fights one-handed, while idly chewing on gum. Since Harry and Wong never meet, nor interact at all except over the telephone, I think director Godfrey Ho may well have played the standard Z-movie trick of borrowing half-an-hour of action scenes from somebody's abandoned film and cutting them in with his own footage. This would go some way to explaining a bizarre scene early on, where two characters, who appear only briefly, are over-dubbed with a great deal of exposition, the contents and emotions of which have no bearing on the performances we see.
So, it's fun, the fighting is visually impressive, and it holds the attention far better than I was expecting. Naturally it's flawed in many ways, which in a Z-movie of this calibre is to be expected and even hoped for. One problem, though, is far less excusable: women in this film are commodities and nothing more, there to be kidnapped or traded, to sleep with or cook for our heroes, or admire their weaponry. Every single man in the film has been trained to fight, but the women have learnt only to be victims. When Ninja-Master Harry's woman is stolen, he sees nothing objectionable about kidnapping an enemy female to arrange a trade. Like the golden statuette that the Ninjas pursue, the women are merely possessions to own and guard. It's tempting to brush past this and say it's a product of its time, but by the mid-eighties surely people knew better.
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