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  Tongan Ninja Surely The Next Bruce LeeBuy this film here.
Year: 2002
Director: Jason Stutter
Stars: Sam Manu, Jemaine Clement, Linda Tseng, Laura Hill, Raybon Kan, David Fane, Victor Rodger, Peter Daube, Jed Brophy, Sean Allan, Aaron Cubis, Grant Clifford, Charles Lum, Charley Murphy Samau, Brett Ormsby, Marty Pine, Taika Waititi
Genre: Comedy, Action
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Once upon a time, there were two boys who were passengers in an aeroplane flown by one of the boys' father. As they flew over the Pacific, the other boy revealed himself to be evil and not content with kicking the back of the seat of his supposed friend, proceeded to cut the electronics cable of the aircraft, sending it plummeting towards the water. They washed up on an island, but the evil kid was not done: on crossing a river, after his pal was left safely on the far bank, he made sure to ask the father back to collect him just as a shoal of piranha were swimming by and they ate the man's legs, leaving him with only enough time to bestow on his son his special headband...

There were a few latterly well-known names connected to Tongan Ninja, which is who the good little boy grows up to be, the most famous being Jemaine Clement who made this just before Flight of the Concords made him a celebrity, not just in his native New Zealand but also across the world. Fans of that may be interested to know that not only did he co-star here as Action Fighter, the grown up version of the villainous moppet, but provided the voice of the hero as well as co-writing the songs that popped up occasionally, though not quite as frequently enough to classify this as a fully-fledged musical. In the main, it was a parody of the Bruce Lee classic Way of the Dragon.

Therefore after training with a sensei for a couple of decades, Tongan Ninja makes it to Wellington where he almost immediately gets mixed up in a gangster's plan to take over a local restaurant, you know, like Bruce had done. The difference here was that this took nothing seriously, creating a virtue out of the sheer poverty of the production which generated a good many laughs. If it resembled a home movie more or less throughout, it was one where you were in on the joke and could indulge yourself in the ridiculousness of the whole affair should you have tired of your diet of action flicks with a far higher budget than anything here so much as got a whiff of.

In his only film, the title character was played by Sam Manu, a doughy, amiable figure whose martial arts moves were, shall we say, adequate to what he had been asked to perform. He had a love interest in the owner of the aforementioned restaurant, Linda Tseng, but she too was dubbed - everyone here was, as it was so wanting for funds that they had been forced to shoot it without sound and put the voices on later. This had the fortuitous effect of rendering every scene as a parody of the dubbed Hong Kong movies anyone seeking this out would be familiar with, throwing in the redubbed TV versions of films into the spoof mix to boot whenever the villainous Mr Big opened his mouth to deliver his threats and orders, suddenly not as foul-mouthed as he might have been originally.

Tongan Ninja, despite the fights that regularly broke out, was relentlessly goodnatured in style, with many gags demonstrating how a lack of money can be the mother of invention as far as comedy on slender means went. Although director Jason Stutter would go on to be a fixture of the New Zealand movie scene with a number of credits across a variety of genres to his name, the personality most evident throughout this was Clement's - he co-wrote the script as well as treating us to his vocals for most of the running time. Every action cliché was mined for humour, not only the Hong Kong efforts but the Hollywood ones too, so we had anything from the car chase (our hero having to avoid potentially devastating obstacles such as, er, a pebble in the road) to the romantic interlude where the couple attend a garden centre as a Bee Gees cover plays on the soundtrack. There was a lot of charm in this, and if there was a make-do tone to the whole thing that was a major part of it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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