An antiques shop owner is letting a young woman see his jewellery, and she is very impressed, but they are so caught up in the moment that they fail to notice a precious stone set in one of the eyes of an ancient stone head is glowing. Once the young woman leaves with a necklace, the store owner goes to the door to watch her go, and when he turns around there are three ninjas standing there, as if from nowhere. His attempts to repel them with bullets come to nothing and they end up killing him just as the police arrive - and they kill the policemen too...
All of which has very little to do with the rest of The Lost Empire, a self-consciously spoofy adventure that mixed the vintage thrills of an old serial with the more up do date (for the eighties) delights of topless women. While the fantasy cinema of the late seventies and eighties, in Hollywood especially, harked back to the sci-fi and horror of the filmmakers' youth, here was writer and director Jim Wynorski making his directorial debut with a film that curiously captured more of the spirit of a genuine B-movie than many of his more moneyed peers.
Not that you would see a gratuitous shower scene in the fifties, and certainly the tone of this was far jokier, more tongue in cheek, but that enterprising on a low budget was surely a mark of those genre pioneers of that past era. Of course, Wynorski was proven to have fewer tricks up his sleeve, and never graduated much farther than from the ambitions of The Lost Empire, but for what it was, and the manner in which it packed in as many variations on its theme as it could so as not to bore the viewer, the film was commendable enough.
Nobody was going to mistake this for great art, but its kidding sense of humour made it gently endearing amongst all the staged fight sequences. We meet our heroine when a mysterious police officer rides up on a motorbike to a seige at a school, strides in, blows the bad guys away with a pistol then takes off the helmet to reveal - gasp! - she is a woman! In fact she's Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz), who happens to be the sister of one of the cops injured in the prologue, and she now sets her mind on solving the case he was on, which turns out to be centred around a mystery man known as Dr. Sin Do, a Fu Manchu type played by Phantasm villain Angus Scrimm.
Not that we see him very often, as we see more of his henchmen than the bad doctor himself. Anyway, Angel rounds up two of her friends, Whitestar (Russ Meyer actress Raven De La Croix) and Heather (Angela Aames, who tragically died of a heart ailment three short years after this was released, aged only 32), and they head off on the plane to the island fortress where the doctor is staging his own tournament. It sounds like the beginning of a kung fu movie, but occurs halfway through this film and anyone expecting some killer moves will be disappointed by the low rent combat display here. What you really get is some proudly cheesy sequences, with a few special effects bits and pieces (including during a dental examination, possibly the most unnecessary use of such things ever) amidst some flimsy excuses for the actresses to drop their clothes. With no ideas above its station, The Lost Empire does offer decent laughs, though the action side is a letdown. Music by Alan Howarth.