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  9 Deaths of the Ninja What's it all about, Alby?
Year: 1985
Director: Emmett Alston
Stars: Shô Kosugi, Brent Huff, Emilia Crow, Blackie Dammett, Regina Richardson, Vijay Amritraj, Lisa Friedman, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Bruce Fanger, Sonny Erang, Aiko Cownden, Judy Wilson, Jennifer Crumrine, Helen McNeely, Protacio Dee
Genre: Action, Martial Arts, Trash, Weirdo, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Having earned a degree of cult stardom with his Cannon trilogy of ninja films, Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Ninja III: The Domination (1984), real-life ninjitsu master Shô Kosugi slipped up with this slapdash effort, widely derided as the Plan 9 from Outer Space of ninja movies. Which, to be honest, makes it well nigh essential viewing. Somewhere in the Philippines, where life is cheap and stuntmen are expendable, lollipop-loving ninja hero Spike Shinobi (our boy Shô) and his gun-toting dimwit commando sidekick Steve Gordon (Brent Huff) hone their killing skills in a training exercise supervised by lovely Lt. Jennifer Barnes (Emilia Crow), the third member of this counter-terrorist taskforce.

The call goes out for our heroes when an American tour bus is hijacked by ridiculously-monickered rant-happy hairspray casualty, Honey Hump (Regina Richardson) and her squadron of hotpants-clad girl commandos who sneak aboard disguised as a wedding party in full bridal wear! Honey and her vixens work for Alby the Cruel (Blackie Dammett), a crazy-accented, wheelchair-bound, monkey-fondling former Nazi-turned-drug smuggler-cum-terrorist, who demands the release of Rahji Mohammed (Sonny Erang), his cackling terrorist cohort and gay lover (!), and that those American pigs back off from their war on the drugs trade. If not, then bang goes the Filipino tourist trade. NOOOOO!! Anything but that! You bastard! How will First Lady Imelda Marcos afford her next gazillion pairs of shoes? Oh wait, weren’t she and President Marcos overthrown in a coup the following year?

Anyway, while Steve is busy playing grab-ass with Jennifer and local American embassy liaison Marissa Lee (Aiko Crownden), Spike springs into action. In rapid “I can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing” succession, Spike gets ambushed in an art gallery by a trio of kung fu midgets dressed as The Blues Brothers (no, I’m not making this up. I wish I was, but I’m not...), disguises himself as an elderly cripple (for no good reason) and battles assassins at the restaurant where Steve is on date (for fuck’s sake, Steve, get your mind out off your pants and back on the job! There are lives at stake!), then infiltrates not one, but two brothels run by machinegun-wielding Madame Woo Wee and her twin sister, Madame Whoopee (both played by soap actress Judy Wilson, wisely hiding under an alias) who describes her girls as “sterilised, sanitised and lobotomised.” Between misadventures, Spike makes time for regular lollipop breaks (what is he, Kojak’s Japanese cousin?) and flashbacks to his jungle training days with the Iga ninja clan. As was the case with Shô Kosugi’s Cannon movies, the filmmakers seem to believe that beyond Tokyo, Japan has not changed much since the feudal days, with ninjas romping around the woods.

Meanwhile, Alby’s terrorists prove how gosh darn evil they are by swiping a little girl’s medication, dancing to German brass band music, and attacking their hostages’ self-esteem. “You are ze most pathetic hostages I haff ever zeen!” rants Alby. Ouch. Oh yeah, and there is a comedy subplot where rape-happy Dr. Wolf (Bruce Fanger) attempts to molest the comely tour guide (Lisa Friedman) but is repeatedly foiled by karate skilled child hostages Kane and Shane (Shô’s real-life offspring, Kane Kosugi and Shane Kosugi). Hil-fucking-larious, as only the combination of attempted rape and juvenile antics can be. Evidently unwilling to leave their lives in the hands of a candy-addicted ninja, a walking collection of S.T.D.’s, and a third-rate Ellen Barkin-wannabe (sorry, Ms. Crow, but face facts), the boys grab their nunchakus and set out to free their fellow hostages. Thus proving themselves the most mature and capable characters in the film. And they’re both under ten!

Ye, gods. If you gave a bunch of eight year old Martian visitors a movie camera along with a vague description of what an action movie was like, the end result might be something like 9 Deaths of the Ninja, a film so stupefying in its ineptitude it borders on the surreal. Except, this was not made by Martians but co-produced by famed Indian tennis pro and bit-part player Vijay Amritraj (who cameos as an ambassador here, and does not let the side down, delivering a performance every bit as godawful as his co-stars) along with his movie mogul brother, Ashok Amritraj who went on to produce a host of Hollywood films held in slightly higher regard. At the time, Vijay had just come off a supporting turn in the James Bond film Octopussy (1983) and seems to have set out to make something in a similarly campy-but-action-packed vein. Yet somewhere along the way, the idea went wildly off the rails.

Ineptly directed by exploitation veteran Emmett Alston, working from his own admittedly tongue-in-cheek script, the film veers uneasily from self-conscious spoof into gung-ho action too straightlaced to be taken as satire. No-one in this film behaves like a real human being, least of all Blackie Dammett (father of Red Hot Chilli Peppers frontman, Anthony Kiedis!), styled like a New Wave rocker but channelling Dr. Strangelove as a comedy Nazi, amidst a cast that were seemingly selected so that Shô comes off like Laurence Olivier by comparison. Former male model Brent Huff went on to carve a niche for himself as a director of straight-to-video action films and land the occasional solid acting gig. You might have seen him on Mad Men or The West Wing.

Despite choreography from Shô himself, the action is largely lacklustre although the last third of the film when Spike, Steve, Jennifer and the kids (!) go into jungle warfare mode is silly comic book fun. There is an inexplicable plot twist that goes unexplained wherein Spike uncovers a nest of ninjas in league with Alby’s terrorists along with cinema’s first death-by-polo-match. Happy endings and lollipops all round, but by far the most memorable aspect are the jaw-dropping opening credits featuring a well-oiled, katana wielding Shô performing an interpretive dance number alongside the lycra-clad Hotlegs Dancers. Click here for the trailer

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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