Friday, June 10, 2011


Cheh Chang, 1982
Starring: Tien-chi Cheng, Tien Hsiang Lung, Meng Lo, Wai-Man Chan, Chu Ko

A few ago I started seriously getting into Hong Kong crime cinema (think John Woo, Wong Kar Wai and so on) and that about marks the period where I stopped watching a lot of kung fu films. That's fucking stupid, because so many of them are amazing. Five Element Ninja may not be particularly strong in the budget department, but it's a hell of a lot of fun and has some incredible fight scenes.

Tsiau Chin Hau's kung fu school is disgraced and destroyed by head honcho ninja Cheng Yun and his highly trained five element ninjas. They set the school on fire, kill many of the students and even dispatch the master. Tsiau Chin Hau and a few of his surviving brothers are determined to beat the odds and get revenge. They find a teacher who will help them combine their kung fu training with new-found ninja skills to beat Cheng Yun once and for all.

The real reason to watch this film is the amazing, extended fight sequence at the end of the film with the five elements ninjas. They have to face off against gold, wood, water, fire and earth in some truly bloody and spectacular battles, making Five Element Ninja one of the most visually appealing kung fu films, even if the budget is stretched as far as it can possibly go. There's also some inventive fight choreography designed by co-star Chu Ko that kicks ass and spills a lot of guts. The movie was made primarily to showcase the talents of rising star Tien-chi Cheng and though he kicks ass, fortunately doesn't hog all the screen time from his talented co-stars.

It's the sort of typical kung fu revenge plot where you are expected to root for the underdog with the heart of gold who has lost everything at the brutal hands of his enemies. In this case it's also the classic kung fu masters vs evil ninjas scenario that I am totally in love with. I also have a secret weakness for training sequences in kung fu films and there are some great funny moments when the kung fu students have to master ninjitsu.

Though this comes at the end of the great Chang Cheh's reign as a blockbuster director for Shaw Brothers, it is surprisingly bloody and sexy. There's a totally hot female ninja who is basically only wearing a fishnet body stocking. She's responsible for most of the emotional drama in the film and, predictably, is a crazy bitch.

If you're unfamiliar with Chang Cheh, please seek out more of his work. He is basically the greatest director of Hong Kong martial arts cinema and helped to make a name for the wonderful Shaw Brothers studio, the most prolific production company in Hong Kong history. This was Chang Cheh's last major kung fu film for Shaw Brothers, but produced some of their greatest films during his career -- The One Armed Swordsmen, Five Venoms, The Kid with the Golden Arm, and my personal favorite, Crippled Avengers. He's amazing.

There aren't many flaws at work in Five Element Ninjas. Sure, the budget is non-existent, it's slow in parts and suffers from poor picture quality and bad English dubbing. But who the hell cares? To summarize, this movie rules.

It is readily available from Tokyo Shock and I demand that you watch it immediately. It's also known as Five Element Ninjas and Chinese Super Ninjas, so chances are you will also find it in some of those enormous cheap box sets with 50 different kung fu films.

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