When the average person thinks of ninja movies, director Godfrey Ho often comes to mind. Actually, scratch that. When cult/genre movie geeks think of ninja movies, director Godfrey Ho often comes to mind. While Ho is a filmmaker who is often associated with the ninja genre, it is very rarely done so in a respectable fashion. In fact, outside of a small handful of movies, much of Ho’s work is what many would consider to be so bad it’s good, and that’s an opinion that falls firmly on the nicer end of the scale. However, it’s that so bad it’s good symmetry that makes Godfrey Ho’s work in the genre so memorable. Whether or not the average moviegoer can appreciate his brand of cinema, this notoriety is a worthy achievement in my eyes.
Outside of being behind many a ninja film during the genre’s heyday in the ‘80s, Ho is also closely associated with a specific brand of cut-and-paste filmmaking, wherein he would take footage from one film and splice it into footage from any number of other movies. In doing so, Ho effectively, or not really effectively, created a brand new movie altogether, ready to be packed up and sold under a veil of facetiousness. This leads us to Bionic Ninja, a 1986 release that pairs up footage from the 1984 Kent Cheng action/comedy, The Daring Kung Fu Refugee, with footage that Ho directed to give it that much needed ninja edge.
It’s the footage that Ho directed that does its best to drive the “storyline,” focusing on a secret agent named Tommy Foster who is sent to Hong Kong to retrieve a, and I quote, “top technical secret film.” And believe you me, there is nothing more frightening than a secret film, especially when it’s of the top technical variety. The top technical secret film was stolen by a group of KGB hired ninjas––because that’s simply how things work in Godfrey Ho’s world––so Tommy is in for the fight of his life if he wants to retrieve the top technical secret film and save the world from KGB/ninja domination. Or something like that.
While this plot sounds fairly easy to follow, making complete logistical sense even, on a whole Bionic Ninja is a jumbled mess of random scenes from a Godfrey Ho directed movie about ninjas mixed with another movie that’s not about ninjas. It only takes me about 5 minutes before I am completely lost in this flick, something that happens with a fair amount of Ho’s movies. I don’t even know why I try to comprehend what is happening on screen, because it only results in a migraine inducing level of thought not worthy of my miniscule brain power.
There are portions of Bionic Ninja where my mind goes numb in a fashion that causes my soul to exit my body, look down on my physical self, and spew judgment at my movie choice for the evening. This is partially due to the complexity of the plot (of which there isn’t any) as much as it has to do with the long scenes of unnecessary dialogue, all of which come from the portions of Bionic Ninja not directed by Ho. The entire thing clearly does not fit together, so anything that isn’t top technical secret film related only works as boring and confusing. With that said, the martial arts in the scenes taken from The Daring Kung Fu Refugee are legitimately good, and exude a level of competence unsuitable to the project as a whole.
But where The Daring Kung Fu Refugee delivers some solid martial arts action, it is the portions of Bionic Ninja that are directed by Godfrey Ho that truly make the film a reasonably entertaining watch. Despite his reputation as a cut-and-paste filmmaker, Ho certainly knows how to deliver the cheesy goods, something that he does in spades with his portion of Bionic Ninja.
This is especially true with Tommy Foster, who can often be seen wearing a yellow tank top with matching yellow sweatpants, complete with dirt stains on his backside. When Tommy’s isn’t busy trying to locate the top technical secret film, he rocks his days away training with the heart and ferocity of a lion. This results in some brilliant scenes of Tommy practicing his tumbling, fine-tuning his swordplay and working on his shuriken throwing skills, all of which are done in a public park. Because that’s completely legal.
Seeing as Bionic Ninja is a ninja film, and a bionic one at that *SPOILER* there are no bionic ninjas *SPOILER END*, the ninjas do play an integral role in the ridiculousness that the film serves up. Here are a few examples of the ninja antics found in Bionic Ninja:
- The KGB hired ninja clan (I could stop there) are led by the always elusive “White Ninja.”
- Ninjas have the ability to realistically jump cut into and out of a scene at any given moment. Ninjas take a cab.
- Ninjas take a cab without their ninja masks on, which I think defeats the purpose of being a ninja.
- Ninjas always move in synchronized motions.
- The final battle consists of the inevitable white ninja VS. red ninja, which is equal parts ridiculous and awesome.
Anyway, I think you smell what my ninja smoke bomb is cooking.
While not coming even close to being a highlight on Godfrey Ho’s filmography, Bionic Ninja is enjoyable enough for those who enjoy the filmmaker’s work. The enjoyment of the movie comes from the hilarity that Ho brought to the table, which makes me wish he had simply made an entire movie full of Tommy/top technical secret film action. If that had been the case, we might have ended up with something closer to the insanely enjoyable Undefeatable, instead of the typical hit or miss patchwork film that Ho is best known for.
This Ninjatastic review is in conjunction with NINJAVEMBER, a special ninja themed blog-a-thon hosted by the menacing yellow ninja, Karl Brezdin. Head over to the deserted island ninja training camp known as Fist of B-List to keep up with all the ninjacentric goodies to come!