Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Ninjas, Condors 13' (1987)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

A few years ago, for the always enjoyable White Elephant Blogathon, I wrote about Scorpion Thunderbolt, an ultra-low-budget action/horror movie constructed out of leftover footage from a completely separate movie, along with some newly shot scenes. It came from director Godfrey Ho, who worked under many pseudonyms as a writer, director and producer of cheapo exploitation movies mainly in the 1970s and '80s. With the randomly titled Ninjas, Condors 13, I've come across Ho again, this time as the screenwriter (credited as Benjamin King) of an amusingly terrible martial-arts movie that was not cobbled together out of parts of other movies. It might as well have been, though, given how little sense it makes and how disconnected each scene is from the next.

But I was also more entertained this time around, since the movie is just coherent enough to sort of follow, and its ridiculous moments are sometimes bold and creative rather than just inept (although it can be tough to tell the difference). Some of the fighting is even fairly impressive, especially from stars Alexander Rei Lo and Eugene Thomas, both of whom were in numerous martial-arts movies during this era. Of course, their skills are undermined by the often confusing direction, which makes it hard to locate the actors in the physical space, and also by the horrendous (but hilarious) sound design, which reuses the same three or four sound effects over and over again, so that someone being punched, or flipping over, or wielding a sword basically all sound like the same thing. Probably 50 percent of the sound effects just sound like the whip-crack from Devo's "Whip It."

Anyway, the plot, so far as I can tell, involves Brian (Lo), aka White Eagle (but not White Condor; condors are never mentioned in the movie), vowing revenge against his former mentor, an evil rich dude named Lucifer (naturally), who for some reason runs his own squad of ninja assassins. It's not clear exactly what Lucifer does or why he has all these ninja assassins (who sometimes wear ninja gear and sometimes wear black T-Shirts and white blazers like extras from Miami Vice) who will follow him blindly and die for him. But when Brian refuses to kill a cop for Lucifer and decides to leave his squad, Lucifer is willing to sacrifice as many of his henchmen as necessary to bring Brian down (and he sacrifices a lot; way more than 13). The movie opens with young Brian witnessing his father get dismembered by ninjas on dirt bikes (naturally), and Lucifer helps him get revenge on those guys, but otherwise it isn't clear why their relationship is so intense.

In his efforts to defeat Lucifer, Brian ends up with a sidekick named Eddie (Thomas), a Shaft-style blaxploitation badass who meets Brian by starting an unnecessary fight in a bar, but also turns out to be a cop, somehow. Brian also teams up with Lucifer's girlfriend, who immediately turns on Lucifer and falls in love with Brian when Brian holds her hostage (this comes not long after Brian's previous girlfriend has been killed by Lucifer -- it doesn't take him long to get over her). The nonsensical plot is matched by the nonsensical action, in which ninjas appear to magically teleport, sometimes in clouds of colorful smoke. The climactic battle between Brian and Lucifer switches suddenly to an entirely different location, with the two in different outfits, halfway through.

Since the movie was shot in Hong Kong (most likely) with actors of various nationalities, the entire thing is dubbed, of course, and that adds to the amusement factor. The actor dubbing for Lo has a weird way of pronouncing "master" that sound like "Mazda," so every time Brian urgently expresses his need to find the master who trained him (and is being held captive by Lucifer), it sounds like he's distraught over losing his car. The whole thing is ripe for a RiffTrax treatment, and imagining the snarky comments in my head helped keep me entertained. Even without them, though, this is the kind of bad movie that gives bad movies a good name.

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