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Film review: Ninjas GOOOOOOD! - Baxil [bakh-HEEL'], n. My Sites [Tomorrowlands] [The TTU Wiki] [Photos]
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March 1st, 2004
01:35 am
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Film review: Ninjas GOOOOOOD!
(Crossposted to my real journal.)

Just finished watching a kung-fu B-movie called "Duel to the death." It was full of much ninja goodness. Ohhhhhh yes, ninja goodness. In fact, the film did ninjas in a way I've never seen any kung-fu movie do ninjas: When they run out of clever tricks, they distract their opponent and flee only to come back with another surprise attack later on. They're ruthlessly organized, they pull surprises out of their sleeves left and right, and in most encounters with the heroes they don't take a single casualty. Imagine that!

Surprisingly deep plot. Heaps of sword-fu with creative surprises throughout, such as when two of the protagonists confront a group of ninjas who pull out firework pistols and fire a barrage at them. Impressive, continual displays of acrobatics. Many memorable and thrilling moments that pass by in a blur of awesome and demand an immediate rewind. Masterfully over-the-top at times (a severed head speaks and then explodes; a cockatiel named Dragon argues with his owner; the hero leaps backward 30 feet and crashes through a wall ass-first in order to join an ongoing fight). And the most competent ninjas I've ever seen -- which by itself singlehandedly redeems any possible faults of this film.

On the other hand, there's an occasional "WTF?" and/or "There's the wire!" feel to the stunts (but what do you expect from a B-movie?) -- and several moments where your ability to follow the action depends directly on your knowledge of cheesy martial arts flick convention. ("Oh, he's throwing his sword onto the water as a stepping stone!") The final scenes are anticlimactic, mostly due to lack of the ninjas that make the film so brilliant. The over-the-top feel doesn't always work: Several shots, while great takes on Filmjutsu and memorable in retrospect, fail the giggle test. (A ninja is cut in half and another ninja springs out from inside him; levitating palanquin-toting ninjas zip through the forest like they're a mag-lev train; and an utterly gratuitous but equally brilliant full-frontal nudity shot.)

The giggle moments notwithstanding, it's obvious that a lot of work and care went into this film. It shines through in the details and the creativity of its design in a way that very few movies manage to do these days. I'm used to martial arts B-movies being fun but forgettable, and this one nailed the first while amazingly dodging the latter.

Overall verdict: Okay, granted, it doesn't have the thematic integrity and quiet beauty of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." But it is a well-paced, continually enjoyable film that largely lives up to its vision and pleasantly surprised me with its polish. I'm a film curmudgeon and I still give it four and a half stars out of five. And only $5.50 at Wal-Mart!




To close, here's the obligatory in-joke for BayCon friends. My four-word film review of the second half of the movie:

Rocks fall. Everybody dies.

*waves to cadhla* :)

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:mithent
Date:March 1st, 2004 03:57 am (UTC)
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Ninjas who don't all just queue up to be kicked in the stomach and knocked unconscious one-by-one?! Surely not! Such a fighting elite would never think of using sensible tactics.
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From:baxil
Date:March 1st, 2004 05:55 pm (UTC)
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This movie will make you PH33R THE NINJA.
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From:soreth
Date:March 1st, 2004 11:33 am (UTC)
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I loved the exploding severed head - I can't remember what it said now, but for weeks after we saw the movie, my friends and I would quote the head to each other. God, that movie was weird but good.

...Come to think, it's still my measuring stick for over-the-top martial arts flicks.
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From:baxil
Date:March 1st, 2004 05:54 pm (UTC)
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"Mark my words. You will die!"

(Come to think of it, I first watched it in Chinese with subtitles, but the voice acting is pretty decent too.)
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From:elynne
Date:March 1st, 2004 01:53 pm (UTC)

*pronk*

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Springbok ninja?
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From:dreamflow
Date:March 1st, 2004 05:58 pm (UTC)

Re: *pronk*

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*breaks into your temple*

*steals grass*

*ruminates in deadly silence*

(*still needs a ninja springbok icon* ;))
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From:elynne
Date:March 1st, 2004 08:38 pm (UTC)

Re: *pronk*

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[badly lip-synched English voiceover]
"You have stolen the grass of my sacred ancestors! Even now you chew its cud! My hoof is like a father to me! Prepare to die!"

(okay, I need a pronking ninja icon too...) ;D
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From:baxil
Date:March 2nd, 2004 04:43 am (UTC)

Re: *pronk*

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*A samurai unicorn crashes in through the side door, sword in hand*

(equally bad voiceover) "Raptor-chan! At last the sword of my fathers has guided me to you! You will pay for the treachery that cost my clan its grasslands!"

*glances over at the springbok and draws a second sword to point at her*

"And do not think your minions can help you against my supreme Shaolin training!"
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From:dreamflow
Date:March 2nd, 2004 04:51 am (UTC)

Re: *pronk*

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It is a fool who meddles in matters not his own!

*Braces herself, and with a mighty PRONK (and half-gainer double-flip), sails up to the roofbeams and brandishes a handful of throwing horns*
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From:wanderdragon
Date:March 1st, 2004 02:26 pm (UTC)
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I'm almost positive I've seen this one, just a few months ago. I must go to a friend's apartment tonight to find out for sure. It it is indeed the same one:

Didn't you find the scene with the spiderwebby ropes holding all the martial artists in suspension in the dark incredibly trippy?

Also, if it is the same one, I want ninjas on kites. That meld into one giant ninja for no discernably advantageous reason.
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From:baxil
Date:March 1st, 2004 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Same movie, yep!

I got to the spiderwebby rope scene and was kind of glad I wasn't tripping out on anything. It was definitely one of the "WTF?" moments.

KITE NINJA ARMY GO!
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