Ninja: The Final Duel (1986) Review

"Ninja: The Final Duel" Theatrical Poster

"Ninja: The Final Duel" Theatrical Poster

AKA: Ninja’s Final Duel
Director: Robert Tai
Producer: Albert Chang, Bob Chang
Cast: Alexander Lo Rei, Alice Tseng, Lee I Min, Alan Lee Hoi Hing, Richard Tseng, Wong Chi Sang, William Yen, Wong Hap, Eugene Thomas, Silvio Azzolini, Ahmed Najja
Running Time: 89 min.

By Sergio Martorelli

NAKED KUNG FU BABES! Got your attention? Good. Now let’s get down to business.

Ninja: The Final Duel is a colorful, ultra-kinetic, gore-drenched and delightfully zany Taiwanese production that’s been shrouded in mystery and a lot of confusion. Until now! Complete sequences were reused in Shaolin Vs. Ninja and 1999’s Shaolin Dolemite (yes, Rudy Ray Moore did Kung Pow! three years earlier!), and legend says the original cut is 8-hour long. Well. sorry, but that’s not accurate. Let me dispel those rumours once and for all, okay? This little epic had three sequels, ALL named Ninja: The Final Duel by overseas distributors on dope. It’s hard to keep track of ’em all (the IMDb is never reliable when it comes to oriental stuff), and bootleggers used to put all three on one single tape and call it simply Ninja: The Final Duel, giving rise to the 8-hour production assumption. Versions on TV and home video have bits and pieces of each film mixed in, but this DVD release by Crash Cinemais actually the second volume of the Ninja series in its entirety.

For the ones who didn’t see part one, a quick recap tells how the Japanese ninja clan tried to take over China, only to have their asses handed to them by the Shaolin monks. In shame over the defeat, the Ninja Leader commits sepukku (sissy!). That pissed off this brother, also a ninja boss (I don’t know how to spell his name, so I’ll call him “Master Pantless”; look at his outfit in the last sequence and you’ll know why), who vowed to destroy the entire Shaolin clan. Meanwhile, we find out that the Shaolin Abbott (Richard Tseng) isn’t much thrilled with the victory over the ninjas. Being a peace-loving guy, he closes the temple for visitors and refuses to accept challenges. But the vengeful ninjas break in and wreck havok, leaving a lot of beheaded corpses behind. So the Abbott, aided by Japanese envoy Wong Chi Chow (Alexander Lo in full Bruce Lee copycat mode, nose gesture and all) and his comic-relief aide Chian Tin (Charliema Tsu), gathers his forces and goes out to kick Master Pantless ass once again. Oh well. Just another of those reverent and meaningful revenge plots that are the basis of kung fu movies, correct? Wrong. Ah, but that’s SO wrong you have no idea!

Ninja: The Final Duel not only gives the Power Rangers a run for their money when it comes to extremely absurd fight scenes and characters, but will have you laughing so hard that is better not watch it with a full stomach! The fun starts right in the first scenes, where we see ninjas using their elemental skills (spelled “ELEMET” on the subtitles), while an informative voice over narrates what we’re seein’ onscreen. Ninjas not only fly thru the air and disappear at will; they also burrow through sand like Bugs Bunny, ride giant flying aquatic spiders(don’t-f*cking-ask!) and break large ice blocks. That last part surprised the most because there were no iceboxes in Medieval China. But then I was introduced to two gay hare-krishna fighters from California (Silvio Azzolini and Ahmed Najja) and a jive-talkin’ Black Monk from Harlem (Eugene Thomas, credited as Eugene T. Trammell), so I just sat back and let it slide. This is a Robert Tai movie, folks! The same guy who made Death Cage and Ninja Death! What I was expecting? Historical accuracy? The soundtrack steals entire cues from Rambo and Ghostbusters, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see ninjas using AKs or ghost-catching weapons.

When it comes to action, Ninja: The Final Duel is a blast. A BLAST, man! The Swastika Trap choreography must be seen to be believed, and of course there’s the famous scene with Alice Tseng, full-frontally naked, facing an army of ninjas. Some sequences are sped up to ridiculous extremes and the wirework is awful, but even that adds to the fun. The fight scene between Master Pantless and the Black Monk at the beach is so over-the-top that you just have to LOVE it.

Moving on to the DVD technical issues, well. We all know that the small ocidental companies have a lot of difficulties finding good prints of those films. Heck, even the original Drunken Master was deteriorating in some Hong Kong vault, and we’re talking Jackie Chan! But Ninja: The Final Duel doesn’t suck. The image is soft and lacking in detail, there are speckles and dropouts here and there, and the colors are not vivid neither faded; but in toto, it’s as watchable as a good VHS dupe. The only problem is a couple of night scenes, so dark and muddy that what’s happening there is anybody’s guess. Extras include an amusing trailer, and fans of bad dubbing will have a field day listening to shaoling monks saying things like “they’ll get the shit beaten ouf of them” or the famous Black Monk quote: “You’re a mean dude. But she’s ash, so don’t give me this trash.”

Sergio Martorelli’s Rating:

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