Secret Ninja, Roaring Tiger (1982) Review

"Secret Ninja Roaring Tiger" US DVD Cover

"Secret Ninja Roaring Tiger" US DVD Cover

AKA: Secret Ninja, Justice Of The Ninja
Director: Godfrey Ho (Jeung Keung)
Producer: Thomas Tang, Joseph Lai
Cast: Dragon Lee (aka Mun Kyong-sok, Keo Ryong, Guh Ryong), Hwang Jang Lee, Jack Lam, Winnie Lui, Petty Suh, Kon Yit So, Henry Chan, Ku Wah, Liu On Fai, Johnny Kam
Running Time: 80 min.

By Joseph Kuby

One of the best ninja movies of all time!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s on par with Ninja In The Dragon’s Den and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Chinese Super Ninjas (official title: Five Element Ninjas) nor does it come to close to being as cool and classy as Ninja In The Deadly Trap (the Venoms’ answer to Chang Cheh’s ninja classic Five Element Ninjas in the same way Drunken Master 3 was Sifu Lau’s way of saying F you to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master 2).

But Secret Ninja Roaring Tiger beats all that American Ninja crap and Sho Kosugi crudfest, as well as the Caucasian ninja rubbish Godfrey (the director of this movie) had endlessly churned out.

When I went into this film, I wasn’t expecting actual ninjas. I was expecting a standard if entertaining Kung Fu flick that just used the word ninja to entice more Western audiences and enhance the sales! (see Jeff’s review for Ninja Turf to understand more about the ninja craze)

Clips of this film can be seen in the British produced documentary Top Fighter (the fight with the ninjas near the waterfall and when Hwang kills the bearded guy armed with a sword by kicking the temples of his head using both feet).

Lo and behold, it actually turned out to be a spin-off of the same year’s Ninja In The Dragon’s Den* (Corey Yuen’s directorial debut produced by Ng See Yuen which earned 4/5 of the box office revenue Drunken Master had made).

Not just because it’s a ninja movie featuring Hwang Jang Lee, but because we have the same subplot of the villains using Taoist magic which is cunningly developed in a surprise plot twist. There’s even the boob connection (in other words, the same plot device of how a practitioner of the Chinese spiritual arts should abstain from women of an erotically enticing nature). Then there’s the Taoist cannon/bowling balls (which is used to greater effect in this film than Corey’s movie). Much like 5 Pattern Dragon Claws, there’s the usage of insert shots of lightning to highlight the defeat of someone from an irrevocably powerful blow!

No matter how derivative this film may be, if there’s one true distinction that separates this film from any other Hong Kong flick at the time, it’s that this is the only film where you’ll see Hwang Jang Lee** in a sex scene (which contradicts the nature of his character). It’s nothing too graphic but it’s probably Ron Jeremy (the uncut version of this scene probably gives more weight to this) in comparison to Jackie Chan’s similar scenes in the 1975 Golden Harvest “sex romp” All In The Family.

Which brings us to the version I saw of this film which lasted 79 minutes and 59 seconds. It was the UK version and the film had been cut by the BBFC by 1 minute and 37 seconds for its release. The longest version available is said to be 82 minutes long. In the midst of viewing there were several times in the film where cuts may have occured. The first instance is a fight between Dragon Lee and his adversary during a martial arts tournament (where the aim is to win a woman’s hand in marriage ala The Legend Of Fong Sai Yuk, which was made {in 1993} by, coincidentally, Corey Yuen) when there’s a small hint of disrupted visual/audio continuity. But as you may have guessed from what I said before about the sex scene, I suspect there’s been some cuts to the samples of nudity seen in this film.

When Dragon Lee sleeps at this run-down house alongside his fellow compatriots, he looks at the posterior of who he previously thought was a male fighter before coming to the conclusion that it’s a woman (though she’s dressed). The nudity in question comes from this dream sequence where Dragon imagines her naked figure and there’s a cut which stops us from him seeing her vagina as she turns round to face the camera before abruptly cutting to a shot where her features are ingeniously obscured by a bunch of flowers. More nudity comes later on during the aforementioned sex scene, there’s an abrupt change in music and continuity as we go from seeing Hwang look at “Susan”*** (a different woman than the one I mentioned previously) to him being on top of her but my main criticism comes from the fact that there’s a shot of her legs where we see Hwang’s left hand caressing her right leg (implying that they must be doing a 69er) then immediately we cut to a shot where they’re facing each other.

After she tries to kill him, he sends two guards (one of whom gives her subtle glimpses) to take her away to torture her. Music of the “next” scene (which focuses on the heroine and heroes fighting some of Hwang’s cronies) comes in a bit too early, suggesting an attempt to smooth over the inconsistency (I think it’s fair to say that Susan may have gotten raped in between the two scenes). Long after the fight has finished, we see a scene of her getting whipped (the guy who glimpsed at her is smiling somewhat in this scene).

Moving onto the good points (pardon the unintended pun) of this neat little flick, it has water ninjas and ground ninjas, alas it has no wood ninjas or gold ninjas! There are, however, fire ninjas, but they only use smoke to disappear rather than specifically using fire to engulf victims in flames! There’s nowhere near the amount of weaponary as seen in Chinese Super Ninjas or even the American financed Enter The Ninja, but the action still covers a fair bit of ground and we have tricks like a sword that splits into two.

One thing that I noticed about this flick is that it seems to be among the many inspirations**** for the Mortal Kombat computer games. There’s a scene where one of the three protagonists (two men & a woman – just like in the Mortal Kombat movie) enters this forest and out of nowhere comes these spear-like projectiles (or basically these long wires with pointy arrows attached to them), which is eerily reminiscent of the Scorpion character (and equally reminiscent of the encounter, in said film, between Johnny Cage and Scorpion). There’s another Godfrey Ho production starring Dragon Lee called Dragon, The Young Master which was shot in the snowy locations of Korea and which also contained ninjas so it’s a shame there was no Sub Zero-esque character in that film chucking rock-solid snow balls or icy spikes from the palms of his hands!

Another thing that I’ve noticed when watching Bruceploitation movies is that Jackie Chan seems to have been inspired by quite a few of them as seen in films like Police Story 1, 2 & 3 and Armour Of God 2: Operation Condor where certain ideas were lifted from even a Bruce Le flick! In this film, we see the same concept of a butt-naked martial artist up to his neck in trouble, which Jackie would later use for one of his fight scenes in The Accidental Spy (though it was more artistically done, if not less tasteful, than what we see in this movie).

Now you may ask, what is it about this movie which gives it the right to be put under the category of Bruceploitation? Well, we have Dragon Lee doing a few swipes of the nose and even copying off Bruce’s famous footwork in the latter’s final fight against Chuck Norris in Way Of The Dragon. To top things off we sometimes see Dragon doing a tiny bit of the facial expressions and war cries that made him come off as barking mad in The Real Bruce Lee. Dragon (whose alias is Bruce Lei) looks more like Jason Scott Lee than Bruce Lee and perhaps it would have been more fitting if we had Jason play Dragon in a biopic.

As what could be expected under the expectations and circumstances of watching such a low-brow yet highly entertaining film, there are plenty instances of humour – a lot of it is actually intentional (minus the dubbing).

The laughter that is generated from this film can be riotous when you’re blessed with such wonderful lines of dialogue…

Foster father of Susan: “You’re useless, you’re all damned useless!”

Dragon’s male associate: “They were ninja you know but we beat them, yes we did!”

Foster father of Susan: “You let my daughter go right away…otherwise, I swear, you bawstid you’ll get nothing from me!”

Hwang: “Very well, you’re forcing me….to use ninja techniques, they will work!”

Foster father of Susan: “Bastud, you dare talk to me of that society, would you?”

Biological father of Susan: “WHAT?!……YOU BAWSTUD….YOU FILTHY TRAITAR!, Damn you, you dirty BAWSTUD!”

Said father: “My ninjer technique!”

Hwang: “Ninja can’t help you now. It’s all over for you, you old borstud!”

Actually, this film ranks among some of the most humourous films Dragon ever done in his entire film career (which is saying a lot). Some of the sound effects (including war cries) used for the fights in this film are so cartoony it makes the effects in other films seem realistic (we’re talking cartoony as in Warner Bros./Kung Fu Hustle cartoony), particularly during one shot in the tournament scene when Dragon scratches the chin of his opponent whilst pulling silly faces (it’s after said shot where a cut seems to have taken place – you’ll know what I mean when or if you’ve seen it). At the end of the fight, Dragon pulls another face to indicate the opponent to beat it but this comes off like a twitch that’s the result of too much crack!

I’ve seen my fair share of Bruceploitation movies, but this movie is just plain bonkers and utterly bizarre. When we see Dragon for the first time in the film, he’s (over)dressed in some ridiculous clothing (making him look like a bohemian cloth merchant) which includes (by the looks of things from where I was sitting) a woman’s hat. When he wins the tournament, he temporarily replaces his hat with a golden cabbage-tree hat, which he receives for winning the tournament. Whilst Dragon wins the girl’s hand for marriage, top prize for bizarrerie goes to this scene where one of the gang members is dressed up as a woman and successfully seduces Dragon (I’d hate to be as dumbfoundedly confused with genders as Dragon is portrayed to be); this leads to a strange fight though even the most hapless viewer who happens upon this flick will still be considered lucky as the immense quality of the fights makes up for even the most off-the-wall gag this side of a Stephen Chow movie!

The fights are really energetic, the fight at the tournament between Dragon and the ill-fated opponent is equally on par with the challenge match between Jackie Chan and Huang Ha in Drunken Master (the fight which takes place in Master Hung’s school after Wong Fei Hung beats up the thugs terrorizing the poor). The choreography in this scene is truly inspired with lots of creativeness and Chan-esque athleticism.

But even the fights themselves feature frenetic tomfoolery. Midway through the Mortal Kombat-inspired fight, a ninja finds himself bouncing from one bamboo tree to the other like a pinball in a pinball machine (complete with identical sound effects)! Any film whose sheer zaniness makes that of The Real Bruce Lee pale in comparison is a sure sign that the filmmakers must have been on a trip no less drug-induced than the one narrated in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (or the novel of the same name that was written by Hunter S. Thompson)!

As an actor, Dragon (who sounds like he’s being dubbed by Malcolm McDowell donning an American accent) seems to lighten up a bit and he seems more expressionistic (rubbery faced) when compared to his stoic portrayals (stone faced) in other films. It made for a fresh change of pace and it was nice to see as a human being for once than a walking statue. I should warn you that his comedic nature makes him even more eccentric.

To this film’s credit, it seems to have inspired the filmmakers of the vastly superior ninja classic Wu Tang vs. Ninja***** (a.k.a. Ninja Hunter) as music was clearly borrowed from this flick (music which deserves to be heard in an epic film courtesy of David Lean), the very same music which can be heard in Top Fighter (the scene where Alexander Lo Rei is putting his index fingers through arduous training). The soundtrack for this film is very good considering it’s lowly origins.

For a martial arts film to be ranked highly among blood-thirsty aficionados, it has to contain either a very gory death or a very inventive one and Secret Ninja Roaring Tiger contains a highly unorthodox yet still satisfying conclusion to Hwang’s roaring rampage as heinous honcho.

Considering the amount of cruddy crap that swarms and swamps Ho’s filmography (he makes the unfairly heavily maligned Wong Jing look like Steven Spielberg), this film is probably Ninja In The Dragon’s Den versus his other stuff. It’s probably his best directorial feature too, despite not exactly facing competition from his other films (most of which were cut and paste jobs)! But even then, his film is still slightly sloppy as we can briefly see a trampoline in one scene and a wire in another (during Hwang’s demise). Chances are you’re not going to confuse this for even the highest budgeted Lo Wei/Jackie Chan picture (check out the cheap lion dancer costumes).

So yeah, you could say I liked this movie a lot though I wouldn’t go so far to say that it convinced me to think that Sho Kosugi could defeat Bruce Lee in deadly combat! (again, check out Jeff’s review for Ninja Turf)

As a piece of trivia, the Hong Kong title is Justice Of The Ninja. An alternative international title used for the film is an abridged version of the main international title (that is to say, Secret Ninja).

* The Seasonal classic also motivated Shaw Brothers to produce two similarly themed films starring Hwang Jang Lee – Kid From Kwantung (1982) and Ghosts Galore (1983), both of which were directed by Tyrone Hsu Hsia (who played the king of sticks in Drunken Master).

** He’s credited in this film (albeit in brackets) as Silver Fox despite not playing the character in look or name (when spoken to).

*** Who were the distributors/dubbers fooling by having a Chinese woman called Susan in an ancient China setting?!

**** Inspirations being Crippled Avengers, Five Deadly Venoms, Big Trouble In Little China, Bloodsport and Enter The Dragon (even moreso in the cinematic adaptation of the game). Go to Neil Koch’s excellent article on the Hong Kong Film Net site.

***** Which was also produced by Godfrey Ho (real name: Ho Chi-Keung) under the name George King. The other pseudonyms he used during the course of his career were Alton Cheung, Tommy Cheung, Daniel Clough, Leong Fui Fong, Antonin Gasner, Martin Greenfield, Godfrey Hall (a Western distributor claimed that Ho sounded too slutty), Zhi Jiang He, Benny Ho, Ho Chi-Mou, Ho Chun-Sing, Fong Ho, York Lam, Bruce Lambert, Charles Lee, Frank Lewis, Jerry Sawyer, Victor Sears, Robert Young and Albert Yu. I guess it would be heedless to say that he saved his career from being bogged down by using the Alan Smithee credential.

Josephy Kuby’s Rating: 7/10

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One Response to Secret Ninja, Roaring Tiger (1982) Review

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