AKA: Iron Fingers of Death
Director: Tong Gaai
Producer: Mona Fong Yat Wah
Cast: Ti Lung, Derek Yee, Jason Pai Piao, Alan Chan, Ku Feng, Ma Chao, Lam Fai Wong, Kong Do, Yuen Bun, Lee Hoi San, Chan Shen, Cheung Chok Chow, Cheung Gwok Wa, Chui Fat, Goo Goon Chung, Kwan Feng, Lee Fat Yuen, Lee Hang, Ma Hon Yuen, Ngaai Fei, Shum Lo, Tam Bo, To Wai Wo
Running Time: 89 min.
Picture the scene: a ramshackle production office in the early 1980s. Unkempt executives with no understanding of the martial arts genre face a dilemma: the viewing public demands ninja movies, but their company presently doesn’t have any ninja movies to distribute. All they have are chop sockeys, and so they’ve hit upon the idea of fooling consumers into thinking these kung-fu flicks contain scenes of ninja combat, when in fact they do not. How do they do this? By simply renaming the movies.
Right now the executives are stuck on a latter-day Shaw Brothers movie called Shaolin Prince, a non-stop action picture starring Ti Lung. No ninjas in the movie. Well, one guy puts on a mask, but he’s no ninja. So the executives are stumped. They pace around, brainstorming titles, when one of them snaps: “I’ve got it! We’ll call it DEATH MASK OF THE NINJA!” And so an awful title is born.
There are no ninjas OR death masks in this movie. Just lots of fighting. And by lots of fighting, I mean LOTS OF FIGHTING. In fact, this is almost like an early Bruce Li movie, or even a Bruce Le fiasco. There are so many fights that the viewer is beaten into boredom. Seriously, action scene follows action scene, and after a while it all becomes too much. It’s a shame, really, to see a Shaw Brothers film descend to such levels. Like they realized that their days were waning, and so figured they’d up the action quotient to keep their audience. Unfortunately, they overdid it, and besides, the choreography isn’t even up to the usual Shaws standards.
Ti Lung is as good as usual, though it is a bit hard to buy him as a 23 year old, when he is obviously in his late 30s. Well, I guess I should say he’s no harder to believe than Jackie Chan playing a teenager in Drunken Master 2. Wait a second, wasn’t Ti Lung in that movie, too? I smell a conspiracy! Anyway, I should say that most of the actors come off well, but the problem is, none of them are developed well enough to appreciate. The three crazy monks who raise Ti Lung’s character are enjoyable, but mostly just lend the movie a comedic aspect. Because what it all comes down to, as far as director Chia Tang is concerned, is the fighting.
Lots of weird characters in this one, from the evil Ninth Prince to the feminine-voiced Water Man, who fights with a pair of swords that look like Christmas trees. The director, formerly an action choreographer, was known for inventing outlandish weaponry, and this movie is full of such. There’s a dude who shoots fireballs from a staff, a “magic sword” that can defeat evil spirits, and iron fingers that can snap a blade in half. The fights scenes, though overwhelming, also sport some imagination, with the infamous “18 Buddha Strike,” which is an en masse attack by monks who band together and raise themselves off the ground in defiance of gravity.
The Shaw Brothers were struggling in the 1980s, and this movie proves it. Losing their audience to the New Wave creators of the day, such as Jackie Chan and Tsui Hark, they grasped for ways to keep their edge. However, increasing the fight count in a movie wasn’t the way to go, and the always-impressive Shaws production standards (elaborate sets, costumes, etc) are woefully underused. To make it even worse, Celestial has plans to release this one, remastered on DVD, in late 2004, when they STILL haven’t released Five Element Ninja.
Joe909’s Rating: 5.5/10