Ninja: Fist of Fire (1974)
Director: Wong Tin Lam
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Cheung Ching-Ching, Thompson Kao, Tony Liu, Jason Pai, and Ang Saan

The Plot: Keeping the story to its barest of elements, Ninja: Fist of Fire details the story of a royal prince who is being transported via a military envoy. The envoy is soon attacked by a rebellious group who want to capture the young prince for their own gains. Thankfully, the prince hides underneath some dead bodies and manages to escape. The rest of the film details the rivaling factions who are hoping to get their hands on this young man.

The Review
It doesn’t always prove to be the case, but whenever I spot a kung fu film from the seventies and it has a title that makes it sound like it’ll be nonstop fan service, I tend to put my defenses up. This is almost always a trick by the American marketers who wanted to sell their movie as whatever sensational fad was happening at the time. For martial arts cinema, this was often achieved by throwing “ninja” into the title. Nothing was easier to sell during the eighties than ninjas, and for many of us out there, we are still enticed by these magical warriors of the night. However, if you picked up a cheap Taiwanese action film during the eighties and it had “ninja” in the title, you were probably walking away disappointed. You were also probably walking away with a Godfrey Ho vehicle, but that’s an entirely different story. After ten minutes of wuxia-style swordplay and acrobatics, I knew everything that I needed to know about Ninja: Fist of Fire. This film, of course, has nothing to with its title. Sometimes, though, you get lucky and the movie underneath the title is still worth checking out. Unfortunately, with Ninja: Fist of Fire, what lays beneath the ridiculous marketing from US distributors is not something worth revealing.

Also known as Fingers That Kill, Ninja: Fist of Fire has about as much to do with ninjas as it does giant kaiju squirrels. That is to say, there are no ninjas in this movie. There’s not even a Japanese element that could be construed as being ninja related. Is this a reason to dislike this movie? No, not at all. There’s plenty more to dislike about this flick. Ninety minutes that can feel like forever, Ninja: Fist of Fire is a wuxia title that is chock full of varying subplots and extraneous characters who we ultimately do not care about. One of Ni Kuang’s greatest shortcomings as a writer has been his convoluted plots. As a man with over 400 film scripts under his belt, one would almost expect his work to be overtly simple, but that isn’t always the case. As is the situation with Ninja: Fist of Fire, the plot is filled to the brim with twists, turns, and a truck load of characters. Despite this plentiful cast, audience members will have a hard time remembering even one name from the group.

The movie, while it does seem to have some kind of a cohesive narrative, is rather hard to keep up with. Some characters dress and look alike, but their devotion to the prince might be completely opposite to one another. Early in the movie we are introduced to a character who seems as if he is going to be the main protagonist, but ultimately he only becomes pertinent to the plot during the third act where this character does a 180 degree turn around. Unfortunately, this is a film that seems to be filled with secondary characters and few actual stars. The female protagonist, the warrior who sets out in search of the prince, is decent in her role and she ultimately holds the film together. She also does fairly well in the fight scenes, but she doesn’t light the screen on fire. However, the fact that she makes the choreography seem graceful puts her leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the cast.

The actual fighting within the movie is sparse and only interesting if you are into swordplay and exaggerated physical feats within your martial arts movies. Even still, a lot of this seems rather mundane. Many of the actors lack much in terms of physicality. Some cast members are more adept than others, but there are some actors here that could have used a bit more time preparing for their roles. Still, if I am to commend anything about the movie, it would be the performances of the cast members. While they may not be natural athletes, most do well with the drama produced in the film. Sure, the story is nearly impossible to keep up with, but it doesn’t change the fact that the actors are brimming with confidence when needed and appear to be having a good time while pretending to be superheroes.

The Conclusion
Overall, there’s very little to enjoy within this film. Granted, it’s not the worst kung fu flick I might run into this month, but it lacks so much. Simply put, it is not an interesting film and should easily be passed up. However, it still gets a two out of five for the fun costumes, performances, and overall decor. This is not a movie worth revisiting, though.

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