Review: Five Elements Ninjas (1982)
Starring: Lo Mang, Cheng Tien Chi, Michael Chan, Chen Pei-Hsi, Kwan Fung
Fight Choreography by Cheng Tien-Chi
Directed by Chang Cheh
Shaw Brothers films have ranged the gamut, presenting Kung fu fighting in all its forms, but this film is one that presents Kung fu differently: Ninja insanity.
The film begins as two of the best martial arts schools engage In a little competition. Meaning they manage the order of their fighters and pit them against each other like a game of Magic the Gathering. Chief Hong’s students are getting owned by the students of Master Yuan Zeng, until Hong introduces a fighter from Japan, who defeats one of Zeng’s students, and after a comment about how a loser in Japan would kill themselves, the student suddenly kills himself without anyone verifying if what the samurai said was indeed true. Methinks he really jumped the gun on that one, but Sheng (Lo Mang) uses his bare hands to defeat the samurai, causing him to commit ritual suicide, but not before tossing his ring at Master Zeng, who catches it, realizing too late the ring was poisonous. Weeks later the brother of the Samurai, the head of a ninja clan arrives to take revenge for the death of his brother (even though it was a fair fight, and he killed hims–oh let’s not think too hard on this). He does so by first using his five element ninjas to lure Zeng’s best fighters to a dual that’s anything but fair, and then attacking the Master himself. The ninjas succeed in killing off the entire clan except for Hao, a young fighter who had learned a little bit of ninja skills from a local retired ninja master. He saves himself from the massacre and runs to the ninja master, who agrees to train him and three others in styles and weapons that will defeat the five elements ninjas…
This movie is nonsensical, with giant plot holes and some really fake looking scenes, but dammit I had crazy fun watching this! This is not one of Chang Cheh’s best films, but it is one of his most entertaining films. Cheng Tien Chi is great as Hou, the only real student of Zeng’s who has any common sense, and I love anytime you can give me some Lo Mang, who doesn’t disappoint as a fighter who prefers to use “dem hands” rather than a weapon. Michael (Wai-Man) Chan is sufficiently evil and posturing as the leader of the ninja clan.
The effects work is laughably bad, even by Shaw Brothers standards. Some sword stabs are hilariously bad as you can see the sword just going by their side, and some of the final battles had limbs that tore off a little too easily.
The fight scenes are fast paced and rather excellent, as each Element comes with a new way our heroes have to adapt to fight them. The initial attack on the school is well done and showcase some great ninja scenes, but when the elements take over it gets tossed aside for some strange but cool shots of ninjas posing as trees, ninjas not remotely blending in with the water in a stream, and flashy gold ninjas that look like something from Power Rangers.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8
Is it the best film in Chang Cheh’s filmography? Hell no, but it is a fun film to watch. I’m sure drinking games already exist for this one!