• Five Element Ninjas



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: November 21st, 2016.
    Director: Cheh Chang
    Cast: Tien-Chi Cheng, Tien Hsiang Lung, Meng Lo,
    Chen Pei Hsi
    Year: 1982

    The Movie:

    Also known as Chinese Super Ninjas, this 1982 Shaw Brothers production begins with a scene where the members of the Martial Arts Alliance are challenged by a competing school. The students of the first school, all dressed in the finest white uniforms, are doing just fine holding their own until the second school brings in a samurai who kills a few the other guys but how is ultimately defeated himself. Just when it looks like it’s all over and done with, the samurai slices upon his own stomach, but not before summoning a gang of ninjas to take care of business after his passing.

    This escalates quickly and before you know it the guys in white are all running around outside the school where five different elemental ninja squads - water, earth, fire, wood, and metal (specifically gold) – make very short work of them. One of the poor guys gets stabbed in the crotch causing his balls (or intestines? Hard to say, they look like BALLS) to drop down, after which he trips on them! When another wave of ninja attacks leads to the mass slaughter of almost all of the Chinese students inside the headquarters of the Martial Arts Alliance, Shao Tien-hao (Cheng Tien-chi) meets a few new friends he meets courtesy of an old martial arts master who briefly takes him under his wing. Together, these four must do what they can to take out the sinister Japanese assassins, avenge the deaths of their fallen comrades and restore honor to their school.

    This won’t be easy, of course. Complicating matters is the presence of the beautiful fishnet clad Junko (Chen Pei Hsi), a Japanese woman by birth who successfully convinces Shao Tien-hao and his crew that she’s a Chinese woman in need of assistance. In reality, she’s feeding information back to the ninja master but neither of them are truly aware of just how finely trained and seriously pissed off Shao Tien-hao and the others are. All of this leads to one of the most insane and over the top finales you’re ever likely to see in a Shaw Brothers picture.

    Chock full of completely insane fight scenes, betrayals, twists and ridiculously colorful characters, Five Element Ninjas is pretty much non-stop cinematic excitement. The fight choreography is so perfect and so over the top that it’s damn near impossible to take your eyes off of the screen. On top of that, the titular Five Element Ninjas each have an awesome gimmick specific to their respective elements. The water ninjas are able to sneak around under water and surprise their opponents, the earth ninjas are somehow able to travel quickly underground and stab up at their opponents (which is how that one guy loses his balls), the fire ninjas jump around using red smoke and flares to distract their enemies, the wood ninjas hide inside really fake looking trees and the gold ninjas have fancy shiny spinning hats that blind their foes and shoot daggers at them.

    The story spends the right amount of time with the good guys and the bad guys, ensuring that we want the heroes to emerge victorious and that we’ve sufficiently sided with them just because the ninjas really are legitimately evil. Cheng Tien-chi is great in the lead, he’s steadfast in his mission to restore honor to the Alliance, and the guy really delivers his lines with the utmost conviction. The rest of the cast, Tien Hsiang Lung, Meng Lo, Wai-Man Chan, Li Wang and adorable Chen Pei His (perpetually clad in a fishnet body stocking thing!) are all pretty great too.

    Chang’s direction is very stylish and appropriately flamboyant. Plenty of wide shots are used to set the stage and show off the intricate fight choreography and there’s a great emphasis on color and lighting in the picture. The sets are fairly standard stuff for Shaw Brothers pictures of the era but they have their own charm. The movie doesn’t hold back on the carnage and blood shed either, particularly in the last twenty minutes where all bets are off.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Five Element Ninjas arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 25GB disc. There’s a bit of mild noise reduction on display here resulting in a bit of smoothing and some slightly waxy skin tones but it’s not a complete deal breaker – as mentioned, it’s mild. On the plus side? The image is pretty much spotless, you’ll be hard pressed to find any print damage here at all, and the colors in the film are gorgeous. Black levels are solid and there’s a decent amount of detail here as well. All in all, the image here is pretty solid.

    Audio options are provided in LPCM 2.0 Mono options in English and Mandarin Chinese with optional subtitles for the Chinese track available in English only. The English track is a fairly goofy one but it’s great to have it included here for posterity’s sake. The clarity of the Mandarin track is a bit better, it’s cleaner too. The score sounds decent and the over the top sound effects

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with Bey Logan that’s basically a scene specific dissection of the picture starting with the graphic used to open the picture and then going on to cover, the different stars that populate the film (many of whom are Taiwanese), some of the different styles on display in the picture, why the carpet in the opening scene might look familiar, how the actors did or didn’t learn the script in advance, the Shaw Brothers studio itself and the state it lies in today and how instantly recognizable Shaw Brothers blood is (no one else has it, it’s not realistic at all, but it looks great on screen). He also talks about how Godfrey Ho would take the ‘colorful ninja’ idea here and run with it, different credits that some of the character actors in the picture have aside from this film, the different ninja tactics that are utilized in the story, how the bedroom scene plays against audience expectations set by the flute playing, the weapons used in the picture and how they’re exploited in different sequences, the real life story of Chen Pei His, the importance as the fight choreography that plays such a huge part in making the movie what it is, prop design, costumes (and the fishnet!) and loads more. It’s a very active, engaging talk that covers pretty much everything that you’d hope it would and then some. Logan’s got a very affable talking style, he’s able to deliver a lot of information and make some interesting and intelligent observations without coming across as snooty at all – if you’re a fan of the movie, don’t miss out on this track.

    Aside from that, the disc also includes a newly created trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Additionally, as this is a combo pack release, the clear Blu-ray keepcase also includes a DVD version of the movie. Accompanying the two discs inside the case is an insert booklet that contains an essay by Calum Waddell that offers up some interesting thoughts on the politics of the film (which are there if you’re willing to dig a bit) and that make the case for the enduring popularity of both Chinese martial arts films and ninja films. 88 Films has also provided some slick reversible cover art for this release.

    The Final Word:

    Five Element Ninjas is as over the top and violent as it is stylish and fun. Directed with assurance, the movie goes at a lighting quick pace and offers up some absolutely amazing fight scenes and no shortage of ridiculously colorful characters. The Blu-ray release from 88 Films looks and sounds good and the commentary track form Bey Logan is a great source of information on the picture. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!























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