• Treasure Of The Ninja (AGFA) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: AGFA
    Released on: July 27th, 2021.
    Director: William Lee
    Cast: William Lee, Mark Olgden, James Wiley, Constance Lester, Gary Burton
    Year: 1987
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    Treasure Of The Ninja – Movie Review:

    William Lee may not be a household name but in the eighties, this one-man wrecking crew was the brains, and the muscle, behind a series of no-budget martial arts action films shot mostly in Dayton, Ohio (where Lee’s family moved and where he went to college), with occasional trips into New York City (Lee’s home town). The best known of these projects is 1987’s Treasure Of The Ninja, a film that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in that he also self-distributed on VHS back in the eighties.

    The story isn’t deep, but it gives Lee enough to work off of, with the film’s highpoints obviously being the many and frequent martial arts scenes contained within. Regardless, early in the film we meet Dr. Stewart (Constance Lester) who is an archeologist hoping to discover some treasure stashed somewhere in Asia with some help from her team. Hoping to stop them from getting to it at all are a machine gun wielding heavy named Steven Chase (Mark Ogden) and an evil ninja named El Kazi (James Wiley) who wears a white ninja outfit.

    To help protect Stewart from Chase and El Kazi, the United States Government sends in their best man, Magneta Faze (Lee himself), a deadly martial arts expert and the only one skilled and brave enough to take on El Kazi – but not before he heads to New York City where there’s an impromptu breakdancing competition going on in front of the UN Building. Oh, and Magneta has a fourteen year old girl as his partner. He’s also recently proposed to his girlfriend, only to have his proposal declined – how can she commit to someone already so committed to his incredibly dangerous job? If that weren’t enough, when Faze arrives in China, after teaming up with a tough female agent and guy named Chappy (Gary Burton) who looks after the base that the U.S. military maintains over there, he also has to take on Ikar The Invincible. Ikar is a zombie ninja who knowns ninjitsu and, along with his crew, rises from the grave whenever there’s a need for him to protect the treasure that Stewart is hoping to find.

    There’s a lot going on here, and almost all of it is wonderful. Made with an obvious love for all things Bruce Lee with some nods towards adventure films like Raiders Of The Lost Art, the film stands as an impressive poverty row showcase for Lee’s skills as a martial artist and determination as a filmmaker. While it’s clear that this was made without two pennies to rub together, that doesn’t stop Lee from packing his film with ambitious fight scenes that are just as likely to involve guns, nun-chucks, swords and machine guns as they are traditional hand to hand combat tactics. And there are ninjas everywhere! They’re in Ohio, they’re in New York and they’re definitely in Asia, popping out from behind bushes, peeking around corners and sometimes just sort of wandering around in plain sight, stealth tactics be damned.

    Lee and his team perform with a whole lot of enthusiasm that more than makes up for the sometimes very obvious lack of acting experience. These guys want it, and they go for it, and it’s hard not to love that about Treasure Of The Ninja. Yes, the low budget shines though, sure the plot is more than a little disjointed and yes, the soundtrack runs the gamut between completely charming and completely annoying but there’s so much obvious heart in this one that you can’t help but be won over by it. Bonus points for a killer theme song.

    Treasure Of The Ninja – Blu-ray Review:

    Treasure Of The Ninja arrives on region Free Blu-ray taken from a new transfer from the original 3/4" master tape in AVC encoded 1080p with the feature taking up 24GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The feature was shot on 8mm and then transferred to tape for editing purposes and, as such, a disclaimer on the back of the packaging asks us to “please approach the technical quality of the transfer with empathy.” The fullframe image looks about as good as it probably can, given its origins. Expect some color fading and softness throughout, but it’s perfectly watchable, particularly if you’re accustomed to tape sourced transfers.

    The only audio option for the feature is a 16-but DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles. Those subs come in pretty handy throughout the movie, as the audio here is a bit on the rough side. Some of the dialogue sounds muffled and the levels do bounce around just a tad. Still, again, considering the film’s origins this is to be expected.

    Extras start off with a commentary track with William Lee and Bleeding Skull's Annie Choi and Joseph A. Ziemba. Ziemba serves as the de facto moderator here, as they open with an appreciation from the Bleeding Skull pair about what they love about this movie. From there, they get into it, covering with a very gracious William Lee opening up about making the film during his final year at graduate school, using the campus at Ohio State University for certain locations, who did the dubbing on the film (Lee did quite a few of them himself, including the 'cussing ninja'), not having the money or the time to do multiple takes on various scenes and the importance of learning efficiency on set. He talks about getting kicked into a wall and getting a concussion during his martial arts training, handling the fight choreography chores, doing the fight scenes without the benefit of much practice time, the film's strong female characters, and how for the most part everyone involved (with the exception of a few egos) was dedicated to getting the film made. Lee also talk about how much help his sister was to this project, having to deal with a Lupus diagnosis and some of the struggles he's had since then, his teaching career, getting kicked out of a city park during a shoot, his thoughts on L.A. and the Hollywood scene, how and why he prefers Dragon Vs. Ninja over Treasure Of The Ninja because of the different styles he's able to use in that film, trying to recreate what Bruce Lee brought to his films, getting Warner Brothers to entertain the idea of releasing Dragon Vs. Ninja, how Treasure Of The Ninja, gained cult notoriety on the VHS collector markets, what it was like being approached to work with AGFA and Bleeding Skull on reissuing it and lots, lots more.

    Additionally, the disc includes a bonus movie in the form of 1984’s Dragon Vs. Ninja, a previously unreleased sixty-five-minute epic transferred in 2K from the original Super 8 elements. This one starts off with Lee showing off some moves in a park while a ninja pokes around until they fight. From here, we see lee leave a gym and meet up with his lady friend only to get challenged by a pair of fighters in the parking lot out to prove something by taking him down. It doesn't work. Meanwhile, a guy named Pop gets into a fight as well. Lee decides to talk to his teacher about the fight on the front lawn of a church only to once again get attacked by nogoodniks! He tracks down some bad guys to a park and takes them down before battling their teacher. Pop (who is not old at all but in fact a teenager) fights a guy on the side of a river, then a ninja in a red head dress does a bunch of backflips. More ninjas show up and fight William and then there's a confusing plot about stolen treasure. A lot more fights happen, some people die, and the girl from Treasure Of The Ninja shows up too. From here, William has to do some training and some more fighting and it all leads up to a pretty solid final fight with a bunch of ninjas on the riverside.

    Like the feature, it's hard not to appreciate all that went into this. It is frequently pretty hard to follow but the fights are creative and pretty well choreographed for a movie made for peanuts. There's some creative camera placement here too, at one point we see Lee fight a bad guy on the ground but it's shot from an angle above them, it adds some scope to the scene. There's also some creative lighting used, the best example being a scene around two-thirds of the way through where Lee battles a guy in a basement. The sound effects are way over the top and way too high in the mix and the subtitles come in pretty handy here as while the picture quality looks pretty good for an 8mm production, the audio is rough.

    Also included here are a few short films, starting with The New Chinese Connection, another previously released Lee epic again transferred in 2K from the original Super 8 elements. This one runs twenty-three-minutes and the audio is really, really rough here. Sadly, there are no subtitles. Lee narrates an opening scene talking about the legacy of The Chinese Connection and from there, we heard to a park where, close by to someone flying a kite, a shirtless Lee takes on a masked combatant, yelping and howling in his best Bruce Lee impersonation. They finish and bow to one another and we see some awesome 'made on paper with a stencil' opening credits. From there, we head to Hong Kong in 1980 where, out of what looks like a house from pioneer times, a bunch of guys emerge. Lee fights them and then a guy in a green clock shows up. He's a teacher? Again, hard to tell because of the audio but let's go with that. Meanwhile, Lee practices and fights some guys in a few different locations, but we go back to the park more often than not. There's a big fight at the end in what looks like a band stand of sorts where Lee gets attacked by a pudgy guy in a headband wielding a sword. Same deal applies here - the low budget shows through but the fight scenes and enthusiasm are top level.

    Not enough? There’s also a selection of Willie Jack shorts, again all previously unreleased and transferred in 2K from the original Super 8 elements, unfortunately with no subtitles.

    The first, Willie Jack, is a three-minute bit where a kid named Willie Jack, beats up some guys and points to the camera before getting involved in some sort of plot. The audio is beyond rough here, and the dialogue is almost impossible to discern.

    The Return Of Willie Jack is a two-minute short that follows a similar track where Willie Jack once again has to fight his way out of a tough spot which seems to mostly involve kicking people in what might be a classroom of some sort. You can't hear what's going on but it does feature a pretty rad funk score.

    In the three-minute Revenge Of Willie Jack, yet more kids challenge Willie Jack in what may or may not be the same room used in the last short. The funk sore is recycled and a lot of little kids get thrown around in some ridiculous stunt sequences. Fun stuff, especially the final battle with the little white kid in the gi wearing aviator shades.

    In the three-minute follow up, Willie Jack In The Jungle, Mean Mr. Green (the aforementioned white kid in the aviators) needs some cronies to find Willie Jack in the jungle that is a park. A bunch of kids follow the Green down a trail and find Willie Jack only to basically get the crap kicked out of them.

    This release also comes with some pretty boss reversible cover artwork.

    Treasure Of The Ninja - The Final Word:

    Treasure Of The Ninja may not always make sense but it is always fun. Lee and company went all out to get this thing made and their enthusiasm and determination are apparent in every frame of this picture. AGFA has done a nice job bringing this to Blu-ray with a host of extras, and while the transfers never hit the levels of visual perfection some might expect from Blu-ray, it’s great to see this stuff preserved and released to an audience that will hopefully appreciate it as much as I did!

    Click on the images below for full sized Treasure Of The Ninja Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Newt Cox's Avatar
      Newt Cox -
      This sounds amazing. Tempted to go pre-order it.