Ninja Vs Shaolin Guards (1984)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-02-09
“Ninja vs. Shaolin Guards” begins with a bang. A yellow-clad, very athletic monk is attacked by four almost indestructible ninjas—but after keeping the four of them at bay using his exemplary kung fu, he simply dismissed them. It turns out the evil monk is actually preparing to take over Shaolin Temple and is training the ninjas to help him. All of this takes place under the credits and sets the tone for plenty of hyper-kinetic action, gives an idea of the main plot—a former member of the Shaolin elite is out to destroy the temple—and announces a few of the themes, including treachery, double-dealing and betrayal.

The next scene—the first in the movie after the credits—introduces the four brothers. Second, third and fourth brothers are monks and each is a skilled martial artist. After goofing around and sparing for a bit they talk about how the absent Big Brother is upset that his sifu won’t let him become a monk. It turns out he is the only descendant of a national hero and his teacher doesn’t want him to end the family line. Obviously the four are related by bonds other than blood. This shows the other side of the equation—the true adherents of kung fu masters whose respect for authority, lively sense of fun and strong family ties stand in stark contrast to the evil ninja training monk.

OOPS—turns out it is the same guy. The plot doesn’t really thicken but it does congeal a bit.

The duplicity continues. A court official accompanied by two flamboyantly dressed bodyguards arrives with an edict from the Emperor. The abbot is accused of treason himself—conspiring with the rebels—and ordered to turn the Temple over to his chief monk. Hmmm—at this point maybe those ninjas won’t be necessary after all. The bad guys might win because the bureaucracy is on their side. Which doesn’t happen, of course. The two bodyguards make their second appearance and the abbot doesn’t break a sweat or barely move from his seat while dispatching them. He is sufficiently surprised by a very odd instances of not quite gratuitous breast flashing that his chief monk can get the drop on him, though.

The Emperor is less interested in the Temple itself than what it protects—the only copy of the Golden Sutra. The Sutra is the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the thing that everyone wants but no one can really possess. It is much in the tradition of Hong Kong martial arts movies that the antagonists are all trying to get the same thing—often a book with the secrets of a certain kind of kung fu. The four brothers wind up in possession of the book, are framed by the new abbot and must get to Tibet while half of China is looking for them to collect the price on their heads.

The rest of the movie is the journey—plenty of fighting, swordplay and ambushes. Fourth brother manages to inject slapstick humor into just about any situation, including the slaughter of an entire family. Fair damsels are threatened by bad guys then saved from a fate worse than death by good guys. The intrepid band is stalked by bounty hunters, including a tracker armed with a very accurate bow and an inexhaustible supply of arrows. They run into a blizzard and the new evil abbot is relentlessly on their trail—his disguise is just a big straw hat pulled over his brow. The tracker very sportingly gives up the advantage of fighting at a distance that his bow gives him to engage in close order combat using short swords with Big Brother—the outcome isn’t difficult to predict.

They even run into a bunch of bloodthirsty ghosts—nothing is really impossible or even too improbable when the heroes are on the road. The ninjas finally make their appearance—the fight between second brother and a white clad ninja is exceptionally well done. Everything leads up to and is climaxed by the final showdown between Big Brother and the evil chief monk, a person he formerly obeyed without question. This is a terrific fight—beautifully choreographed and shot, and expertly cut, it is convincing and looks extremely brutal. It is a fitting end to a very good movie.

There is a bit of a perverse edge to parts of “Ninja vs. Shaolin Guards. Ah Mei is captured twice—once by the male bodyguard/thug, once by the white clad ninja. In both cases she isn’t killed but tied up—once gagged and tied hand and foot, stretched between two trees while the leering lout cuts her clothing off with his sword—she is wearing enough layers so that she is rescued before showing anything. The next time she is tied to a tree and gagged, looking like every heroine from old US western movies who was tied up by marauding Apaches while waiting for the cavalry to ride over the hill. This theme is carried on by the female bodyguard/thug whose black and red outfit looks more like bondage gear than something to fight in.

There are lots of weapons used—people are stabbed, slashed, hit with poles and shot with arrows, but when it comes to the real business of killing almost everyone who dies on camera dies by someone’s hand or foot. They are strangled, punched and kicked until the blood runs freely. Very close to nonstop action with some poorly thought out humor but characters that were credible within the context and heroes that the audience wanted to see win.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9