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五遁忍術 (1982)
Five Element Ninjas

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 08/31/2019
Summary: Good for its time and place

"My ninja kung fu has descended for centuries from emperor Liu Xie--he was a top notch ninja artist who all the five elements in his kung fu. I am the last disciple of the school of Liu Xie" says, at least according to the subtitles, the master. He has been contacted by Xiao Tian Hao one of the four survivors of a ninja assault on their kung fu school and is willing to teach them the secrets of ninja kung fu. The kung fu fighters learn their lessons while blindfolded using wooden weapons while the master attacks them using a whisper-quiet rattan stick that mimics the almost silent approach of the ninjas.

A significant problem that the Chinese martial artists had against the Japanese especially early in the film is that the kung fu warriors did everything wrong. For example when attacked the sentries for the Chinese didn't go for reinforcements but fought to the death against impossible odds, leading to the death of the guards while allowing the ninjas to penetrate the fort. They allowed a young camp follower to act as their maid even though it should have been obvious to them that she was an enemy--it turns out she is Japanese. A clue would have been that she dressed in all black like the ninjas while the Chinese fighters were in all white. Chan Pui-Sai who played the devious spy looked fetching in leather and fishnets while the white muslin outfits of the good guys just looked odd with deep V cut tops and short cloaks.The gallons of blood spilled by the Chinese showed up well against the white.

So there was plenty of blood and a butcher's bill so high that everyone other than the four original kung fu fighters and their master were dead by the time the credits rolled--a good action movie from the early 1980s

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 09/25/2009
Summary: Interesting ideas, uninspired execution

The leader of an evil martial arts school brings a samurai from Japan to challenge the leader of a righteous martial arts school in a tournament for supremacy of the martial arts world. The samurai is defeated, but promises that his friend the ninja who comes after him will not be.

A challenge from the ninja duly arrives, announcing that they will be attacked by the Five Elements style of ninjitsu. The sneaky underhand tricks of the ninja prove far too much for the noble, trusting Chinese fighters and the righteous school is decimated. One of the surviving students must learn the ancient Chinese kung fu from which Ninjitsu is allegedly derived in order to take revenge.

FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS has some interesting ideas, but is let down by uninspired implementation. By 1982 it did seem a bit like Chang Cheh had stopped caring, certainly stopped making an effort. After directing something like 100 movies for Shaw Brothers in the previous 15 years I suppose you can hardly blame him for no longer being an innovator at the cutting edge, but as Golden Harvest and various independent studios were busy forging the new wave of martial arts films, Chang Cheh seemed to be retreating further and further into his shell (in Chang Cheh's case his shell was the studio... I don't think there's a single outside shot in this film). Where once Chang Cheh was known for his dramatic scripts and innovative filming methods, FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS has an absolutely paper thin script and suprisingly static and dull camera placement and framing. It's hard to believe that it was contemporaneous with DUEL TO THE DEATH, a ninja film that feels like it comes from an entirely different era of cinema.

Before the Shaw Brothers films received home video releases en masse, FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS was one of the few Shaw Brothers films that had been reasonably widely seen by Western audiences, and it had a good reputation. This was largely due to the ideas in the film, and especially the shameless violence and gore. In Chang Cheh's world gore was pretty much synonymous with red paint though, and it is really more the idea of what's happening on screen that is gory, as the implementation is so tame and fake. Fans would speak in gleeful tones of a fighter tripping up on his own intestines, but in practice you really aren't sure he hasn't just tripped up on a strip of cloth coated in red paint - since that's what it [i]looks[/i] like he's doing.

Perhaps it was easier to forgive the film's low budget, low tech feel when the only way to see it was on dubious quality bootlegs, and the film suffers from being presented on a remastered DVD which makes the cheapness of the sets and special effects all too clear. This doesn't really excuse Chang Cheh for not putting more effort into the film though, since he presumably didn't have dodgy bootleg VHS tapes in mind as the primary means of distribution.

There still seems to be a certain fondness for the film amongst fans, but I think the only way to appreciate it is to treat it as a source of unintentional amusement - to laugh at the cheapness, the cheesiness and the shallowness of it all... whilst perhaps taking a moment to acknowledge the creativity of some of the ideas behind it. It's probably a good film for a "midnight movie" session with an audience in high spirits, who aren't going to let the lack of quality in the execution bother them too much.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 09/05/2008

It’s quite hard to write a great deal about this film, as it’s so brazenly shallow. The plot is the most simplistic excuse for joining a bunch of action scenes together: a clan of martial arts heroes known as the Alliance (who strut about wearing virginal white and not-very-macho little capes), challenge a local bandit gang. If the Alliance win, the bandits must go straight. In amongst the gang is a ringer in the form of a Samurai swordsman. He is defeated, and upon his death by Seppuku, gives the bandit king a note to send to a Ninja master to avenge his supposed disgrace. The Ninja master (Chan Wai-Man) arrives with his troops to finish of the Alliance, incorporating five clans named after the elements gold, earth, fire, water and wood.

FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS is one of those kung fu films that obtained a large fan base in the US, which has kind of blown its reputation out of proportion a little. Seen in context, it’s actually quite a desperate film. The studio was in trouble and this is a pretty cynical attempt to get bums on seats by painting the screen red and throwing action scene after action scene at the viewer. Oh, and a pseudo-naked ninja girl in a fishnet body stocking. Sounds like a winner on paper, obviously, and if anyone could have pulled it off, Chang Cheh could.

The film is outrageous in every respect. The Alliance’s outfits are highly questionable and there’s an air of campness quite unparalleled in films from this era. In many ways, it has the look and feel of a mid-70’s film rather than one from 1982. As with all Shaw movies from this period, it’s entirely shot indoors on the soundstage, and the artificial colours and landscapes add to the comic-book appearance of the film.

However, it’s in the violence that FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS comes into its own, and this is by far the most outrageous aspect. The fight with the “earth element” Ninja clan is too gruesome for words, but the guy tripping on his own entrails was hilarious (OK, so I’m a sick bastard). Mind you, that’s nothing compared to what happens later, but you’ll have to see it yourself to find out...

The only depth aimed for is with Junko (Chen Pei-Hsi), a ninja girl sent to infiltrate the Alliance and ends up on a killing spree. There are hints that she’s a more complicated person, and capable of loving. But then someone kills her. Oh well - easy come, easy go.

It’s a shame that there aren’t more big names on show. The hero by default is Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, and you’d be forgiven for scratching your head trying to remember where you’d seen him before. It seems he didn’t have such a stellar career in the movies, but he certainly puts on a decent show here. Venom Lo Meng appears as the heroic Liang Zhi-Sheng and has a few great action scenes, but is definitely not the star of the film. It could be said that the star of the film is the Ninja weaponry, which the film takes great pains to explain has been extensively researched for the production. This is one of those films (like LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA) which puts a caption on screen whenever a new weapon is shown, and I do find it distracting and a little annoying. Nevertheless, the weapons are shown in all their gruesome glory and the fight scenes (of which there are many) are usually quite inventive, albeit somewhat implausible!

Oddly for a film made in 1982, the soundtrack on the IVL DVD is in Mandarin and does not feature a Cantonese track, which, if it was released in this way, would have been another very unfashionable choice for the era. If you’re after something about as challenging as a Peter and Jane book, this could be for you. But it’s nothing to get too excited about.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 09/04/2008

Chang Cheh slicing the ham with both fists or a tasty Shaw Brothers cheese ball? You be the judge, but ham & cheese really hits the spot now and then.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 10/11/2007
Summary: Unbelievably good

This movie really suprised me with how jammed packed with action it is.
Also its over the top violence, OH JOY!!

Just when you think the movie will finish it just keeps going and at the end your left wanting it not to end!!

Even watching it dubbed in bad english did not diminish how entertaining this movie is.

Apart from one reviewer who must of watched another movie by mistake, this is a must see Shaw brothers movie. Highly entertaining!!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Wu'xiaBadger
Date: 01/24/2003
Summary: Full Beast, No exceptions

This movie is pretty damn cool. Maybe its because I had really low expectations for a movie called "Super Ninja's", but I found it to be quite rewarding. The story is thin and the soundstages obvious, but its still a badass little film.
The level of violence was totally over-the-top, and enhanced the fight scenes a great deal. Basically, its a movie to watch for the awesome fight sequences. And they are plentiful. The 5 elements were all handled with a lot of originality, and I found them to be some of the coolest villians in Kung-fu movie history.
It really does have something for everyone- Kung-fu, tons of cool weapons, gore, naked ninja girls, bad dubbing; you name it. 9/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 04/09/2002
Summary: Good old school action

Two schools' rivalry comes to a bloody end when the master of the "evil" school (Chen Hei Psi) hires a group of deadly ninjas (led by Michael Chan) to kill the members of the other. The last survivor (Ricky Cheng) travels to find an old sifu who can teach him the art of Ninjitsu. Armed with his new knowledge and some new allies, Cheng heads back to take his revenge.

As you can tell by the synopsis, Five Element Ninjas has the usual kung fu revenge plot. And since this film was done towards the end of old-school kung fu's life cycle, it doesn't appear to have much of a budget at all -- the outdoor sets look laughably bad, and some of the costumes look like they were put togther by a blind old lady with arthritis. The pacing is a bit poor, the editing could have used some work, and some of the "special effects" (mostly running the camera backwards) aren't very special at all.

However, if you're willing to forgive some shortcomings, Five Element Ninjas offers up heaps of old-school goodness through some very bloody (for its' time) action. Though things are a bit tame by today's standards, but some choice tidbits include Lo Meng continuing to fight even with his intestines hanging down his pant leg, and a ninja getting pulled apart limb-by-limb. The fight co-ordination is also very solid, making for some energetic and exciting fight scenes, especially when compared to more modern films, which tend to depend too much on camera tricks and special effects rather than talent.

Some props must also be given out to some of the actors involved. Ricky Cheng, Lo Meng and Michael Chan all do a great job of bringing dimensionality to their under-written characters, and the supporting cast (especially Yu Tai Pei as a mysterious woman who the "good" clan befriends) helps things along as well. Overall, Five Element Ninjas is a solid old-school movie that might just bring in a few new fans to the genre because of the over-the-top nature of the film's violence.

Note: there appear to be three versions of Five Element Ninjas: an uncut one, a roughly PG-13 version which omits the nudity and some of the gore from the uncut version, and a version made for TV which is the most heavily edited. Most video versions (such as Chinese Super Ninja and Super Ninjas) are the PG-13 cut.

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Reviewed by: resisttoexist
Date: 01/10/2002
Summary: One star for every element ninja- That's 5 folks

This was a great old school movie. The other praising reviews said it all I think. There is one part in the film which is truley outstanding, when the good guys are fighting the wood element ninjas, and kill all but one. They then rope all of his limbs and jump up into the trees, and lift him off the ground and lip his arms and legs off, letting the man fall to the ground as a torso!!!!!

Old school score- 9/10.

Reviewed by: 5elementninja
Date: 12/31/2001
Summary: Shaw Brothers Classic!

This movie is the measuring stick for which I rate all other Shaw Brothers films. I remember seeing this movie on Black Belt Theather in the 80's when I was young and LOVING it. The 5 element ninjas are the most interesting characters I've come across in any martial arts film. The kung fu in this film (as in just about any other SB film) is outstanding. I love the training sequence that Chang Yin Tee goes through when he learns the secrets of the ninja. The movie is just an excellent all around showing of weapons combat.


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 05/13/2001
Summary: Worst Movie Ever.

This movie is a piece of crap. The sets were horrible... the original Star Trek had better sets. The weapons were cheap looking. There was no acting. Nothing interesting happens. I really can't understand why people want to praise this film.

I used to watch old school 70's and 80's kung fu on Sunday afternoons and 99% of that stuff was way better than this. This looks like it was made in 1965 as a joke. It's perhaps laughable, but there's no movie here. The story is garbage - what am I saying? There is no story. A 5 year old could've come up with a better plot. I had to watch this film dubbed, and the dubbing sounds like 2 college guys recorded it in their bathroom on a broken tape recorder. The fight scenes were uninteresting unless you're a total die-hard old-school kung-fu fan that likes nothing but katas.

I found it mind-numbingly boring and contrived and it doesn't even deserve to be called a movie. Give me a video camera and me and 2 of my drunk friends will make a better kung-fu movie in my back yard. This film is a piece of sh*t.

Rating: Movie - 0/10 - that's right - Zero. Actually - negative 5 for making me waste an hour of my life that I'll never get back.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: GlennS
Date: 04/10/2001
Summary: A "Bloody" Masterpiece From Chang Cheh

Perhaps Chang Cheh's goriest film, FIVE ELEMENT NINJA (a.k.a. SUPER NINJAS) has it all: ninjas, Lo Meng looking cool when he dies, a guy drawn and quartered, a lethal ninjababe, Michael Chan Wai-Man looking mean and nasty, a neat 5-weapons-in-one weapon and another guy tripping over his intestines!!

Apart from the awful English dubbing in the version I watched, I really can't give a higher recommendation for a kung-fu gorefest like this one (apart from STORY OF RICKY).


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 02/17/2001
Summary: Big Time Classic

This is the Shaw Bros/Venom production that nearly took kung fu to the next level - but unfortunately that was not achieved until Once Upon A Time In China about 10 years later.

In any case though, Chinese Super Ninja is nothing less than a specatular martial arts gem with the best production value out of any Shaw Bros films I have seen. I cannot say enough good words about the fighting choreography; they are simply breath-taking. Cheng Tien Yee(chi) and Lo Meng display their awesome kung fu skills as well as good acting.

However, one of the most unsatisfying elements of any Shaw Bros/old school movie is the fact that everyone seems to have equal strength, until the directors decide to have them die in two seconds. So you have two people who have been fighting for 5 minutes and neither is gaining or losing; all of a sudden one of those gets stabbed or somehow killed. What's more, Everybody who gets severely injured--possibly 5 times--seem to fight just as magnificent as when they had perfect health, unharmed. That is a major flaw in kung fu films until OUATIC, but I can overlook it because the action is nevertheless outstanding.

There's only one thing I need to say about this movie: you don't know what you're missing if you haven't seen CHINESE SUPER NINJA yet! Honestly, if you even have the slightest interest in kung fu, this is not one to be missed, or you will regret it when you finally pick it up in 10 years. [9/10]