Ninja: The Final Duel
1986; directed by Robert Tai

Robert Tai had a promising start to his career, moving on from being a stuntman and bit player to working on the action direction on several of Chang Cheh's legendary old-school kung fu films such as The Five Deadly Venoms. However, once he stepped out on his own as a director, the quality of Tai's output dropped considerably, of which Ninja: The Final Duel is a prime example. Whether it was due to an ultra low budget or Tai's own shortcomings, no one is going to mistake a movie like this as a classic piece of cinema -- but at least it is fun, albeit in a totally bizarre and incoherent way.

Ninja: The Final Duel    Ninja: The Final Duel

Supposedly, Tai shot around thirteen hours of footage, which has been released in various forms over the years. For the English-language print used for Crash Cinema's DVD, Ninja: The Final Duel has a fairly simple, yet still disjointedly disconnected, story -- befitting something that was whittled down from such a large source. At its' core, the story is about the Shaolin temple coming under attack from a group of ninjas seeking revenge for the death of one of their bretheren. Sure, that's straightforward enough, but Robert Tai adds in bizarre characters like a pair of hare krishnas, a black jive-talking monk from Harlem, and a girl whose sole purpose in the movie seems to have been to perform a fight scene in the buff. Not only that, but the ninjas employ an array of shall we say "unique" techniques, the most head-scratching being the "water spider assault unit", which uses oversized kiddie pool float toys for nefarious means.

Ninja: The Final Duel    Ninja: The Final Duel

I'm not sure if Robert Tai was trying to be serious here, but my spidey sense is pointing to the direction of him trying to make a quick buck by releasing a movie to foreign investors eager to fill video store shelves with any and all product they could get their hands on, regardless of quality. Reusing most of the same cast from Tai's previous release, Mafia Vs. Ninja, there is very little displayed here in the way of polish. Even taken "just" as a martial arts movie (though that line of thinking does a mass disservice to the genre as a whole) Ninja: The Final Duel just barely squeaks out of the pit of bad cinema. Though, to be honest, it is a bit hard to critique with an open mind many aspects of this film, such as the cinematography and acting, since the only version of Ninja: The Final Duel that seems to be widely available is an extremely poor quality English-dubbed DVD from the notorious budget label Crash Cinema.

Ninja: The Final Duel    Ninja: The Final Duel

At any rate, the views expressed here are probably moot to most you readers wallowing out there in cyberspace anyway, since martial arts movie fans seem to have a hard line between those that enjoy the junkier end of the spectrum and those that don't. If seeing elements like a group of ninjas wearing day-glo wigs or people using tambourines as weapons don't float your boat, Ninja: The Final Duel isn't going to sway your tastes to the Z-movie end of the spectrum. But, on the other hand, if you regularly enjoy slices of cinematic cheese, you're probably going to dig on this picture, especially if you arm yourself with a six-pack and set of lowered expectations beforehand.


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