You would think that every movie with the word “Ninja” in the title is a gateway to cheesy, borderline stupid, fun. I was once like you, naive and innocent. Not anymore. I saw Ninja Empire. Which IMDB tells me is actually originally called Ninja Phantom Heroes (sometimes with USA added on) and was released in 1987 by producer Tomas Tang and director Godfrey Ho and re-titled to Ninja Empire in a boxed set I have, which is made even more confusing because Godfrey Ho released a different movie called Ninja Empire in in 1990.
Even trying to dig up information about this wreck makes my head hurt.
Well, its another result of a foreign film getting edited up with some new footage of Americans. For instance, the main body of the movie is some kind of 70s Hong Kong crime story that features characters being introduced and killed off left and right without even knowing their names or any kind of investment in them, our fine producers decided to edit in a plot about a former prisoner who also happens to be a ninja (we called him “Camo Ninja” because of his outfit) getting his rank back and sent to spy on stuff in Hong Kong and running in to his arch enemy “Painter Ninja” (because of his suit as white as his bleached hair). What are their names? I think they’re Ford and Morris respectively, but that's irrelevant. There’s a Hong Kong cop named Christine who partners up with Camo Ninja as well, but again, that’s irrelevant aside from getting captured. They fight here and there, but the real story seems to be about a kind of dynastic struggle between some crime families. I dunno. The ninja are just tacked on. There certainly isn’t an empire of them and they certainly don’t have anything to do with large chunks of runtime involving gangsters.
The edited in stuff is way, way, way cheaper than the Hong Kong gangster movie stuff. The crime movie stuff doesn’t have any ninja. Sadly, the ninja segments are also the most entertaining bits, since at least there’s fighting and ninjas exploding upon death. Yes, ninjas explode upon death in this movie. I don’t think that’s how they actually work, but who cares, its something happening on screen that you can sort of follow. I will concede that the fight choreography isn't that terrible. In addition to the overall badness of the mashup, the editing is schizophrenic, where things will cut violently to a completely unrelated scene. Stuff I’ve read on the internet also implies that there’s a longer 90 minute cut out there. The version I saw was 78 minutes long, which is more than long enough.
Behold our villain, and his ninja training...playground.
Pretty much everything I complained about for Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women also applies here. Trying to shoehorn a completely different plot in just doesn’t work and the result is that both sections are incomprehensible. Whatever was written on the disc sleeve by way of a synopsis was for the 1990 Ninja Empire and not what this movie contained. I have no idea who these characters are, nor what they are trying to accomplish, nor why should I care.
Ninja Phantom Heroes/Empire goes an extra step by throwing in one of the most bullshit endings I’ve ever seen. Painter Ninja infiltrates Camo Ninja’s base to rescues his buddies, fights some more ninja, fights Camo Ninja, lots of crazy things are happening, ninjas are exploding, then there’s running around, and Painter Ninja turns around, ready to square off for a final showdown as Camo Ninja rescues the girl…
AND THE MOVIE JUST ENDS. No end credits. Just “The End.” IT JUST ENDS. As you sit in the ensuing darkness and silence, you feel two things: confusion as to what just happened followed by relief that the nightmare is over.
The sound is bad. The dub is atrocious and difficult to understand. Sound effects for things like shuriken are absurd. The music may be ripped off from other movies, according to some of the comments on YouTube (like reading YouTube comments is ever a wise decision).
Four-letter words. The angry kind that you don’t normally use in polite company. That’s what I would use to describe this movie. Hell, that’s what I DID use to describe this train wreck. I have a very high tolerance for schlock and can put up with a lot of crap but Ninja Phantom Heroes (USA)/Ninja Empire actually hurt. As bad as its two component stories are, they are much, much worse together. Zardoz is a coherent masterpiece compared to this. Troll 2 is a pleasant romp. About the only thing that I’ve seen that surpasses this movie in terribleness is Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Ninja Empire is only slightly more watchable because things actually happen on-screen.
No trailer, but holy crap, this clip contains most of what happened after "THE END" of the cut I watched.
I'd say I was surprised that the fight devolves into Painter Ninja throwing tin plates at Camo Ninja, who fends them off with an umbrella that shoots bottle rockets, but I'm not. I just wish the rest of the movie was that memorable.