Saturday, November 27, 2010

“You fight like a baby. A DEAD baby!”

Not a whole lot I have to say in prologue about this one other than I’ve got a fondness for ninja movies and a fondness for Flight of the Conchords. 2002’s Tongan Ninja happens to combine elements from both, considering it’s a ninja action-comedy-musical set in New Zealand.

So we have two martial arts students on the island of Tonga, one a heroic, honorable and naïve student named Sione Finau (Sam Manu) and his childhood rival, the arrogant, cheating Action Fighter (formerly Marvin) (Jemaine Clement). Sione gets sent by his master to help out a restaurant owning friend who’s been beat up by the goons of the So-Called Syndicate. He gets to Wellington, New Zealand and finds the onwer’s daughter, Miss Lee (Linda Tseng), being shaken down by the So-Called Syndicate and of course, has to fight his way through a bunch of Mr. Big’s (Victor Rodger) goons, including Asian Side-Kick (Raybon Kan), Herman the Henchman (David Fane), Knife Man, Gun Man and a final showdown with Action Fighter. Its fairly standard martial arts plot stuff, but that’s the point of the whole thing.

Directed by Jason Stutter, “low budget” perfectly describes this movie. This is not a bad thing, since it helps the lowbrow comedy of the movie since a lot of otherwise “big budget” encounters are explicitly pointed out and denied to the audience. There is also a healthy dose of CGI which is comically obvious as well. Fight scenes are decent but also intentionally not very good.

The writing team of Jemain Clement and Jason Stutter are perfectly aware of the kind of low budget movie they are making and they’re also very aware of the genre they’re making fun of. There’s also a healthy dose of deadpan, self-deprecating Kiwi humor.

The original music by David Donaldson, Plan 9 and Steve Roche isn’t fancy but it gets the job done. The original songs on the other hand, especially the title song sung by an Elvis-dressed Jemaine Clement, are quite catchy.

It is easy to dismiss Tongan Ninja as a silly little fluff parody, and, well, it is. But its also a surprisingly clever little movie and a testament to the “can-do” spirit of independent filmmaking. I actually like it quite a lot, and it has a feel very similar to Black Dynamite (though lacking the production values) but I’ll admit its probably not for everyone.

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