Friday, April 15, 2022

#2,739. Five Element Ninjas (1982) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


One of the most prolific directors of Hong Kong cinema, Cheh Chang turned out a number of classic films for the Shaw Brothers, most notably the excellent Five Deadly Venoms in 1978. Standing alongside that movie is 1982’s Five Element Ninjas, an action-packed martial arts extravaganza filled to its breaking point with fight scenes and a whole lot of blood and gore.

Set hundreds of years in the past (possibly during Hong Kong’s Huan Dynasty of the 13th century), Five Element Ninjas kicks off with a showdown between two rival martial arts schools. Chief Hong (Chan Shen) and his understudies challenge the students of Yuan Zeng (Kwan Fung) for the right to call themselves kung-fu masters. Hong’s star pupil, a Japanese Samurai, is eventually defeated by Liang Zhi Sheng (Lo Meng), but before the Samurai commits suicide (for the dishonor of losing) he informs Yuan Zeng that a highly-skilled ninja named Kenbuchi Mudou (Michael Chan) will avenge his death.

Sure enough, Yuan Zeng soon after receives a challenge from the Element Ninjas - five teams personally trained by Mudou whose fighters rely on the elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth to defeat their enemies. When his best pupils are killed by the Element Ninjas, Yuan Zeng and his two remaining students, Liang Zhi Sheng (Lo Mang) and Tian Hao (Cheng Tien Chi), prepare themselves for the inevitable attack.

To gain the upper hand, Mudou sends Senji (Chen Pei-Shi), a beautiful female spy, to infiltrate Yuan Zeng’s school. Winning the trust of Liang Zhi Sheng, Senji gathers enough information to help Mudou defeat Yuan Zeng and his followers. Ambushing the school late one night, Mudou delivers a crushing blow. Only Tian Hao escapes, and seeks the help of a former master and three new “brothers” to avenge Yuan Zeng and defeat Mudou’ s Element Ninjas once and for all.

Five Element Ninjas tells a good story, and features some strong characterizations; initially sent to spy on the Yuan facility, Senji (played superbly by Chen Pei-Shi) instead falls in love with Tian Hao, who will eventually use her feelings for him to his advantage. But it’s the fight scenes that make this movie so much fun.

The highlights, of course, are the battles featuring Mudou’s five element teams, who use everything from gold umbrellas to fire to take out their opponents. The deadliest of the five, however, is the Earth crew, which hides underground, jutting swords upwards when an opponent steps over them, piercing everything from legs to lower regions. The violence is tangible throughout Five Element Ninjas, yet it’s the last act, when Tian Hao and his new brothers take the fight to the Element teams, that the movie becomes a total gorefest, with blood and body parts flying in every direction.

Ranking alongside The Five Deadly Venoms as one of the best Shaw Brothers films I’ve ever seen, Five Element Ninjas is, from start to finish, a bloody good time!
Rating: 9 out of 10

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