Movie Review

Shaolin vs. Ninja

Distributed by Video Asia

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            So, I'm still working my way through my Shaolin Vs. DVD collection and decided I would check out Shaolin vs. Ninja this time around.  Although the premise sounded familiar, after watching the first fifteen minutes, I realized I had never actually seen this movie which first hit the theaters in 1983.  So, I settled in to watch what was to me a brand new old martial arts film.

            In this film, as in many other martial arts films made during this time period, the local Japanese ruler schemes to gain control of the Chinese Shaolin Temple.  A Japanese Inspector offers advice as to just how to accomplish this task.  Their first attempt pins a robbery on the Chinese monks.  The local law enforcement claims that the thief used such incredible skill that he could only be a disciple of the Temple, but as the Temple abbot points out, one cannot accuse someone from the Temple simply because the thief was a skilled martial artists.  As he states, the Japanese leader writes Chinese very well, that doesn't make him Chinese, therefore, just because a man can display excellent martial arts skill, that doesn't necessarily mean he is a Shaolin Temple monk.  The Japanese ruler begrudgingly concedes this point.

            The Japanese turn to Plan B - a Japanese monk arrives with the intention of taking over the ruling of the Temple, but upon meeting and debating with its present abbot, he decides that the Temple is already in excellent hands.  He proposes that the Japanese Shaolin monks and the Chinese Shaolin monks live in harmony.  When he is suddenly and mysteriously murdered, it is the Chinese Shaolin monks who are blamed.  Shaolin monks from Japan come to the Temple to avenge their teacher and a contest is proposed.  Unfortunately, the contest is a gentlemanly display of martial arts skill.  There are no fights to the finish and thus the plan to turn the Japanese monks against the Chinese monks has seemingly failed.  That is, until the Temple is attacked and numerous Chinese monks are killed.  This time it is the Japanese monks who have been set up.

            So who are these mysterious fighters working so hard to aid this Japanese ruler in destroying the Shaolin Temple?  They are the silent, disguised killers known as Ninja.  Their fighting prowess is world renowned as is their ability to hide in plain sight.  The biggest surprise of the film is when the leader of the Ninja reveals himself to be...well, I can't tell you that!  It would ruin the movie!

            Then again, the movie may already have been ruined by the stunted dialogue, impossible flying skills of the various fighters, darkened to the point that they are hard to track fight scenes or the amount of times "Buddha's name be praised" is chanted in whatever dialect the monks use in this film. Despite the martial arts skill of such pros as Alexander Lo Rei, Alan Chui, William Yen and more and brilliant fight choreography by Robert Tai, this movie wasn't all that interesting.  Don't get me wrong, the fight scenes, when they weren't fighting in the dark, did exhibit some great talent and variety - there were hand to hand combat scenes and fighting using a variety of weapons from nunchucks to sai blades to bo staffs.  The scenes were choreographed to both show off the fighters' skills and bring some action and excitement to a boring  and oft repeated plot.

            If you are just looking for a film with lots of great fight scenes, you should check Shaolin vs. Ninja out - you won't be disappointed.  But if you are looking for a martial arts film with a tangible storyline, decent acting and some great fight scenes...well, I suppose one out of three ain't bad, but I'd be heading somewhere else to satisfy your martial arts film palate.


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