Directors: Yeong-cheol Choi and Chun Bang Yang
Writer: Chun Bang Yang
From: Cult Cinema
Various gangs manipulate two fighters into hunting down a necklace that had been lost decades before.
Welcome to the first entry of Ninjavember! It’s all-ninja, all month long, except when it’s not. Which means it’s like every other month and every other promise you’ve ever given or received. That’s right, this is yet another opportunity to reflect on how you’ve failed not only yourself, but so many others. What are the holidays for if not that?
That and trash films! With that in mind, here’s the odd duck City Ninja!
We start in 1940 Hong Kong. Some white guy is being harried by ninjas who do the full Godfrey Ho teleporting in and out of shots. Enjoy it while you can because the ninjas don’t return for a while and they don’t teleport anymore. He holds his own well enough, but still enlists the help of a passerby. White guy gives passerby a necklace that he says he’ll come back for. Then passerby has to fight off the ninjas until they, apparently, decide to leave.
Cut to 45 years later and general cinematic confusion. I don’t think the movie accidentally has two directors, I think this was two related but independent productions that got stitched together. The movie does have two distinct story lines that only come together at the end, and, no, it’s not like Magnolia. To simplify things, I’m going to talk about one story then the other.
In Hong Kong, Rocky has just won the boxing championship and has dreams of opening his own gym. His boss is the son of the passerby that was given the necklace 45 years before. Turns out the necklace has a special code on it that corresponds to a Swiss bank account and the Italian mafia want it back. Only the boss doesn’t have it. The necklace was stolen by Korean gangsters years before. The mob is putting pressure on him to get it back.
Meanwhile, Rocky is having an affair with the boss’ mistress. The boss starts putting pressure on Rocky to go to Korea to find Jimmy and get the necklace back, but Rocky isn’t willing to kill anyone. The boss’ mistress ends up pregnant with Rocky’s kid and he decided to take his fiancée (oh yeah, he’s got his own main girl) and leave town. The mistress confronts him, pulls a gun, and in the struggle she gets shot and killed. The boss’ thugs witness it and promise to make the problem go away if Rocky goes to Korea. He has no choice but to leave and find the other movie.
In which Jimmy is an up-and-coming fighter with dreams of opening his own gym. Seeing parallels? He gets recruited to do a job stealing a necklace, and then his recruiter/mentor gets killed. Jimmy takes the job and retrieves the necklace as revenge, but then refuses to hand it over. He falls in love with the mob boss’ girl and offers the necklace in exchange for enough money for the two of them to leave together. The boss refuses and sends wave after wave of goons to get their asses handed to them by Jimmy.
Rocky arrives in Korea, meets Jimmy, and offers him 1/10 of the price Jimmy’s asking for. Jimmy turns him down and leaves.
Eventually an assistant to the mob boss who we haven’t seen before enlists the help of a group of ninjas (finally!) and they kidnap Jimmy’s girlfriend. Jimmy defeats all of them, but not before yet another group arrives and kidnaps the girl from the kidnappers. That group then murders the mob boss. Turns out they’re working for Rocky who tells Jimmy the girl will be waiting in a warehouse, bring the necklace.
Big climatic battle, but not between Jimmy and Rocky. Jimmy finds the girl and is eventually defeated. It’s not clear if she’s dead or if he’s killed at the end, but they’re out of the movie and Rocky’s goons get the necklace. He calls his boss to read off the numbers. The boss relates the info to the mafia and then is killed by his own assistant who’d been scheming behind his back the whole time. Rocky returns to Hong Kong where he’s arrested at the airport for the murder of his boss and mistress. THE END.
The movie takes a bit of a grim turn at the end and I won’t say it wasn’t unexpected. I was wondering who we were supposed to be rooting for as we approached that point. Jimmy’s pretty clearly coded as the scrappy, rebellious hero—maybe a little crooked, but ultimately only screwing over the overt villains—but it’s hard to see Rocky as the junior mob boss that he’s forced to become at the end. Yes, he’s cheating on his girl, but apart from that he refuses to get involved in anything criminal and specifically refuses to kill. It’s only when he’s forced to at the end that he agrees to do the boss’ work for him.
The value of the MacGuffin was always in question as well. Jimmy has it, but doesn’t know what it’s worth, and it’s not clear that the two Korean gangs fighting over possession of it know why it’s worth having either. I’m still not clear that it does carry the secret code for a Swiss bank account. Maybe that makes it the uber-MacGuffin, so inscrutable in its overt purpose that it can only serve as a narrative device.
This is close to peak exploitation as well. While it doesn’t get gory, it does have a lot, and I mean a lot, of gratuitous nudity. Women rubbing themselves in showers… and that’s it. That’s the entirety of the scene. Rocky and the mistress have an extended sex scene where they have sex on every piece of gym equipment available, which was at least inventive as far as gratuitous content goes. Then that’s followed almost immediately by an extended sex scene between Jimmy and his girlfriend.
Much of the movie is laughable. There is no attempt to get the dubbing to line up with what people’s mouths are doing and the constant cutting back and forth between Hong Kong and Korea only serve to destroy any sense of continuity or coherence.
That said, the fight scenes in Korea are really good. They’re inventive, visually interesting, and sometimes downright funny. There’s one sequence where Jimmy fights some goons with his girlfriend—not alongside, but literally using her to attack and defeat the goons.
The movie would have been much stronger had it just been Jimmy’s story and we didn’t keep cutting back to Hong Kong. However, it was fun enough. A couple places online list this as being public domain and I didn’t see any copyright information on my print. The problem with a lot of these martial arts movies is that the copyright status is unclear, primarily due to GATT. Since my copy doesn’t have a copyright logo, I’m operating under the assumption that it is PD and so have uploaded it to archive.org here. I’d recommend it. When it’s silly, it’s silly in the right way, and when the action kicks off, it’s fun to watch. Check it out with some friends and have a good time.