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  Ninja Strikes Back They still call him Bruce
Year: 1982
Director: Bruce Le, Joseph Kong Hung
Stars: Bruce Le, Hwang Jang-Lee, Harald Sakata, Dick Randall, André Koob, Corliss Randall, Fabienne Beze, Bolo Yeung, Jean-Marie Pallardy, Casanova Wong
Genre: Sex, Action, Thriller, Martial Arts, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rome, Italy: funky bass and disco synths score the sumptuous scenery. In a sleazy bar some local gangsters play poker with a visitor from Hong Kong. Cool cat Bruce (Bruce Le) holds a winning hand with his other arm around Laura, his foxy Italian girlfriend. It’s bad luck for the gamblers when Bruce catches them cheating. He thrashes everyone in the room. Afterwards, he visits his mafia boss at a swanky summer villa where caged tigers watch topless women splash around the swimming pool, while a group of international martial arts experts hone their killing skills. The big boss sends Bruce and his buddy Ron (Korean martial arts star Hwang Jang-Lee) to handle a drug deal that goes south, landing the former in jail. Cue crazy animated credits as our boy Bruce busts martial arts moves to that Lalo Schifrin score stolen from Enter the Dragon (1973).

Ah, the great unanswered question: who was tougher? Bruce Lee or ninjas? Whilst the Dragon sadly passed away before he could provide a definitive answer, the so-called Bruceploitation craze that arose in his wake saw one of his more enduring imitators take up the challenge. Bruce Le was born Huang Chien Lung, a native Chinese-Burmese. He was first discovered by prolific Shaw Brothers director PWong Feng, who cast him in a supporting role in the period adventure Rivals of Kung Fu (1974), then in the late Seventies assumed the usual sound-alike pseudonym and jumped aboard the Bruceploitation bandwagon with such schlock-fests as My Name Called Bruce (1978), Enter the Game of Death (1978), Bruce vs. Bill (1981) and the infamous The Clones of Bruce Lee (1977).

Many of these were directed by Joseph Kong Hung, who also worked with Bruce Li on Bruce Lee in New Guinea (1978), and bankrolled by notorious, globe-hopping trash film producer Dick Randall. Upholding a tradition of acting in his own movies, Randall appears here as the newly-arrived American ambassador whose daughter, Sophia, is kidnapped by the mafia after he refuses to play ball. In fact, Sophia is abducted by a muscular man disguised as a woman, for reasons none too clear. It’s the first of many ridiculous scenes that mark Ninja Strikes Back, also known as - what else? - Bruce Strikes Back, as trashy nonsense of the highest order. Fresh out of jail and determined to go straight, Bruce refuses to take part in the kidnap, whereupon his old boss has several assassins ambush him at various picturesque locations. The role of ex-con turning a new leaf differentiates Bruce Le from the more morally upright Bruce Lee, but the film does little with this potentially interesting angle.

Eventually, hapless Italian cop Merino (André Koob) and a flame-haired policewoman (Corliss Randall, the producer’s wife) enlist Bruce’s aid in the globe-hopping search for Sophia. The action shifts from Rome to Paris and later Macao, as Bruce trawls the local disco and porno film sets, during which he disrupts a lingering lesbian scene filmed by real-life erotic film director Jean-Marie Pallardy (also this movie’s executive producer!) As if to underline the point that all exploitation filmmakers are really scumbags, Pallardy takes a small boy hostage aboard a crowded train, but coughs up the info after Bruce slaps him silly. Meanwhile in Macao, Sophia is held as a captive sex slave by the dastardly duo of Bolo Yeung and Harold Sakata, still sporting his “Oddjob” hat from Goldfinger (1964) along with a lethal metal claw a la Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon. Just in case anyone doesn’t immediately recognise Sakata, the filmmakers have the James Bond theme accompany his every move. Also listen out for some choice samples of Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Earth Wind and Fire, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water and Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken.

The plot, such as it is, basically combines all four Bruce Lee films - what, no Game of Death? - into an insane mishmash that while deeply silly, is rarely dull. And after all, isn’t dullness the worst crime an exploitation film can commit? After a time-out in San Tropez so Bruce can rub sun-tan oil over his naked girlfriend before a sniper shoots her dead (Now it’s personal!), a sudden flashback reveals ninja masters Sakata and Bolo killed Bruce’s dear old dad and also kidnapped his sister (Now it’s twice as personal!) It is at this point the ninjas finally show up, as Bruce ropes in fellow kung fu star, the brilliantly named Casanova Wong, into a gory showdown aboard Sakata’s boat with a topless Sophia tethered to the mast. Just when you think it’s all over, it’s back to Rome and a Way of the Dragon rip-off showdown in the coliseum against turncoat Ron, with a bikini-clad Sophia tied once again to a Roman column.

Whilst the fights between Bruce and Hwang are top notch, climaxing with a bone crunching x-ray shot lifted from The Street Fighter (1974), the rest of the action is sub-par. French actor André Koob serves as a human punching bag while Corliss Randall’s lethal moves are less scary than her heavy makeup. The film ranks among the most picturesque Dick Randall productions with the team making the most of the eye-catching Roman and Parisian locations and parading naked starlets on-camera every few minutes. Bruce Le directed eight films in total, mostly action vehicles for himself though his last outing, Comfort Women (1992) was a Category III sexploitation war drama detailing the real-life horrors of a Japanese bacterial research camp. His most recent screen credit was as production manager on the remake of A Chinese Ghost Story (2011).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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