Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Conan Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hwang Jang Lee
Fleeing Japan after completing some unsanctioned assassinations, Master Ninja Jin Wu (Hiroyuki Sanada) finds himself in China, looking for his next target. Enter Jay (Conan Lee), a boastful but talented martial artist always looking for a fight. When Jin’s next target turns out to be his old friend and father figure Sanchiro (Kwan Yung-moon), Jay takes it upon himself to defend his ‘uncle’ and the two clash in a series of brawls for supremacy. When it turns out that not everything is as it seems, the two may have to put aside their differences to face an amazingly super powered foe.
Corey Yuen makes his directorial debut, directing this action packed and very entertaining ninja/kung fu film. Never letting things get too serious, there is a lot of physical humor and some well-placed cross culture gags. Generally on the mark and funny, the result is one of the funnier kung fu comedies out there. Marking one of his first forays into cross martial arts choreography, the action directed by Yuen is very fast and frenetic. Conan Lee is surprisingly acrobatic offering some of his best work ever. He really handles the almost supernatural ability of Sanada’s ninja character well and both showcase some jaw dropping choreography and techniques. Not one to slouch, Sanada is a whirlwind of motion and his agility always astounds me. With solid technique and a straightforward approach, his stoic and straightforward style is a good compliment for Lee’s more showy but just as engaging Chinese methods. Tai Ho and Kaname Tsushima both provide some good character moments and the surprise appearance of the legendary Hwang Jang Lee marks one of my favorite appearances by the best kicker in films.
Shot in 1982, Ninja in the Dragon’s Den has a lot of the elements which would become hallmarks of Yuen’s later efforts. Of particular note is the inclusion of multiple 3 person fight scenes, which are notoriously difficult to choreograph, but he pulls off admirably. Camera angles and positioning definitely reveal a step towards the more modern sensibility of late 80s HK action cinema and the dynamic and away from the more static approach of many of the classic pre-80s pictures.
While a noticeably sparse production, the sets used are good and serve the action well despite the general emptiness of many locales. It’s forgivable since many sets are seen once and never revisited again. Music is average at best except for the awesomely bad theme song that you just may find yourself humming ‘like a ninja.’ It is laugh inducing but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Ninja in the Dragon’s Den is certainly one of my favorite martial arts comedies. Almost criminally unknown, it features terrifically fun performances by great stars and some truly inventive and fresh martial arts choreography. While the uninitiated who scoff at martial arts film will not he impressed, those genres who take the time to view this picture will find a lot to love. Hugely appealing, and rewatchable in spades, this is a movie that belongs on every kung fu film fan’s shelf.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Ninjas and Dragons, Duel to the Death, Shogun’s Ninja