According to the Official Ninja Webpage (yes, such a wonderful thing really exists), ninjas “fight all the time” and have one purpose: to “flip out and kill people”.
Nice. But, then, you can see why they’ve drawn that dramatic conclusion. Ninjas in movies are generally represented as stealthy, tricky and deadly (and, in the case of Cats and Dogs , just plain mean).
It’s certainly a model that James McTeigue seems to be sticking with for Ninja Assassin , out in the UK on 22 January.
So, in honour of all things ninjatastic, here are some of the most awesome (and, in a few cases, awesomely awful) ninja movie "flip outs" past and present...
Duel to the Death (1983)
The directorial debut of stuntman Siu-Tung Ching (who went on to choreograph the fights in Hero and House of Flying Daggers ), this energetic 1982 classic contains disparate elements that brilliantly complement each other.
Humour. Action. Story. It’s a tale set in the time of the Ming Dynasty, when China and Japan constantly battled it out for supremacy.
Every ten years, the very best warriors from each nation face each other in a fight to the death.
This year, it’s Japanese ninja Hashimoto (Tsui Siu-Keung) versus Chinese warrior Ching Wan (Damian Lau).
Duel to the Death is notable as the last in the traditional Hong Kong martial arts pics, while its clever wirework and complicated fights eventually paved the way for the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon .
Why It’s Awesome
Set against the elemental power of the ocean, this blade fight has the unstoppable force of nature on its side.
It’s misty. Hashimoto and Ching Wan balance on a rocky cliff face. They flip and spin. Their blades bite at each other with the clash of metallic thunder.
Claret sprays of blood are the only flashes colour. Seeming to harness command of the elements, these two fighters take flight and spar mid-air before shaking the foundations of the earth.
Oh, and the respect these two fighters share would reduce any grown man to tears. It’s that good.
Next: Revenge of the Ninja [page-break]
Revenge of the Ninja (1983)
Deemed so overtly gory at the time of its release in 1983 that its cinematic and VHS versions were heavily chopped, Revenge of the Ninja 's many bloody death scenes were originally trimmed or hacked off completely (including the demise of lead Shô Kosugi’s son).
Thankfully, the DVD release put paid to that, restoring Revenge of the Ninja to its gory glory.
In Japan, ninja Cho Tanaka (Kusogi) is attacked and his family killed by ninjas.
Avenging their deaths, Cho leaves his ninja life behind and moves to sunny California (trivia: spot the Utah car license plates that give away filming locations).
Setting up a doll gallery with his friend Braden (Arthur Roberts), Cho quickly learns that Braden is actually using the business to traffic drugs. Dammit!
When Braden engages in a turf war with another drug dealer, he dons a silver mask and uses his own ninja skills (natch) to eliminate the competition. A showdown between him and Cho seems inevitable...
Why It's Awesome
A sprawling roof-top clash, this one never lets up. The final emotional confrontation between former friends - one twisted and corrupt, the other betrayed and still in mourning - this ten minute face-off has everything you could want from a ninja scrap.
For a start, it’s on the top of a skyscraper. And director Sam Firstenberg milks that for all it’s worth, pitting the fighters against each other on the perilous edge of the building.
As the two fighters attempt to outwit each other – using smoke, deflection, and fake ninja mannequins – they know it’s a fight to the finish.
It’s cheesy as hell, but takes things as seriously as a kick to the jugular. Which, really, is fun in itself.
Next: Shinobi no mono [page-break]
Shinobi no mono (1962)
According to ninja legend, Mr Roald Dahl himself was heavily influenced by this one when he saw it in Japan in 1963. Hence his script for You Only Live Twice , which features homage-heavy poison plotting/cat-stroking, as well as Bond's induction to ninja school.
Telling the story of legendary 16th century Japanese hero Ishikawa Goemon (Raizô Ichikawa), Shinobi no mono pitts the historic bandit against Oda Nobunaga, the reigning emperor who has managed to unite most of the disparate kingdoms of the East to create Japan.
Like our Robin Hood, Goeman really existed, but myth and legend shrouds the real man. Which sort of explains why the motives and actions of the ninjas in Shinobi no mono are so shady.
Basically, Nobunaga is an incorrigible warlord who is causing havoc. So two ninja clans start a competition to see who can successfully do him in...
Why It’s Awesome
A different one, here. There’s no hand-to-hand combat, no blades clashing or blood spilt.
Here, director Satsuo Yamamoto shows ninjas in a more traditional light, where stealth is favoured above physical confrontation.
Sparse and effective, this scene shows Goeman’s ninja as a sneaky rascal who uses his brain as well as his physical wiles to get what he needs.
Next: The Last Samurai [page-break]
The Last Samurai (2003)
Filmed in New Zealand with an international cast and an American crew, The Last Samurai fared better on release in Japan than it did in the US. Still, Roger Ebert credits it as an “uncommonly thoughtful epic”, which counts for something.
Compressing and contorting history, it’s set in 1876, when war veteran Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) gets caught in a movement by American forces, who are selling mercenaries to create an army for the Japanese emperor.
As Japan seeks to shake off its old traditions and embrace the modernism of the West, samurai warrior Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) fights against the emperor’s men in defence of the old ways.
Reeling in $456m in worldwide box office receipts, Last Samurai takes a leaf out of Braveheart ’s book as it fictions up the facts...
Why It’s Awesome
Ninjas go Hollywood. Which of course means they fight Tom Cruise, who’s having none of it.
Forced to defend himself and the people of the village (as opposed to the Village People), he grabs chairs and tiny blades in protection against the black-clad menaces. Then he goes back to black, uh, back with Katsumoto, spearing the sods one at a time.
And these ninjas are creepy as hell. Blacked-up faces make their giant white eyes all the more piercing, while they hiss at their attackers like the giant, coiled cats that they are.
The ninjas still lose. Which is what happens when ninjas take on Hollywood. Awesome fight, though.
Next: Challenge of the Lady Ninja [page-break]
Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1983)
Borrowing plotting and characterisation from a slew of better efforts, this cheap '80s cheese-fest wins on charm and its all-embracing silliness.
At the start of the 20th century, the Japanese are occupying Shanghai. Wu Hsaio-Hui has trained for 17 years as a ninja under her father’s ninja master mate.
In a final test of her skills, she dons a red suit and battles through the forest against other skilled acrobats.
When she passes said test, her master is irrate at being upstaged by a Chinese woman and attempts to take her down. Like you do.
Then, when Hsaio-Hui’s father is killed, she recruits other female ninjas to gain revenge. Brilliant.
And, yes, hella daft. Unsurprisingly, this has bagged absolutely zero awards and is a largely forgotten entry in the annuls of greater ninja flicks.
But it has its charms.
Why It’s Awesome
Think Wonder Woman meets martial arts. Any confusion over whether or not Lady Ninja is exploiting its young star is quickly cleared up with the lingering shots of Hsaio-Hui’s exposed belly.
So, why’s it awesome? Well, because it possesses that same awful, kitsch, nod-wink fun as the original Charlie’s Angels TV series.
Because it’s camp as Christmas, revelling into its girly hi-jinks.
Because there’s some kind of disturbing pleasure to be divined from watching the tiny girl-ninja beating her male cohorts black and blue.
Just because , okay?
Next: Ninja Scroll [page-break]
Ninja Scroll (1993)
Japanese anime at its finest, this film from Yoshiaki Kawajiri pays homage to Futaro Yamada's Ninpōchō ninja novels.
Outside Japan, it’s up there with Akira as one of the most beloved animes going – though the BBFC saw fit to cut “imitatable weaponry” and a rape scene from the UK release.
A complex story interweaving the government, ninja assassins and a nefarious group known as the Devils of Kimon, Ninja Scroll follows swordsman-for-hire Jubei.
Once a member of a ninja team, corruption and greed led to the deaths of his peers. Now, Jubei walks the road alone.
But when a former cohort whom he killed in revenge rises from the dead, Jubei finds himself under constant attack...
Why It’s Awesome
Anime combat always looks awesome. Heavily stylised and intricately detailed, each frame bursts with emotion and vitality.
And, as always, there’s over-the-top humour. During the onslaught, one unlucky assailant is so Jubei-whipped he literally falls out of his clothes. Never send lackeys to do the job of a ninja warrior.
Oh, and need we mention Jubei defends himself all while eating lunch? We’d love to see this guy fighting when he’s not having a relaxing lunch hour kicking bums.
Next: Ninja in the Dragon's Den [page-break]
Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982)
Another product of Hong Kong from 1982, Dragon’s Den features an appearance from Silver Fox himself Hwang Jang Lee (yes, him what possesses a 9th degree black belt in Taekwondo).
Fledgling ninja Jen Moo (Hiroyuki Sanada) is looking to avenge his father’s death at the hands of a man known as Uncle Foo.
Except Uncle Foo has a young protégé, Ah Ching (Conan Lee), a skilled fighter whom Jen Moo must get through to attain his goals.
Their final battle in Ah Ching’s family temple brings them face-to-face with a spiritual boxer (Jang Lee). Sadly, at no point does Duncan Bannatyne say: "I'm out."
Why It's Awesome
Opening credits can make or break a flick. If they’re lame, your audience has nodded off within seconds.
But if they’re awesome, as here, they grab you from the get go and don’t let up ‘til the closing credits roll.
Really, there aren’t enough ninja training montages in the world. But then, when you can watch this one on repeat, why bother looking elsewhere?
Rocking 80s music, ninjas doing stuff in unison - somersaulting just because they can, climbing trees, making short work of a ninja assault course...
We couldn’t be more motivated to throw some shapes if we were watching Jane Fonda’s workout video.
And that’s saying something.
Next: Shinobi [page-break]
The recipient of numerous awards, Shinobi is one of those hybrid action flicks that tries to inject passion through a love story. Which, of course falls flatter than a botched soufflé, and is the film’s main niggle.
But Shinobi still boasts some killer hyper-real fights, which makes up for a multitude of sins.
Set in 1614, two Shinboi clans (for ‘Shinboi’, read ‘warriors of shadow’) have lived in peace for 400 years. But when ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu begins to fear the power of the ninjas, he reignites the feud between the two clans.
Now five of each clan must do battle to the death. Each possessed of special abilities, the actions of the fighters will dictate the future...
Why It’s Awesome
Having lost the woman he loves, Kouga faces an onslaught of ninja assassins. Coming into his own, he confronts them and, with barely the blink of an eye, easily overpowers them, melting into them like butter.
The moody slow-mo, the nifty effects, and the incidental music make this the film’s stand-out moment.
Its brilliantly iconic image of Kouga against the eye of the moon is unforgettable. No wonder they used it on the film’s poster.
Next: Beverly Hills Ninja [page-break]
Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)
Yeah, the title says it all. Star Chris Farley apparently hated the finished film, but really, you sign on to a project with that title, whaddya expect?
Farley plays Haru, an orphan boy raised by ninjas who finds himself embroiled in a Beverly Hills murder investigation.
Though not particularly talented as a ninja, Haru tries his best – but his considerable girth makes him rather less graceful than your normal ninja...
Why It’s Awesome
Is it ninja martial arts? We can’t really tell. But we know it’s funny. Sort of. In that embarrassing way that the second Naked Gun is funny.
So, yes, ‘awesome’ might be a bit of a strong word to describe what this is... But, shoot us, we like it. Especially after trawling through hours of dead serious ninja fights...
Next: A Life of Ninja [page-break]
A Life of Ninja (1983)
Crooked Hong Kong businessman Chan Ming-fu is targeted by a ninja clan after he launches a deal with a Japanese company.
When his wife’s sister, Chi Mei, is wooed by Chow Han Wei, a kendo teacher with ninja training, Chan recruits the teacher as his bodyguard.
Fighting off various attacks on Chan, Chow eventually confronts the ninja clan and its sinister leader in their cave HQ on an island off Hong Kong...
Why It’s Awesome
The American dubbing, which makes the barb-trading sound like it was lifted from a grainy old Western, may distract, but this fight has epic scribbled in capital letters all over it.
Sound effects that resemble a thousand mouse traps all going off in quick succession, flips, double flips, blows traded mid-air, explosions.
And then they fight in the dark. With fireballs flying at them from all angles. The audacity!
We suspected it, but now we're sure of it. Ninjas. Rock.
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