The Art of Deception

In the face of the death of physical media, DVD and Bluray packaging continues to be, let’s say… inventive… in its methods of persuasion.

Hey, deception was a legit ninja skill, right?

As ninja movie fans we’ve all been duped by shinobi-fied covers to VHS or DVDs of vanilla kung-fu fare shamelessly retitled “Ninja-something-or-other.” These, however, step the game up a notch — one ninja movie camouflaged as another!

Note this new label for the Scott Adkins vehicle NINJA, deliberately biting on the much wider known NINJA ASSASSIN.

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Who can keep either of these 2009 films straight anyway, just buy them both!

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It’s one thing for an indie movie to “align itself for marketing shorthand” to another bigger film coming out at the same time, but THIS is another story altogether:

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This recent overseas label for the Hiroyuki Sanada / Conan Lee slugfest NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN strives for recognition and relevance from the video gamers of the world by shamelessly crowbarring-in a stolen rendering of Sega’s Kage-Maru from Virtua Fighter.

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But they re-color him black so he looks more like Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden.

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Us non-gamers will also recognize Ryu Hayabusa from his hit indie film Alien vs. Ninja!

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Oh, wait… no, that’s right… NONE OF THESE CHARACTERS ARE IN ANY OF THESE MOVIES!

Laughable as this chicanery, these hijinks, might be, I do love the idea of Virtua Fighter (and even Matrix) fanatics possibly getting duped, then being subjected to some old-school ninja fare that was… ewww, shot on FILM… that those of us longer in the tooth would consider superior.

If only a small percentage of those victims stick with it, maybe some new fans of old-school ninja media are born?

HA HA HAHAHAHAH HA! Made myself laugh… Like anyone under 40 is going to buy physical media!!!

In fact, ignore this whole post.

I’m going to go fool around with my abacus and listen to player piano reels.

Ninja vinyl

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No, not a vinyl toy post… this is one for you record collectors.

Spotted on eBay recently:

$_ 57

(Click for full-size versions)

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I know nothing of this “The Ninja” band, and I’m not an 80s hair metal guy by any stretch of the imagination, but my gaaaawd is this not the beast thing you’ve ever seen? Who new simple mail-order ninja hoods could contain such voluminous hair?!?!? Evidently, this wasn’t the only mid-80s band named “Ninja” either.

Meanwhile, a very nice reader sent me these shots of the 45rpm single released in Japan of “The Legend of the Ninja” — the disco-synth-jazz fusion theme song to Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. This cut truly is the apex of music in the civilized history of mankind.

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With lyrics even!!!

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And here’s about the cleanest MP3 of this gem I’ve ever heard, with the jazzy b-side “Silver Moon” as well.

Bless you, wherever you are now, Alfredo Chen and your wonderful singers…

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If only THE NINJA: Warrïors of Rock had done a hair-metal cover of “Legend of the Ninja”…

Aint no Ninja in this Dragon’s Den!

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[Sing that title like an old blues number]

Back in the craze daze, we were all victims of “Shinobified” movie titles — kung-fu flicks, often from the 70’s, with no ninja content whatsoever shamelessly retitled to the likes of Fist of Ninja, Dragon Claw Ninja, Tiger Fist Ninja, Fist of the Dragon Tiger Claw Ninja, Ninja in the Claws of the Dragon Fisted Tiger, 3 Dragon Claw Ninjas and a Little Tiger, Claws of the 7 Magnificent Tiger Dragon Ninja, 12 Angry Tiger Ninja Dragon Clawed Men, ad nauseum…

But here’s a weird reversal — a Hong Kong multi-langual flyer for the decidedly shinobi-rific Ninja in the Dragon’s Den with no visual evidence of Henry Sanada in his fine hooded gear anywhere to be seen.

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Muscular Jackie Chan-lookin’ home-town hero aside, when you consider the martial movie spirit of the mid 80’s, this was NOT good marketing.

The Mexicans got it better!

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And to see the photos that carnival banner-esque painting was based on, click here to see the chock-full-o-ninja Japanese program for the same film, with images like this:

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Now, so as not to take a total shit on Conan Lee, I’ll make a tangental plug here for a new four-disc set coming out from Shout Factory in July that features a futuristic and post-apocalyptic sci-fi b-movie orgy, including 80s ensemble exploitation entry Eliminators!

FINALLY!!!! 

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NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN Japanese program stills (part 2)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

Ninja in the Dragon’s Den is that rare Chinese/HK movie that actually gives props to Japanese martial arts. Henry Sanada‘s shinobi is every bit the equal of Conan Lee‘s kung-fu hero, and when the misunderstandings that led to their antagonism are cleared up, they become an unbeatable duo.

This water wheel scene is one of several signature duels in this fight-bloated flick.

The heart of the film takes place in said “Dragon’s Den” – a tricked out tower of ninja death, chock full of anti-shinobi booby traps and hidden gimmicks.

The twin short swords were Sanada's specialty in the 80's ninja flicks he did. These could well be the very same props used in SHOGUN's NINJA.

NitDD was an indie production (Seasonal Film Corp.) with inconsistent distribution over the years. Seems to be in public domain now, as it’s part of a lot of cheap multi-pack DVDs rather than getting a remastered/restored release. There are a few decent grey market releases, but the definitive print is frustratingly elusive. I have one that’s complete, original language with subs, and looks great, but is full frame. Another is is widescreen, but cut (the cut scenes are included as extras) with English dub only and a transfer that’s inky and soft. German and British R2 discs seem to combine the best of both, but never all of both, and the PAL conversions are always a bit wonky anyway.

Where’s Criterion when you need them?

NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN Japanese program stills (part 1)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 2

The 1982 Corey Yuen crossover actioner Long zhi ren zhe (aka Ninja in the Dragon’s Den and Legend of the Ninja) was a double vehicle, with two equally marketable leading men. Conan Lee was *going to be* the more muscular, harder-edged Jackie Chan. Hiroyuki ‘Henry’ Sanada was taking off as the prodigy of the Japan Action Club, with Roaring Fire and Ninja Wars, plus a stint on Kage no Gundan, all in the same year.

Each man could be given lead billing in his native land, leaving the other to be billed as an exotic import from another country. Win-win.

These press stills are from the Japanese theatrical release program, and there’s a lot of them, so I’ll break this down into installments.

Note the differences in head gear from the staged publicity shot above and the on-set still from the film below. Different gauntlets, too. This might have been an early version of the costume, or a second suit used in the MANY stunt shots throughout.

Sanada plays a ninja on the vengeance trail, hunting down all those responsible for his father’s death years earlier. His final target has lived in exile in China, where he’s trained a local to become a formidable martial artist himself. These two clash, much to the chagrin of ‘uncle’ who on his deathbed reveals some decades old secrets that unite the fighters as martial arts soul brothers. Just in time, too, as they are attacked by an evil wizard and his Shaolin army!

It’s a fight-PACKED flick, with some kung-fu slapstick, rather good ninja-on-ninja action, a long battle in a shinobi-proofed pagoda and some of the best kung-fu vs. ninja stuff ever filmed.

Yuen did a superb job melding Japanese and Chinese movie martial arts. Sanada’s screen ninjutsu is mutated with some high kicks, spins and flourish to be more compatible with Lee’s screen kung-fu, which was always a bit stiffer and more Japanese karate-like than a lot of his Hong Kong contemporaries.

Conan Lee may not have had the prolific, multi-genre career Sanada went on to, but his fight scenes on stilts in this flick are absolutely unforgettable. He followed up NitDD with roles in beloved 80’s camp Gymkata and played a ninja in the sci-fi schlocker Eliminators, before nearly killing himself in an insane stunt in Tiger on the Beat II.

Sanada’s ninja gear here is a perfect nexus of 60’s and 70’s Japanese move/TV and the less pillowy, more lean cut used in American ninja films in the 80’s. The armored headband motif would largely disappear in the 80’s though, and not make a comeback until the 2000’s with Naruto. This shot was the inspiration for the Mexican painted lobby card we featured way back here.

A pile more stills coming tomorrow. In the meantime, some further reading:

The Illuminated Lantern has a great write up here, including some lyrics from the absolutely unforgettable theme song!

The ancient in web years but enduringly invaluable “Return of the Ninjas” site also has a review with package art and posters here.

One of the more common grey market releases was reviewed at HK DVD Heaven.

Mexican lobby card – Ninja in the Dragon’s Den

It never really breached the Times Square grindhouse and werewolf circuits here in the States, but the Hong Kong / Japanese co-production Ninja in the Dragon Den was certainly an international hit.

Here’s some totally original painted artwork from the Mexican release. Most international ad campaigns for the film centered on either of the two matinee idols involved – Henry Sanada and Conan Lee, and where their names didn’t mean as much, it was photos of Sanada’s superb ninja costuming that carried the ads.

But in Mexico, they often opted for totally original art.

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