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1982Hey, you… Kung-Fu Genre. Yeah you, the dominant force in martial arts exploitation in the 70’s. Y’know that flesh wound you got last year from that Golan-Globus ninja flick? Yeah, the one next the scar you got in that octagonal training compound before that? Well, guess what… Those weren’t just scratches. You’ve had blowfish poison running through your veins all this time, and now you are about to DIE!

If there’s a single movie that marks the passing of the torch from the Kung-Fu 70’s to the Ninja 80’s, it is Five Element Ninjas (aka Chinese Super Ninjas). Made by the Shaw Brothers as an answer to the upstart ninja boom. It centered on ‘Venoms’-like wu-shu warriors defending their martial traditions against the vile invader that was ninjutsu, ironically at the very time the studio was battling for  grindhouse screens to the new black-hooded wave.

So was this blood-soaked meeting of two genres an attempt for Shaw to adapt to a new decade and cash-in, or was it metaphoric wishful thinking from an over-the-hill former champ? We’ll explore those notions over the next week, as we celebrate the anniversary of its original release with FIVE DAYS OF FIVE ELEMENT NINJA!

Ah, the Shaw Bros. "office door" logo... so cool in the 70's, so dated by the 80's. I appreciate this so much more now than I did in my Canon Films-obsessed youth.
Blood from a poison ring spells out the title. I love the typo in the English graphic.
Yeah, but did any of those scrolls say anything about shiny gold lamé?
Said Five Elementseses...Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. Wind hadn't paid its union dues, so it was left out of the film.
The mirrory gold squad is the real icon of FEN. These suits would be copied and recycled by several subsequent films.
While the ninja thing was new territory for Shaw, legendary director CHANG CHEH rested on his tried and true model for his heroes. "Venoms" was a popular marketing term after the success of THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, and I was always surprised FEN wasn't angled more as another in the unofficial 'series.'
FEN may brag about its historical authenticity, but some of the weaponry and gadgets they came up with are downright wacky. Often, the weapons are right out of a secret scroll illustration, but executed at a ludicrously large scale.

Chen Pei Hsi plays 'Senshi' - a kunoichi character that actually plays up to the realistic infiltrator agent motif better than a in lot of Japanese films. FEN is all about the Japanese playing dirty pool, and she's the dirtiest player in the game.
And for your bondage nuts, there's plenty of rope action in FEN!

Over the next four days we’ll look at the various elemental shinobi gimmicks and other bat-shit crazy mayhem that makes FEN one of the best movies of EITHER the ninja or kung-fu genres.

Learn more from the good write up at Hong Kong Cinemagic (with cast mug shots) and multiple reviews at City on Fire, as well as Heroes of the East.

And here’s the 2007 Asian-market DVD release trailer from Celestial, which plays up the Venoms angle hard and takes itself way too seriously:

Tomorrow, Five Days of FEN continues with the first elements…

  1. Vintage Ninja

    […] Super Ninjas or in this case just Super Ninjas) is a familiar to readers of this site – we spent a week on the film a while back. These are English-language market B&W press stills, which I scored on 8×10 negatives. I […]