The Ninja Warlord (1973)

It Stinks!/Worth a Watch

Directed by See-Yuen Ng

Written by Yi Hung Chiang

Starring Sing Chen, Yasuaki Kurata, Irene Ryder, Yuan-Shen Huang, Chiang Chou, Lan Sun, Kwok-Choi Hon, Yukio Someno, & Li-Jen Ho

Release Date: January 26, 1973

Running Time: 1hr 30min (depending on which cut you find)

Rating: Not Rated

AKA Meng hu xia shan and Rage of Wind

[WARNING! There are no ninjas in this movie, despite the title (which like any martial arts film, features various alternate titles. The main antagonist is kind of like a warlord, but dresses in garb closer to a samurai than a ninja.]

Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War (where Japan occupied China from 1937-1945), a fishing village is besieged by corrupt officials who decide to raise taxes on fish. This leads to conflict, with the leader of the group, Taka (Kurata, who I think is meant to be the warlord, but he’s still not a ninja), ordering disobedient villagers to be executed and hanged as an example to others. [Did overtaxing of fishing occur during the Japanese occupation of China? Possibly (I don’t really wanna look it up). Does this make for a compelling plot? No, not really. But I guess you gotta get the plot going somehow. There’s also some casual racial slurring going on. Given the time period (plus the central conflict), it does make some sense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you cringed some watching it.]

Enter our main character, Chan Kwon (Chen, who looks like a Chinese Charles Bronson, complete with mustache), who’s returning from America with his American wife, Irene (Ryder), after a successful career in boxing. He retired after accidentally killing his opponent in the ring (who looked way out of his weight class), thus vowing never to fight again. [So we’ve got one plot point taken from John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), and the plot point from most Bruce Lee movies, plus a whole bunch of other martial arts movies where the main guy vows to fight again.]

It doesn’t take long for Chan to break his vow (as expected), though he breaks it way sooner than usually expected (like 10 minutes in). While Taka is at first impressed with Chan’s skills, he’s still the bad guy, so he still wants power and sends his henchmen (including a guy with a chinstrap beard that reminds me of Wooly Willy) around the village to harass and beat up random people. Naturally, our hero doesn’t take too kindly to all of this, thus he has to do some more fighting and killing. Will Chan and Taka settle things with a duel on a beach? It’s a 1970s martial arts movie! How dare you even ask!

I couldn’t find a whole lot of info on this one, but I would say it was made on a low budget (like many martial arts films of the era), and probably turned some semblance of a profit. I only know of this movie’s existence thanks to the good folks at RiffTrax (which is a fantastic riff by the way, and just a tad over an hour long). The main hero and villain both have over 100 credits on IMDb (Chen passed away in 2019 at age 82), and the director, See-Yuen Ng has had a long career (including producing some films starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li). Both are charismatic and have clear skills as fighters.

Objectively, this isn’t what you would necessarily call a good movie, but it’s entertaining for sure! I doubt it would be anymore coherent in the original Mandarin (besides, who doesn’t love a cheesy dub?), plus there’s no way to make fish taxing compelling, but the fight choreography is decent (complete with goofy sound effects), and it even steals bits from the theme to Shaft (I seriously doubt Isaac Hayes gave permission). If you’re into martial arts films and or cheesy movies, this one is definitely worth watching. It can be rented or bought on Amazon Prime Video (under the title Ninja War Lord), plus there’s probably a few versions of it available on YouTube (like this one, under the title Rage of the Wind).

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