Ninja Empire (1987) Review

To kick off what I’ve just now entitled “Kung Fu Gunk Fu”, here’s a movie that somehow managed to slip deep into the cracks of obscurity without so much as a whimper, and that’s because behind its fragile shell lies a tough suit of armor just waiting to unleash itself like a stealthy ninja. This movie I speak of is one solid diamond in the rough called Ninja Empire, directed by Bruce Lambert (a pseudonym of the almighty Godfrey Ho) in 1990. In actuality, this film is a 1987 flick called Ninja Phantom Heroes, as another film named Ninja Empire directed by Ho is the one that appears on IMDb with that title, about ninjas investigating murdered prostitutes. It’s all a bit confusing, really, and the reviewers on there seem confused as well.

Anyway, this particular Ninja Empire is an excellent film about ninjas and codenames and smugglers and CIA ninjas, with a cast that’s made of pure acting chops. I’m not even going to introduce all of the cast this time, just as we go along, and mainly because I don’t know who plays who apart from the main character. I would like for this review to be as fast-paced and exciting as the movie itself, although that would be nearly impossible. So, let’s perform an awesome ninja dive into this, shall we?

The movie opens with a gorgeous view of a mountain and an explosion on it.

mountain with explosion on side

Then a bunch of workers in blue outfits are seen working under the supervision of soldiers as they grunt a lot, and I do mean a lot. I almost expected a gay orgy to be happening off-screen, but instead we just see workers carrying things around and subtly making faces.

Tomas Tang credit in Ninja Empire
Thank you for this great movie, Tomas Tang.

They grunt all the way through the title screen as well.

Ninja Empire title screen

They also grunt through the entire opening credits sequence after that, carrying more buckets and using picks to chip away the mountain face. I’m not sure why this mountain is such a problem, but everybody seems adamant about destroying the thing in the slowest way possible.

man throwing brick in Ninja Empire
Seems like this Tangy guy is doing all the heavy lifting in this film. He’s also the producer.

Eventually the grunting fest is interrupted by a soldier who calls out “M15” (715, according to the back of his uniform, but I prefer M15) to report to the commander.

It looks like this dude, Jeff Houston (Joff Houston, according to the credits, although this appears to be false) is “M15”, and Bruce Lambert is the amazing director, an overtly caucasian name for Godfrey Ho, as I mentioned earlier.

man carrying basket in Ninja Empire

When he puts the basket down and walks off-screen, the movie feels the need to let us know how guarded this place is with a few interestingly long shots of soldiers walking around in different places.

Soldier guards walking in sunset

Soldier guards walking on stone walls

soldiers walking and guarding military base

We then see M15 taken to the commander, who happens to be this friendly-looking guy who looks like he’d probably want to buy you a beer.

Glenn from Ninja Empire

The camera zooms in on M15’s reaction as his voiceover says, “Oh my God. It’s Glenn.”

Jeff Houston in Ninja Empire

His face goes blurry and the next thing we know, some bleach-blond guy is running with him through a field as they’re both dressed like soldiers. I suppose this is a flashback.

A pulse-pounding synth beat follows them as the tune constantly wavers up and down due to poor sound quality, but there’s something about that inconsistency that adds tension to the scene, as our two escapees manage to hide for a while before the bleach-blond dude gets into a little shootout with some soldiers.

soldiers shooting in ninja empire

blonde guy shooting in Ninja Empire

Glenn shooting machine gun in Ninja Empire
Some of these guys have advanced guns that don’t produce any muzzle flash while shooting, apparently.

After a moment the guy keeps running and the soldiers continue chasing, and literally 5 seconds after running he succeeds at hiding again right under their noses in some brush. Once the soldiers run by without even bothering to check that area, the man peaks up and gives us his best Rambo face.

The soldiers regroup, reporting failure to find shit, and then split up to look some more. Immediately after that little scene, we see that M15 was captured and brought back to the U.S. Army Munitions Dump, based on the practically unreadable hand-painted sign on the fence. I guess the Army was really on a tight budget in 1987.

Cut back to present day as M15’s face comes back into focus.

Mr. Smiley, the guy we know now as Glenn, walks up to him and offers a comforting hand.

“Don’t feel too bad,” the man croons, as his thick voice magically disobeys his lip movements. “Everybody makes mistakes.” He walks on behind M15 in dramatic fashion, the sun cast perfectly on his face.

“What’s important,” he continues, “is you realize your mistakes, and—” the line briefly gets cut off as the camera angle changes and he whips around.

“-on’t repeat them,” he concludes. “And you saved my life.” Kind of a random thing to add there.

I bet Bruce Lambert was making a statement with that editing mistake, though.

But I’m a little confused here. What mistake did M15 make? He was dressed as a soldier in the same uniform as the others, indicating that at one point he was on the same side as these guys, but then he and his buddy decided to run off and now they’re prisoners? Are they deserters? Was M15’s mistake letting the other dude get away?

M15 explains himself. “Sergeant Glenn, I deeply regret my past behavior… If it wasn’t for your plan of lenience, I’d have been court-martialed. I would’ve faced a firing squad.” What was that about M15 saving Glenn’s life?

“Don’t talk crap!” Glenn scolds. “I didn’t help you that much and you owe me nothin’. The Army’s been good to you, to both of us okay? So I hope you still serve your country and carry on working to overcome evil.” His inflections (or lack thereof) might come across as bad line-reading in any other movie, but here it all just seems to fit his unpredictable character.

Glenn says he’s looking forward to bringing M15 back to the agency, and M15 gives him a formal Hallmark-card-worthy thanks, saying, “Glenn, thanks for giving me a second chance.”

“You have the chance, but it’s all up to you.” Who else’s responsibility would it be?

M15 pauses strangely for a moment. “For sure, I’ll do my best.”

Glenn goes on to explain that the CIA discovered a “ninja organization” in Hong Kong that’s responsible for smuggling arms to the Middle East. It’s M15’s job to find the bleach-blond traitor who’s helping them.

M15 asks what we all would in this situation. “But sir, how can I handle those ninjas? Hong Kong’s an unfamiliar place to me, and it will be very difficult to take action alone. I’m afraid I can’t complete the mission.” What a pussy. You’re given a second chance and you fuck it up before even giving it a shot! Looks like it’s firing squad time for you.

But wait! Glenn assures him it’s all going to work out. A woman named Christy (codenamed Yellow Bird) will help him when he gets there, and he’s given the codename of Condo, I guess. Like, um, condominium? I don’t get it. He definitely doesn’t say “Condor”, which would make more sense given the possible bird theme.

He’s also given a password to use when they meet, which Glenn actually whispers in his ear on the spot.

I guess formal paperwork is a terrible solution to avoid overhearing spies, who might have advanced equipment.

“When does the mission begin?” Condo asks.

“That’s confidential.” Another hand is placed on Condo’s shoulder. “Go and resume your normal duties.”

Well alright then.

Cut to beautiful Hong Kong,

where a white ninja does some… things. Like jumping,

white ninja

white ninja jumping in air

climbing up poles with his arms,

and throwing ninja stars at playground climbing rings.

It becomes clear that he’s at a public playground of some kind. Must be a common sight in Hong Kong, seeing a perfectly stealthy ninja practicing his art and monkeying around on public equipment. They probably even built the things with ninja training requirements in mind.

ninja climbing playground rings

feet walking on monkey bars

An old Asian guy interrupts him and he removes his mask. Turns out this ninja is the guy that Condo will be after, Mr. Bleach-Blond Traitor.

The Asian informs him that a gang has moved into the Middle East, offering to sell Russian arms, which means that business in Hong Kong will be hurt.

Making sure to enunciate every word he says with gusto,

the ninja tells the guy (really fast for some reason) to organize a local cocktail party, where he’ll “deal with them.”

“This little powerful syndicate. Shit!” he concludes in rapid ninja speech.

So, that night at the cocktail party, we’re introduced to some Chinese gang members and their women.

“I hate going to parties,” one of the girls randomly complains.

“Oh, it’s alright,” her friend comforts.

Never mind that little scene, though, as they walk off, and then we meet “The Godfather” as he heads to the party.

He suspects the party is a plot to kill him, but he still goes. “Money from wall to wall,” he reasons.

For a while some of the older partygoers get involved in small chat. What’s interesting is that it sounds as though the same person is doing the voices for all of the older guys, and sounds like a younger person trying to sound old. This is particularly curious when a bunch of the men talk about how old they’re getting once a Mr. Wong (The Godfather) and Mr. Chan meet at the party. The two look identical, with the same pudgy frame and pencil-thin ‘stache, but you just need to remember that Mr. Wong is the one without glasses. Oh, in no way will this get confusing.

“We’re all getting old now,” Mr. Chan explains to the group of old shits. “And seeing all of these young people around me just reminds me of what I’ve been missing.”

Another guy joins the group and they all snivel and laugh exactly like Beavis and Butthead.

“We were all just saying we’re getting out of bed. You know how it is.” They laugh.

Wait, what?

“Well if you’re getting old, then,” pause, “I must be getting old, too,” another guy says, followed by more laughter. “Anyway, you must be getting older, but you’re still successful in your business.”

The typical aging gangster discussion.

To spoil this jovial celebration of decrepitude, confusion happens and in the blackness of the night a ninja (I think) pops out and shoots a guy a couple of times with a silenced pistol. Is that what ninjas do?

There’s a little hardly-visible fighting,

and another guy gets a ninja star to the chest.

Once the madness seems to abruptly end with no real discernible outcome, Mr. Chan and Mr. Wong start accusing each other of the killings. Needless to say, it puts a damper on the party and everybody leaves.

However, as he drives away, The Godfather finds himself cornered in an alley,

by this guy:

This group happens to be the cops, and they want to ask a few questions of Godfather.

Meanwhile, three guys pushing what look like laundry bins down the street seem to be in distress.

I can’t make out what the hell they say, but it sounds like they’re having a good time doing… whatever this is.

chinese guys pushing bins

chinese guys running with bins

One of them recognizes a friend named Alan in the back of a car, who we don’t see clearly, and they all go crazy trying to chase him down on foot as he continues driving on. I do the same whenever I see a friend driving along, like a loyal dog.

Of course, they don’t get him and instead wind up back… somewhere, drinking and smoking.

“I know he recognized me,” the one guy says.

“Well that’s money for ya,” one of the other guys says. “He makes a bet and then deserts all his friends.”

“Well I don’t blame him. I’ll be rich too if I win the lottery, won’t I?”

How the hell is screenwriter Duncean Bauer without work these days?

One of the guys notices something wrong with the skinny downer and asks him what’s wrong, but the guy just vehemently denies anything is wrong at all.

Then the idiot of the group calls out “Foldy!” or something in his moronic voice off-screen. Then he comes into the picture and tells the group that Foldy’s (?) girlfriend is in trouble.

We soon find out it’s because of this drunk American asshole:

He’s mad that the guy’s girlfriend is refusing his suave advances. She demands he leave, but he won’t. An older woman offers him money to leave, but he tosses it away.

drunk man slapping

drunk man slapping money

“I paid my money. We must fuck!”

Quite the persuader.

Is this a brothel? It isn’t made really clear, but anyway, Foldy and two of his friends wind up fighting the guy briefly and piling on top of him, before the fourth breaks it up.

Turns out the skinny guy of the bunch is named Baldy, when his girlfriend says it more clearly after they kick the guy out of the place.

The four guys go out for a drink, where Baldy explains to some gangster buddy of his that he needs to work. The friend offers to lend some money to Baldy, but he insists he just wants to work for it with his friend.

I’m confused now, is this the real hero of the film?

His friend explains that his work is dangerous and dishonest, and that Baldy is too honest to be good at it. He explains his debt to The Godfather for helping him, with some close up monologuing.

Wait, is this the hero of the film?

The degraded dramatic music desperately tries to stay in tune.

The guy attempts to give Baldy some money, but he runs away from it, explaining, “I don’t want your money!”

The next day, elsewhere in the city, we meet Condo again as he dabbles in photography.

Then a lovely woman appears beside him.

“Is the condor hungry?” she asks. Ah, it is Condor, not Condo.

A high and inconsistent note accompanies Condor’s reply of, “The condor wants to hear the yellow bird sing.”

Brilliant passwords.

Closeup of Yellow Bird’s face.

Condor looks very happy to see her.

She walks past him to start talking, like most lecture-prone characters in this movie.

“So you’ve come,” Yellow Bird says. “There’s been trouble between the ninjas and bosses of the three main triads.” Isn’t there always?

She warns of an Arab coming to sign an arms deal, which both Mr. Chan and Mr. Wong want to win.

After that rendezvous, we find ourselves taken to, um, one of the head gangsters’ houses, where the young gangster friend of Baldy speaks with Jane, who’s the older gangster’s daughter. It’s interesting how this movie chooses not to clearly identify its characters or focus on any particular one.

It’s a pretty nice house, though, based on the bits and pieces of it we get to see.

Inside, our gangster friend sits down on a couch next to the older gang leader and helps himself to one of the cigarettes in a special cup for them on the coffee table. When Jane enters, the first thing she says is, “Daddy, you said smoking’s bad for people.” Did she not know her father kept a cig cup in the house in plain view?

Jane gives the men some time to talk and leaves, while they both smoke. The old guy talks about how he and the other two triad leaders became rich. They began smuggling during some nonspecific war, and then two of them hid the smuggled goods while the third used his own family as a cover. That third man was the young gangster’s uncle, and the young guy’s stepfather is largely in charge of the operation. Why do we need to know all this stuff about the smuggling gang? I don’t know, but it’s a nice way to make me forget this movie has “Ninja” in the title.

Jane interrupts the two with a smile and a riding crop, which delights the younger gangster.

chinese woman wearing horse riding gear

chinese gangster smiling

The two leave to go horseback riding.

Elsewhere, the bleach-blond ninja takes a walk in downtown Hong Kong. He wears sunglasses so he doesn’t stand out. Smart move.

Condor stays close behind and tails him.

Condor doesn’t bother to stay too far behind his target, though.

guy following a man down ramp

guy following man down ramp

man following guy in street

guy following suited man in middle of street

However, somehow the guy figures out he’s being followed when he removes his sunglasses,

and runs while Condor chases him for a couple of blocks. Then the two fight for a little bit in a more secluded area before the blond guy runs away a bit, makes some rapid hand gestures, disappears into a cloud of yellow smoke, Condor does the same (the same guy who earlier asked, “But sir, how can I handle those ninjas?”), and they both magically appear in the middle of a hillside and fight in ninja outfits. I was waiting for this moment to happen.

ninja man moving hands

ninja man making hand movements

man holding hands together with explosion

man disappearing in mist or fog

man spinning hands together

man holds hands together

white and camp ninjas fighting

The two duke it out for a little while, throwing awesome kicks and punches while going up and down the hill together, and it’s like a great Kung Fu version of Jack and Jill, without any pail of water involved.

They even have a great time rolling all the way down the hill together in a couple of long shots.

Then, after a little more fighting the movie decides it’s had enough and just cuts away in the middle of the fight to an old Asian guy diving into a pool:

When we get a clearer look, it’s made apparent that this is Mr. Chan, and the Arab who wants to make the arms deal with him has arrived at his home. The Arab waves and actually hollers a friendly “Yo!”

Mr. Chan is as happy as a little kid getting a visit from Santa dressed as the Easter Tooth Bunny Fairy.

The three have a chat in an office somewhere in the house and get the Arab to sign the deal.

Chan looks pleased and emits the same Butthead laugh that all of the elderly do in this movie.

The Arab leaves and it seems all has gone according to plan, without letting Mr. Wong know what happened.

Mr. Wong, on the other hand, knows what’s happened and is displeased with being left out of the deal.

The phone rings toward the back of the room as the gang stands there, and one of his men in back picks up and says into it, “Yeah, uh, I told ya, no more phone calls! That’s enough! No more calls!” He then hangs up. Well okay, then.

Mr. Wong vows to get revenge for this deal. He specifically tells one of his men, the young gangster we’ve gotten to know a little, “Take revenge! Teach him a thing or two!”

Some of the others try to convince him otherwise, but they’re all asked to leave. The young gangster begins to walk away with them, but Wong calls “Alan. Come here.” Ah, so this has been Alan, Baldy’s “rich, lottery-winning” friend the entire time. I thought he was just a nameless gangster Baldy knew. Thanks for finally clearing that up.

In the next scene, Condor and Yellow Bird take a walk downtown as Yellow Bird explains what we already know, plus the added detail that all of the other gangsters in the area want “a slice of the business,” and that Chan plans on bringing another Arab in “to play hell,” whatever the hell that means.

“How do you know all this?” Condor asks her reasonably.

“I’m a police officer.”

That’s good enough for Condor. “Hmm, okay. So what’s next?”

She then asks him to tell her more about Morris, the guy he chased down earlier and fought with using teleportation ninja powers, and his response? “Morris, let me think. Oh yeah, I remember him.” He must have some weird form of amnesia.

Regardless, he goes into a flashback where he talks about how he and Morris were buddies who started selling ammo to the Vietnamese, presumably during the Vietnam War. Apparently Morris didn’t care that he betrayed his country, unlike Condor, which is expressed by showing Morris giving a little evil laugh as an enemy helicopter lands in the distance. Brilliant character exposition.

We see Morris help some Vietnamese prisoners get some weapons from Asian smugglers while sneaking around some American soldiers. The payment for these weapons? A box full of gold foil leaves. What else?

“I know I did wrong in the war,” Condor says in present day.

“It’s all over now,” Yellow Bird replies.

“Thank God.”

“See ya.”


They promptly get up from their bench and leave after that riveting conversation.

As they walk through a park or something of some kind, talking about plans to stop the ninjas we’ve hardly seen, a couple of ninjas show up to spy on them.

They pop out and start attacking the two (very ninja-like, isn’t it?), but Condor knows what to do in this situation and improvises some hand gestures.

man puts hands together

brown haired man puts hands together

This teleports him somewhere else like last time, leaving the ninjas confused for a moment until he sneaks up on them as Camo Ninja. Once again this power isn’t explained, but I guess it’s left up to the audience’s interpretation.

He kicks both of their asses, deflecting sword swings with his hands, until one of them disappears into a cloud of smoke. Condor throws a sword into the other guy’s back, and once he falls, he disappears into a cloud of smoke as well.

ninja with sword in back

ninja disappearing in smoke cloud

Condor returns back to his normal form after repeating the hand gestures.

Yellow Bird’s reaction to all of this? Smiling, popping out from behind some bushes and nonchalantly saying, “Hi.”

She must be on a mountain of Xanax, with even more in the background.

They walk off like nothing happened, of course.

The next scene has Mr. Chan discussing this upcoming arms deal in a downtown office building. Some of Alan’s men stealthily kidnap the white guy responsible for setting things up and drive off with him. They take him back to some warehouse while Alan makes a call to Mr. Wong, the Godfather, to let him know they have the guy.

The Godfather is pleased, orders Alan to keep the guy there, and immediately lets him know the urgent news that Jane wanted to speak with him about something.

The next day, two guys do some fencing somewhere.

One of these happens to be Jane’s brother, and this is presumably at Jane’s house. Alan comes into the picture once the match ends, applauding it, but then Jane’s brother tosses him the dropped fencing sword and the two have a less-than-friendly duel.

Jane’s brother explains that he doesn’t trust Alan, and thinks he just wants his sister for monetary gain. Alan denies this claim, but offers no other explanation when asked, causing this fight to go on for the movie’s sake.

Jane eventually breaks it up, but when she and Alan sit down she says the same thing as her brother. Are we to believe that this is contradictory to what Alan really wants? I honestly don’t know, even though he says he doesn’t just want her money. Alan has hardly ever talked about Jane throughout this thing, and we never see them talk to each other outside of her father’s house, so what are Alan’s true motives? Thankfully we never get an answer; it’s all up to our interpretation thanks to Duncean Bauer’s screenwriting brilliance.

He does try to gain her trust again, though, walking up to her and asking for another chance. The father says, “She’s spoiled rotten. Play up to her.” What a great dad, and that’s especially made known when he has this reaction to their little conflict:

The face that says, “Haha, my daughter is such a bitch. Go get her and give her a good screw, Alan.”

Flash forward to that night where the white businessman—who was supposed to be “closely guarded” (Alan’s words) by Mr. Wong’s men—has managed to sneak away and try to catch a cab.

As soon as he runs away after the cab, one of the guards notices his absence and runs after him.

The escapee gets tackled to the ground and injected with some kind of sedative, which results in the two competing over the best struggle face.

As you can see, it’s a close call. Please, feel free to let me know who you think is the winner. I can’t make up my mind.

Sorry, back to the film. Once the guy is out cold again, people start to gather around the two guys, but the gangster just acts like he doesn’t know what happened to the guy. In the darkness, a car pulls up and some guys get out. They go chasing after another guy, and I’m assuming it’s the gangster, but I can’t see shit because the cinematographer chose to be ambiguous with the lighting.

Back at The Godfather’s house, he berates his men for being idiots. The phone rings and Alan answers, asking who it is, and a guy who sounds like he’s imitating an old man says, “It’s Mr. Chan. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

When Mr. Wong is on the phone, Mr. Chan reveals that he’s holding the gangster who kidnapped Chan’s business partner hostage, and he has a recording of him, Jim “Paulins” or something, saying he’s a drug addict and that he was paid to “do a California run”, um, yeah, uh, I don’t really know what’s said at this point. The recording says he was hired by Mr. Wong and Alan Mung (?). With this weapon on his side, Mr. Chan has a good hearty laugh.

Mr. Wong doesn’t like his laughter.

His mouth twitches a couple of times like he’s malfunctioning, and when Alan hands him a cup of water he decides it’s a good time for a shower.

“I warned you before,” he scolds Alan. “Don’t use drug addicts!”

He’s upset that he might go to jail, while Alan angrily swears he will never go to jail.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chan nicely tells the drug addict he’s using to clean up his face, and he laughs as he seems to find comfort in Mr. Chan’s kindness,

even though he was visibly upset in the previous scene when his confessional tape was being played for Wong, and was made clear he was just a tool. Apparently the guy is still super high, but with a nickname like “Bony”, as Mr. Chan affectionately calls him, how can you not be?

Unbeknownst to the guy, Chan calls the cops and brings Bony to them to get him arrested. Bony is understandably shocked, while the cop looks like he couldn’t give a fuck about arresting a man at a known triad leader’s request.

Later, Alan stealthily slashes the cop car’s tires once they leave and stop at a light, and as the cop gets out to change it, Alan stabs ol Bony boy.

While he’s being stabbed, Bony hands him a letter. When Alan opens it after the kill, the film decides not to give any kind of translation of the text. It could be anything.

Can any of you readers tell me what the hell this says?

Alan then leaves before the cop discovers the body, and in the next scene blondie Morris explains to his old Asian lapdog that the Middle Eastern man has been killed (um, when did he get killed?) and that the arms deal is broken. Oh shit.

But it’s all right, because they’ve got plans to kill Alan by bringing in this guy.

His name is Bert and while that handshake may look deceiving, especially with the frills on the back of the seat, I can assure you that Bertie is a ruthless killer.

Alan meets up with an old buddy at a bar and drinks a lot of beer. The guy looks like he might be Bert without sunglasses.

About ten seconds after that, Alan kills the fun by deciding to tell the guy he killed his cousin, Bony, without really explaining why.

Could’ve taken it worse, I suppose.

Mr. Wong and Mr. Chan meet in a room with some business associates to have a professional business discussion. Mr. Chan releases that signature laugh once again when Wong says he did nothing wrong.

“Wong, no wrong, hahaha.”

Outside, Bert prepares to kill Alan with a sniper while Alan walks around down below.

For some reason the guy has second thoughts, and his partner takes the rifle to kill the guy himself.

As Bert tries to wrestle the gun away, the asshole misses and shoots at Alan’s feet instead.

Refusing to give up, the guy decides he’s a good enough shot to use a pistol from the top of a high rise to do the job.

Bert and his now former partner aim at each other, but the partner leaves. Alan figures out that the hit was for him.

Bert parks by the water beside his partner’s car, and his partner tells him to explain to the boss what happened, sitting in Bert’s car. Bert gives him the money he was paid to do the job and tells him to give it to his boss. His former partner’s response?

“We’re not through. I’ll get you. I’ll pay you back.” It doesn’t sound entirely threatening, especially since his voice is devoid of anger. It’s more like “hey, buddy, I’ll pay you back for this, man, no problem.”

That is, until the partner steps out of Bert’s car and aims his gun at him.

Bert traps his arm with his foot and takes his gun cleverly, but before shooting him, he notices somebody else in the other car.

Bert tosses the gun out the car and drives away. What follows is a chase by Chan’s men, who all ride dirt bikes, and all through it I’m wondering if we’ll ever see any ninjas again at this point.

The guys fuck up his car a bit,

and he takes out the gangsters one by one.

gangster knocked out on bike

biker wiped out in grass

He actually manages to get a truck full of something like seeds to spill a bunch of its product, which causes most of the bikers to spin out somehow,

but in the next shot they all appear ready to beat him with sticks again.

They start throwing what looks like water all over his car on the inside and out, but it seems to be gasoline as they throw a torch at it and watch it become engulfed in flames.

Or not.

Bert gets out unscathed in time before the car explodes off the road from a couple different angles, just to show how impressive it is.

white car exploding

white car exploding
Were all of the actors’ wages sacrificed for that explosion?

Bert is on his feet, and as all of the bikes charge at him, he just knocks them off one at a time.

But then one of them stabs him in the stomach with… something.

He limps away to a bike and rides away,

only to get knocked off again while Alan looks on not too far away,

and gets his ass kicked again.

Together, Alan and Bert fight off the remaining two bikers, but when Alan asks Bert who was responsible for this debauchery, holding the steadily dying Bert in his arms, he just drops his passport as if to say “get on a plane, bro.”

What does any of this really have to do with Condor’s mission? Obviously that’s not important, because we instead get to see how mad Jane’s brother is at Alan, as he tells their father there’s no way Alan can love her. “He just wants her money.”

This kind of feels like a similar scene from earlier, but this one has some finger-pointing, so it’s totally different in reality.

Of course Jane’s father doesn’t buy the theory, so Jane’s bro gets to wallow in more misery for the sake of this incredible plot.

Hey, it’s Mr. Friendly! Sorry, I meant Glenn.

He’s asked by his superior how the “Condor Plan” is coming along. He says it’s going “perfectly fine.” His superior wastes no time telling Glenn that in fact the Condor plan is a waste of time, and is becoming “too obvious.” He then forces Glenn to watch a video in a small theater “to understand.”

We see a car pull up full of guys with guns as they shoot a bunch of civilians at what appears to be a wedding or some other large gathering. They cut so we can see Glenn’s reaction to this mayhem, but I’m not really sure how he’s reacting. Is he smiling?

Regardless, the film really wants to gain our sympathy for the doll swarmed by flies here at a corpse’s feet.

I don’t know exactly how this illustrates Condor’s failing, but we see Alan in one earlier shot with Jane, I think. I don’t know, you tell me.

After the lights come on, Glenn’s superior informs him that they’ll have to cancel the Condor Plan because it took too many lives. He says he’ll “think of some other plans” to capture Morris.

Glenn no likey this plan.

His superior then oddly says, “Don’t worry. We never lose. Let’s see what happens.” Then he does a Mr. Chan laugh like any great guy would do.

The next scene builds up the suspense as we finally get to meet the mysterious owner of the hand that convinced Bert not to shoot his partner in the car earlier.

Turns out it’s this guy named Albert, as he steps out of his car to greet Mr. Wong.

He says he just wants to help Wong, but then he goes around and tells Wong that he’s in trouble.

He likes to laugh like Mr. Chan, too.

Bert’s old partner takes a couple shots at the old man.

chinese man assassin with silenced pistol

chinese gangster shot in chest

The two guys shoot a few others on their way out of the place, but the only one they didn’t make sure they killed—the one they were supposed to kill—is still alive.

He’s helped by a bunch of other gangsters who find him, including Alan. Alan asks who did this, and Godfather manages to utter, “A-A-Albert.”

Let the anger consume you, Alan.

Godfather dies and it’s incredibly sad. So sad that I had to pause the movie to cry for a minute. Not even The Godfather got me that involved.

This death got Chan laughing even more, of course.

However, Bert makes a timely return to finish business. He has a bit of a shootout at Chan’s party, and a lot of glasses and bottles of booze get hit more than anything else, which brought tears to my eyes once again.

chinese man shooting shotgun

wine bottle shot

wine bottles shot at party

wine glass being shot

wine and beer glasses shot

Bert goes through the parking garage, shooting a couple of people, but then manages to run out past a bunch of guys with weapons completely untouched and shoot Albert in the arm as he drives to the scene.

Albert crashes and gets out, and Bert explains that no amount of pleading will work, as he wants revenge for The Godfather. Albert decides lunging at the shotgun-wielding guy is the right thing to do in this situation,

chinese man holding shotgun

which proves to be a tragic misstep for the man.

chinese gangster shot in chest

chinese man shot in chest

He dies in slow motion and does the signature final reach of pointlessness before finally dying.

Unfortunately, Bert gets shot by one of Chan’s henchmen from above.

chinese henchman shooting

chinese guy named bert shot

A bunch of the other thugs charge after him, but he’s rescued by the Chinese Three Stooges from the beginning of the movie!

They try to help Bert fight the gangsters, but it pretty much just winds up in Baldy’s two friends getting butchered mercilessly.

chinese fat man shot dead

fat chinese men shot dead

Baldy makes it out okay, though, and Alan takes him out on a boat to get away from the scene.

chinese men hop on boat
I bet Baldy’s happy that boat matches his awesome mustard-yellow jacket. Enough to get his mind off of his dead friends.

They get away, and it’s a happy ending for them.

Or is it?

In the next scene they walk along with Jane on a dock somewhere and try to get away. But wouldn’t you know it? The chubby cop and his partner we’ve seen throughout this movie happen to be at that exact spot. A white car runs Alan over,

and the cops order their partners—who happen to be nearby in a red car—to stop the white car. This almost seems staged, but instead it merely appears to be absolutely incredible luck.

The cops all gather and get Chan and his gangster cronies out of the white car, while the chubby cop we’ve seen before does the same thing he always does and looks on with apathy as Alan struggles to live.

In fact, Alan does die, apparently, as this is the last shot of him while Baldy’s final cry of “Alan!” echoes on through the cold afternoon, or morning, or evening. Such a stark contrast to the fond callings of “Alan” when he spotted him in the street all those scenes ago.

Whatever happened to the shady old Asian guy?

Oh, he’s with a woman. Wait. Yellow Bird? What the absolute fuck!

As it turns out, this guy has been helping her get information about the Triads. For how long? We don’t know. But we do know that he’s been found out rather immediately.

The two ninjas (same ones from earlier?) bring the dude and Yellow Bird to some heavily guarded home, where Morris spits out a perfectly good cigarette and gives the old man an unfriendly welcome.

Like a real man, Morris even slaps him.

Just when you think all is hopeless for our heroes, with 50 seconds remaining in the film, Condor pops out in camo ninja form and kills everybody in record time.

ninja in camo outfit

ninja attacks 2 men on tower

dead men on tower

ninja in camp attacks 2 ninjas

Condor then runs off with Asian dude and Yellow Bird as the film closes out without warning.

ninja running with a man and woman

end title screen in ninja empire


Wait. What happened to Morris? We didn’t see him get killed. As a matter of fact, the last shot we saw of him was just him getting up after rolling away!

There must be a sequel.

Hmm, nope. There isn’t one. This was all that was made in this series, actually. There is no Ninja Empire 2 or Ninja Phantom Heroes 2. You just have the main bad guy from the beginning of the film survive the ordeal as the heroes escape like pussies.

Maybe that was Bruce Lambert’s (er, Godfrey Ho’s) point: sometimes the bad guy gets forgotten. Sometimes when all is said and done, a blonde dude who loves to smoke, ninja around and make gangs hate each other isn’t really the bad guy after all. Maybe instead it’s the guys you don’t think are the main baddies, like Mr. Chan. Did we see him get his comeuppance?

We saw one shot of him in handcuffs as Baldy hit him a bit for killing Alan, although we don’t know what happens after that. But Mr. Wong died, so where does that leave him? Now, you could say he was as bad as Mr. Chan for being involved in various murders as well, but he’s the one who died, so clearly he’s in the right here. Anybody fallen must be; Alan, Bert, Baldy’s fat buddies and Bony weren’t horrible people. But Morris does a roll and off he goes to freedom land, wherever that may be for him. It’s an interesting scriptwriting decision that I’m sure wasn’t the result of rushed writing or a crippling budget that didn’t allow for a fleshed out ending. No way.

How Godfrey Ho fell off the radar is inexplicable to me, with a film as ingenious as this, but there’s one major thing I’ve learned about filmmaking here apart from that: even if you make “ninja” the most prominent thing about your title and opening premise, your movie doesn’t have to be about them at all.

I give this film a 4/5 stars, with one taken away for making me cry for a gangster. What shame I feel. You can get this film in the Kung Fu 20 Movie Pack at Amazon for around $7.

One thought on “Ninja Empire (1987) Review

  1. I’m kind of late to the party, but the note handed to the main (?) character by the dying guy is an address, for someone called ‘Mr. Bai’ (or Mr. Pak in Cantonese). Which could’ve been the name of any one of the characters before they were given a different name in dubbing. 😋


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