The Old School Kung Fu Fest, a four-day celebration of the rarest, wildest, and most incredible martial arts and action cinema from the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s is back at the Anthology Film Archives for its fifth edition, which is dedicated to the deadliest fighter of them all—the ninja!
Since the dawn of time, man’s natural predator has been the ninja. Hiding in your shower, crouching behind your laptop, clinging to your back — the ninja is everywhere. What killed the dinosaurs? Ninja. What battles great white shark? Ninja. Who is buying flowers for your mom? Probably ninja. But ninja is not vampire! Ninja can be filmed! This year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest examines this crazy natural phenomena of ninja with fourteen movies that show you this sneaky fighter in the only place where he cannot shoot throwing stars into your eyes: on the movie screen!
There are serious black-and-white ninjas in the original ninja films Shinobi No Mono Parts 1 & 2 (1962 and 1963), super-noir ninjas in 1965’s Samurai Spy, party-colored crazy ninjas from the go-go 80s like American Ninja 1 & 2 and then be entered, revenged, and dominated by Cannon’s essential ninja trilogy: Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination. Watch brave Chinese people fight ninjas with their guts in Shaw Brothers movies like Five Element Ninjas! See ninjas fly on kites in Duel to the Death! You must see all the ninjas! Because to fight ninja, first you must understand ninja.
Directed by Sam Firstenberg. Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, John Fujioka, Judie Aronson.
The greatest bar mitzvah movie ever made, American Ninja tells the tale of a young American boy who must embrace his people’s ancient traditions in order to become a man. Originally set to star Cannon Films’ martial arts megastar, Sho Kosugi, that plan bit the dust when Sho ditched the exploitation studio over creative differences. Next Cannon offered the part to Chuck Norris but he was busy, so the part of the white boy with amnesia who is actually a secret ninja went to model Michael Dudikoff. Shot in the Philippines by Cannon’s go-to director, Sam Firstenberg (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination), American Ninja delivers balls-out 80s action as it pits Dudikoff and his easygoing partner, stuntman-turned-actor Steve James, against the mysterious Black Star Ninja, his ninja training camp, and ninja lasers!
AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (1987, USA) – Sun, April 19 at 9:30pm.
Directed by Sam Firstenberg. Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Jeff Weston, Gary Conway, Michelle Botes.
Probably the most ridiculous 80s action movie ever made, AN2:TC delivers an easy, breezy does of sheer gnarlitude as Dudikoff and Steve James team up once again, their pecs a-flexin’, to investigate trouble on a tropical island where ninjas are kidnapping US Marines. “Ninjas? Drug pushers? My men being kidnapped and murdered? This is really beginning to get on my tits!” shouts the base commander. Dressed in jams and Hawaiian shirts because the costume department was on vacation, the Marines are being turned into genetically-engineered super-ninjas by drug dealers! Is Dudukoff’s cool coif big enough, and are James’ tiny red shorts short enough, to defeat the Clone Super Ninja Army?
DUEL TO THE DEATH (1983, Hong Kong) –Thu, April 16 at 8:30pm and Sat, April 18 at 1:00pm
Directed by Ching Siu-tung. Starring: Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Damian Lau Chung-Yan
The first movie from Hong Kong’s great action director, Ching Siu-tung (Swordsman II, A Chinese Ghost Story I – III, House of Flying Daggers) this is a fever dream of freaky images ripped straight from his childhood. Once every 10 years, Japanese and Chinese fighters duel (to the death) to figure out who will rule the martial world. But this time, they detect something rotten. This time they detect…ninjas! The story is as old school as they come, but It’s the execution that changes everything. Ching spent his early years locked up in his bedroom reading Martial Arts World Magazine and imagining cool monsters and psychedelic fighting techniques, and after choreographing the action on dozens of films for other directors, this is the first time he finally got to put those fantasies onscreen. The result is a surreal phantasmagoria of flashing blades, teleporting demons, giant ninjas, ninjas on kites, exploding heads, and killer puppets.
Presented with the Hong Kong the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office New York.
Directed by Menahem Golan. Starring: Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George.
This landmark Cannon Films production launched the ninja craze of the ‘80s and revitalized the martial arts film in America after it died in 1973 with Bruce Lee. When 20th Century Fox announced they were shooting a $20 million adaptation of best-selling novel, The Ninja, Cannon flipped out and bought their very own ninja script from martial artist Mike Stone and rushed this movie into production. Starring Frano Nero (the original Django) as a white ninja with a thick Maurizio Merli mustache, it’s shot in the Philippines where Nero helps an old buddy (and his old buddy’s hot girlfriend, Susan “Straw Dogs” George) take on evil real estate developer, Mr. Venarius (Christopher George). Only a ninja can defeat a ninja, so the bad guys hire Sho Kosugi, who got his start as an extra on this film before his martial arts abilities earned him the role of the evil ninja.
FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS, aka CHINESE SUPER NINJAS (1982, Hong Kong) – Sat, April 18 at 5:00pm.
Directed by Chang Cheh. Starring: Ricky Cheng Tien Chi, Lo Meng, Lung Tien-chiang.
In the 80s, Shaw Brothers was losing audiences to TV, so it unleashed Chang Cheh (The One-Armed Swordsman, Five Deadly Venoms) to direct his most insane movie ever. A Chinese martial arts clan is fighting everyone and winning but then they fight ninjas. Ninjas who know Five Element Formation! So secret! So deadly! The only survivor learns that in order to beat ninja…he must become ninja! Ninja fights using Gold Powers, Wood Powers, Water Powers, Earth Powers, Fire Powers! Chinese martial artist fights using Hitting Ninjas in Face Power! Trees bleed. Crotches are stabbed. Guts are extracted. Every second of this movie is high-octane man-against-ninja action and it does not end until every inch of the screen is covered in dead ninja. Screening will be introduced by Dan Halsted, who will tell the story of how he unearthed a massive collection of extremely rare 35mm kung fu films in 2009, which included the print of Five Element Ninjas.
A LIFE OF NINJA (1983, Taiwan) – Fri, April 17 at 10:15pm.
Directed by Lee Tso-nam. Starring:Chen Kuan-tai, Elsa Yeung, Yasuaki Kurata, Peng Kong, World Wrestling Champion Wong Kin-mi
He creeps. He skulks. He stalks. He scurries. He strikes! Ninja – most deadly foe. Using ways most nefarious and killing arts mysterious ninja will kill and kill. And kill, and kill, and kill. Sometimes he kills wrapped in gold foil like a baked potato; sometimes he is a naked lady ninja to confuse foes before blowing them up! Life of ninja is easy, no? No. Life of ninja is hard.
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984, USA) – Sat, April 18 at 9:30pm.
Directed by Sam Firstenberg. Starring: Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett, James Hong.
Lucinda Dickey had an insane 1984. In one year she starred in three landmark Cannon productions that might be the most 80s movies ever made: Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and Ninja III: The Domination. Directed by Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja), the movie stars Dickey as a telephone maintenance technician and part-time aerobics instructor who becomes possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja assassin. Forced to carry out her tormentor’s brutal revenge, she soon finds that one of her main targets is her policeman boyfriend! Only one man—Sho Kosugi (a ninja!)—can exorcise the evil which possesses Lucinda and prevent the lovers from destroying each other. Full of dry ice, floating samurai swords, hot 80s neon, and aerobics classes, this film is topped off with an appearance by James Hong (Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China) as an exorcist, and Evel Knievel’s son, Robbie Knievel, who shows up to pull off some motorcycle stunts.
Directed by Sam Firstenberg. Starring: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye.
Cannon followed the box office success of Enter the Ninja with Revenge of the Ninja, the first American movie to give an Asian actor sole star billing (even Bruce Lee had to share billing with his co-stars in Enter the Dragon). Sho Kosugi (a ninja!) returns home from an afternoon stroll to find his family massacred by evil ninjas. With his mother and infant son in tow he flees Japan for Los Angeles, vowing to forsake the ninja life forever. With the help of his friend and business partner, Keith Vitali (a karate legend who fought onscreen in several 80s Hong Kong movies), he opens an art gallery, specializing in fancy Japanese dolls. What Sho doesn’t know is that his friend is actually an evil ninja who wears a silver demon mask and is smuggling heroin into the country inside the dolls! Sho is just trying to raise his ninja son (played by his real-life son, Kane Kosugi), but now he has to deal with a grindhouse full of dead bodies, fountains of blood, cheap ’80s sex scenes, mafia stereotypes, and dueling ninjas!
SAMURAI SPY (1965, Japan) – Fri, April 17 at 8:00pm.
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda. Starring: Koji Takahashi, Shintaro Ishihara, Eitaro Ozawa, Kei Sato, Mutsuhiro Toura, Tetsuro Tanba, Eiji Okada.
Unconventional in its mise-en-scène, photography and score, unrelenting in its dark philosophical view of war and its consequences, unparalleled in its artistic ambition, Samurai Spy is an existentialist super-noir ninja masterpiece by Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower, Double Suicide), which towers over the shinobi genre, and possibly the entire jidai-geki category as a whole. As the days of the Warring States come to a close and the Tokugawa shogunate consolidates its power, wandering samurai (and secretly, a Koga ninja) Sasuke Sarutobi, war-weary, tries very hard to stay clear of the bloody business of the remaining factions. The sudden defection of a high-profile spy from the service of the shogun, puts an end to his aimless wanderings. Inevitably, Sasuke is sucked into a maze of conspiracies and shadow-play. The plot thickens when both the defector and the former wanderer find out they are tracked by a third man: a shadowy white-hooded master assassin (Tetsuro Tamba).
SEVENTEEN NINJA (1963, Japan) – Sun, April 19 at 1:00pm.
Toei’s star-studded response to Daiei’s hugely successful 1960s franchise, Shinobi No Mono, this nocturnal, cynical game of chess between two master manipulators is an amazing and under-seen ninja movie that we’re presenting with live subtitles since no English-subtitled version exists. As the ruling Shogun lies on his death futon, seventeen Iga clan ninja are trusted by their master with an impossible mission: to infiltrate the impregnable fortress where his youngest son plans to take both Edo Castle and the supreme power by force. They have two options: to steal the scroll that will grant legitimacy to the usurper’s claim, or to assassinate him. Before they can even reach the stronghold, a vicious ninja hunter thwarts their every move. As the Iga ninja fall, the success of the mission falls in the hands of one young and inexperienced ninja.
Note: Seventeen Ninja is a super hardcore rarity that very, very few human beings have watched!
SHINOBI NO MONO, aka A BAND OF ASSASSINS (1962, Japan,) – Sun, April 19 at 5:15pm.
Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto. Starring: Raizo Ichikawa, Shiho Fujimura, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Yunosuke Ito.
A monster of a movie, worthy of all the superlatives it has earned, Shinobi no Mono was conceived by the fevered minds of far-left director Satsuo Yamamoto and nihilistic pulp novelist Tomoyoshi Murayama, and if you’re devious enough, it can be read as a socialist allegory. Incidentally, it’s quite possibly the ultimate real ninja film. Fate and the invisible hands of evil spymasters ensnare Goemon Ichikawa (superstar Raizo Ichikawa), a dashing but naive young man exceedingly skilled in the arcane ninja arts, in the tangles of a dark plot to assassinate warlord Nobunaga Oda, a cat-loving, power-hungry samurai. Soon, Goemon finds himself outlawed, betrayed and embroiled in labyrinthine political machinations. Produced with the help of the last living ninja master, Masaaki Hatsumi, Shinobi no Mono features authentic, realistic ninja action packs into a transcendental template. Eight sequels would ensue, and many, many imitations.
SHINOBI NO MONO 2: VENGEANCE (1963, Japan) – Sun, April 19 at 7:30pm.
Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto. Starring: Raizo Ichikawa, Shiho Fujimura, Tomisaburo Wakayama.
Surpassing its predecessor in the same way The Godfather II is seen by some as superior to the first, the second installment of the Shinobi No Mono series outdoes its precursor at its own game: deeper, darker, and crueller in all aspects. The sole survivor of his Iga fortress village, Goemon Ishikawa aspires only to live the boring life of a family guy. Overlord Nobunaga Oda and fate have other plans for the retired ninja. Not one to leave out any details, the warlord goes a on nation-wide rampage to root out any ninja who might have survived. Bloody mass murder ensues. And soon, vengeance is the only thing that matters to Goemon. The desperate ninja finds unlikely allies in the Saiga clan and spymaster Hattori Hanzo. With nothing left to lose, he weaves a web of deceit and double-crosses to bring bring down Nobunaga.
SUPER SPECIAL SECRET SCREENING! – An Old School Kung Fu Fest Tradition.
Sat, April 18 at 7:20pm.
They can’t tell you the title of this Japanese 1970s cult classic that was first distributed by Roger Corman to the grindhouse theaters in the U.S., but, you’ll want to see it on the big screen, on 35mm, with an audience! Before the show, they will be giving away tons of fun ninja-themed prizes, and make announcements about the lineup and guests for this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (June 26-July 11 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and SVA Theater), so what more could you possible ask for!?
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990, USA/Hong Kong) – Sun, April 19 at 3:15pm.
For years Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael have lived deep in the sewers of New York, learning the art of ninjitsu from their mentor, Splinter…ok, we all know the story by now about our favorite pizza-eating humanoid turtles, but the best way to forget about Michael Bay’s lazy and tedious franchise reboot is to come appreciate the first, and still the best, version. Produced by Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios (home of Jackie Chan), with the Turtles lovingly brought to life by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, edited by Sally Menke (the editor of every single Quentin Tarantino movie before her untimely death in 2010), and with a theme song by MC Hammer, it’s lean, green, and on the big screen – a CGI-free dose of ninja turtle power!
Thursday, April 16
6:15pm – ENTER THE NINJA
8:30pm – DUEL TO THE DEATH
Friday, April 17
6:00pm – REVENGE OF THE NINJA
8:00pm – SAMURAI SPY
10:15pm – A LIFE OF NINJA
Saturday, April 18
1:00pm – DUEL TO THE DEATH
3:00pm – AMERICAN NINJA
5:00pm – FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS
7:20pm – Super Special Secret Screening!!!
9:30pm – NINJA III: THE DOMINATION
Sunday, April 19
1:00pm – SEVENTEEN NINJA
3:15pm – TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
5:15pm – SHINOBI NO MONO
7:30pm – SHINOBI NO MONO 2: VENGEANCE
9:30pm – AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION
$10 general admission, $8 students, seniors, and children (12 & under), $6 Anthology Film Archives members. Tickets are available at Anthology’s box office on the day of the show. The box office opens 30 minutes before the first show of the day.
Anthology Film Archives
(located at 32 Second Avenue, at the corner of 2 Avenue and 2 Street).
For more information, visit www.subwaycinema.com,www.facebook.com/NYAFF