Godfrey Ho is one of my favorite directors. This man directed eighty-seven movies from 1980 through 1989. Of those eighty-seven films, forty-seven of them have the word “ninja” in the title. That’s a lot of ninja movies. A Hong Kong version of Ed Wood, Godfrey Ho’s secret was getting tons of footage of movies from the sixties no one cared about, editing in a few minutes of footage he would shoot of western actors dressed as ninja, dubbing English dialogue over the whole thing (even over the new actors that are clearly speaking English anyway), and calling it a new movie. Similar to the Superman/Superman II controversy, he convinced his staple of US actors that they were filming two or three action films, then would take a few minutes of each of these “films” and edit them into dozens of separate movies culled from the dregs of Hong Kong schlock.
The best part is that not even the music in his films is original. All of it is stolen from soundtracks of films like The Warriors or the Miami Vice TV series. The music of A-ah, Clan of Xymox and Genesis feature heavily in his films as well. All of his ninja flicks have at least one surreal moment where Richard Harrison or Bruce Stallion face off against hordes of enemy ninja, all wearing ridiculous costumes as a then contemporary song from Aleph or Pink Floyd plays in the background. Those costumes are certainly eye catching. Members of the Silver Ninja Empire and other factions seen throughout his films sport bright pastel ninja costumes, typically topped off with a headband. The headbands are the best, often saying “NINJA” on them or, my favorite, “NIN” and “JA” with an iconic print of Sho Kusugi from Revenge of the Ninja in the middle. Donning such garb, our heroes then struggle by throwing weapons at each other, which they deftly flip out of the way of even though the weapons are already clearly like six feet away from them. This is a trademark high level ninja technique that appears in almost all of Godfrey Ho’s movies. All of this happens with that stolen music blasting.
At the same time, in each of his movies (in the parts he actually filmed), it’s very obvious that he’s competent despite his films being some of the cheapest, most haphazardly made around. This is especially true in the editing and continuity, given that some of these films would go from nothing to edited in two weeks flat. The most impressive is the way new stories were written to work some other random movie’s footage into his newly filmed ninja conflict. Characters will make phone calls from one film to another. Ninja: American Warrior (1987) is particularly inspired here. The film opens with a female assassin killing some ninja, afterwards she puts on a mask. We then cut to the other movie, where a different female assassin attempts to take out a crime lord, only to be killed by one of his henchmen.
They go to see who she is, but what’s this?! A mask is removed from her face revealing the newly filmed actress from our opening scene? The same cheap hotel room was located, and they got actors and costumes to match those in the original film. It’s an ingenious way to tie a ninja getting killed into the original movie to get the story started. Later on, a character is hospitalized. There’s a scene where they read a letter while in their hospital bed. Not content with phone calls, Godfrey Ho engages in inter-cinematic postal delivery, with one of his new characters handing a letter to a nurse (a double we only see part of). The camera than cuts to the nurse in the original film handing over the letter, it’s incredible.
Godfrey Ho himself was believed to have stopped directing movies in the early 90s, but just as it was in the 80s, he’s directed movies as recently as 2000 under various aliases. That last film in 2000 was Manhattan Chase, starring the always awesome Cynthia Rothrock. Ho also worked with Rothrock in the campy but hilarious 1993 film Undefeatable. This movie is great for three reasons. One: Cynthia Rothrock is in it. Two: Its last fight scene has some wonderfully overwrought music and ends with one of the greatest puns ever. The third reason is Don Niam’s performance as martial arts psychopath Stingray. Stingray is a mentally insane abusive husband, and yet the film has some flashbacks to his own childhood which are filled with abandonment and conditions show why he is the way he is. An attempt is almost made, not to justify, but to explain the conditions that built him up into the person he is now. The way the film portrays this is definitely, well, a thing.