Five Element Ninjas is regarded as one of Chang Cheh’s most notorious films for its liberal amounts of bloody gore and inventive violence. Its cult status as an over-the-top schlock-fest is well deserved and pretty much guarantees that viewers will either love it or hate.
A reigning Chinese martial arts school is challenged by a competing group. When the challenger’s are defeated, the leader has a Japanese martial arts master step in. This fellow is also defeated by the white-clad defenders and this incurs the wrath of the Japanese. They devise a plan to trap the Chinese by using the Five Element Ninjas. These stealthy warriors await their opponents at various locations marked with a written character. Each ninja group represents a different element including gold, wood, fire, water, and earth and uses tactics incorporating each element. Unprepared for such tactics, all of the school’s students sent out to each location are killed. This leaves only Lo Meng and his few remaining fellow students to guard the school and their teacher who had been poisoned by the Japanese. The Japanese then send a woman to infiltrate the school. She is initially treated with suspicion, but eventually earns the trust of the students which ends up being a fatal mistake. As the school is destroyed by the ninjas, only Ricky Cheng escapes to join an old teacher who instructs the young man in the art of ninjitsu. Joined by two of the teacher’s other students, Cheng defeats each group of element ninjas and finally takes on the leader, played by Michael Chan.
The plot doesn’t sound so interesting, but the way in which Cheh films it is. Everything a fan loves about Cheh’s films is present such as gaudy costumes, wicked weapons, and ultra violence. The real selling points are the Five Element ninjas themselves. They’re not meant to represent real ninjitsu technique, but rather an inventive series of styles that are simply eye candy. My personal favorite would be the wood ninjas. One of them is actually dressed up in a tree costume and when his victim gets too close, the branches close in with nasty pointy things attached! Sure, its corny and unrealistic but its also a lot of fun. Some strange and wonderful weapons include giant circular saw blades and golden hats that spin while spitting out blades of death. Expect to see limbs chopped off and blood flying in every direction. Thankfully, none of it looks very realistic.
Unfortunately, the film is missing the best stars from many of Cheh’s films. Venom alum Lo Meng has a supporting role but the film lacks the enjoyable camaraderie that similarly violent films such as Kid with the Golden Arm and Ten Tigers from Kwangtung shared. And generally speaking, the film isn’t that great. The production values are even lower than many of Cheh’s other films. Plus, the plot is a joke. Why in the world would a bunch of ninjas in China just sit around at various locations waiting for a particular bunch of idiots to come blundering into their grasp? Of course, unlike other contemporary films such as Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple that came out the same year, this film has no historical significance and is pure fantasy. While some will have a hard time looking past the film’s many faults, Five Element Ninjas is definitely a guilty pleasure for the cult film buff whose tastes include a lot of cheese with their kung fu.REVIEW: Five Element Ninjas (1982),
Genre: Kung Fu