Monday, May 30, 2011


Schooley and I gushed over Godfrey Ho like a couple of teenage girls for close to an hour before I realized that I actually owned a handful of his films. None of what I had actually credited Ho as a director, instead citing various pseudonyms Ho had been known to use. The Imperial Entertainment VHS I'd acquired at the Rewind This benefit, "The Ninja Connection," credits York Lam as director. One thing is for certain though: no alias can veil the distinct style of a Godfrey Ho film. It will always be a wildly incoherent affair with lots of inappropriately cast white people. Not only will the story defy deciphering, it will also look like it was shot in the early seventies even if it was produced in the mid-80s. For many reasons, his films look like total shit. Perhaps achieving this faux-dated look is a tremendous credit to Godfrey's genius, as it allows him to seamlessly weave actual old footage in with newer footage without there being any apparent incongruity in quality. Also, Ho's endings are always abrupt. I don't mean anti-climactic, but rather they jump out from behind a rock and slap you in the face. This film in particular concludes with perhaps one of the greatest "what the fuck" moments I have seen in years, and it must be seen to be truly appreciated or even understood.

Once I deduced that I had actual Godfrey Ho tapes on premise, Schooley made pilgrimage to my home with a six pack sacrifice in hand, and we were away in no time. I sit through a lot of stuff in group settings, so I thought it might be fun this time to put Schooley in the seat as guest reviewer. And so, without further adieu, VHS Summer presents John Schooley's encounter with Godfrey Ho's "The Ninja Connection."

by John Schooley

Godrey Ho! Who knew? Well, a few people, obviously, what with the detailed Wikipedia entry, the full filmography page on IMDB, and the numerous clips on YouTube. I was obviously late to the party. According to Wikipedia, Ho “has been credited under more than 40 different names during the course of his career” and “is believed to have directed more than one hundred films.” The other night the Alamo Drafthouse screened the rarely seen "Ninja Annihilation War," which is credited to the previously unheard-of Fung Brothers, and which led me to Godfrey Ho. "Ninja Annihilation War" contains the elements that have become associated with Ho, the principle ones being white guy ninjas in brightly colored outfits, and the fact that it appears to consist of random scenes from unrelated movies that have been edited together in no apparent order. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch if "Ninja Annihilation War" turned out to be a lost Ho flick, but it could just as easily be the work of anybody with access to dodgy ninja footage and some rudimentary video editing equipment.

Long story short, seeing this film brought to my attention a previously unglimpsed world of cheaply produced and nonsensical ninja movies. Turns out that Max already had a few Godfrey Ho productions mixed in the massive pile of VHS tapes he has accumulated, and having just been hipped to the man “considered the Ed Wood of Hong Kong cinema” we decided to pop one in the VCR. The selection was "The Ninja Connection," from 1984 and smack in the middle of Ho’s long career. It turns out that "The Ninja Connection" is really a prime example of the insanity and/or idiocy that Godfrey Ho is known for.

I won’t attempt to outline the “plot,” because there isn’t one. Others have already attempted to do so, and the results show what a futile effort it is. I’m pretty sure Mark Twain was referring to Godfrey Ho movies rather than "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" when he stated: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

The thing that makes "The Ninja Connection" entertaining is the inexplicableness of the whole enterprise. I mean, clearly Ho had seen a movie before, so he must have known that doing things like introducing characters that are then never seen again, or having scenes with no discernable relationship to one another, or to the story as a whole (or even having a story), was, you know, not usually what a director does. And yet, here we are, with characters, storylines, and scenes assembled seemingly at random. Ho’s dictionary is missing a page where the word “continuity” would be found.

And don’t get me started on the dialogue. Even trying to set up a scene enough to give an example presents a foreboding rabbit hole. For example, when the head ninja and his ninja henchmen attempt to escape in what appears to be a run-down Datsun sedan, and get stuck in some loose dirt, and get out to push (mind you, these same ninjas have been seen using near-magical powers to move around in earlier scenes, but are now hampered by loose gravel…), well, they get out to push their piece-of-shit ninjamobile out of the dirt and the good-guy ninja kills one of them. When the head bad-guy ninja notices that one of his henchmen is gone, he exclaims “We’re missing a ninja!” This, friends, is the dialogue.

Was all of this a conscious effort, an actual artistic vision, on Ho’s part? Doubtful. Was he creating something pretentious types could later get away with labeling as “outsider art”? Possibly. Was it just a commercial calculation to crank out anything that could even remotely be called a movie as quickly and cheaply as possible? Definitely.

It may not be outsider art, but it is at least outside the law. Ho had a charming tendency to just take whatever music he wanted for his films, copyright laws be damned, so part of the fun is recognizing what songs got stolen. I don’t have much of an ear for 80’s pop but even I could pick out when Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, and The Human League turned up on the soundtrack, and I’m pretty sure they aren’t getting any sync fees. Hell, Ho even used bits of the score from "Star Wars" in one of the battle scenes. To quote Eugene Chadbourne, “When nobody is paying attention, you can get away with just about anything.”

And that’s just the music – I have no idea how much of the footage in this movie was actually shot by Ho, and how much was just stolen from other films. After a warehouse shoot-out in which the police put a stop to the ninja’s heroin trafficking (did I mention that the ninjas in this movie are HERION DEALERS?), the big climactic tank vs. ninja battle scene in this film (did I mention there was a BATTLE SCENE WITH NINJAS FIGHTING A BUNCH OF TANKS?) had me wondering “How could he get the money to have tanks in this movie, since every other scene looks cheap as shit?” I don’t know what war movie Ho stole the tank footage from, but I felt like a gullible fool for even briefly thinking that anybody would have given him the budget to afford a tank. Upon more careful viewing, I realized that the tanks and the ninjas are never actually seen in the same shot together. Ho took the tank footage, and spliced it in with his own shots of ninjas jumping around cheap explosions (Note: even though they look cheap, I’m still surprised the stuntmen were willing to let a filmmaker like Ho trigger explosions near them. I doubt there was a lot of thought given to safety on the set). The idea of just taking whatever music and film footage you want and using it, without permission and uncredited, in a pastiche of sound and images, makes Ho sound ahead of his time I suppose. Intentional or not, you can’t argue with the hilarity of the end result.

For those of us who don’t have a massive collection of VHS tapes like Max, you’ll be happy to know that Netflix has over twenty Godrey Ho titles available, and a couple of them are even streaming. So far, the others I’ve seen haven’t approached the level of greatness of "The Ninja Connection," but I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Ho’s output. You can watch the final ten minutes of Ninja Connection right now on Youtube, which should result in some serious reexamination of your preconceived attitudes toward ninjas, tanks, film editing, and the role of coherent narrative in cinema. And, the relationship between ninjas and toads.

1 comment:

  1. That ending with the toad just baffles me. Part of me wants to believe that there is a hidden slice of symbolic genius here, but the other part of me that ISN'T retarded doesn't think it's possible.