Monday, May 30, 2011
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.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
With the sun gone down, the concrete beneath my feet began to release an unholy deposit of heat as I trudged toward the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse. I’ll never understand the people down here who writhe in ecstasy as the hell months return to town. These people illicit the same sort of disgust I also feel toward coprophiliacs.
I saw Josh in the back of the lobby by a merchandise table they’d set up. There, they were selling various VHS-related prints, and with purchase you got a free tape. I decided to dehumidify in the Mondo Tees shop before saying hello, and much to my delight, I found a copy of the recent reissue of Ted Prior’s shot-on-video 1983 slasher “Sledgehammer.” The fine folks at Mondo Tees have announced that they will be re-releasing endeared titles, and this is the first in the series. I’d missed the recent “Sledgehammer” screening due to a work crisis, and all hope of finding a copy had gone out the window since I’d been told the remaining copies had rapidly sold out online. Low and behold, though, they had one copy left.
After that, I made way to the Rewind This table, where I said my hello’s to Josh and briefly scoped the tapes he’d brought. I pretty much lost my shit over a copy of Umberto Lenzi’s “Welcome to Spring Break,” which I hadn’t seen since the
After being seated, Lars and Zack came out and provided some back story on that night’s offering, “Ninja Annihilation War.” Apparently while trolling through the flea markets of post apocalyptic
As far as I could tell, this thing mainly consisted of other films I vaguely recognized, with actor Richard Harrison as the main player. During the intro, Lars and Zack actually mentioned that
I was dazed after the screening and wearing a terminal grin. Before I left, I grabbed one more tape from the Rewind This table. On a Ninja high, I let the spirit of the event guide my decision by selecting “Ninja Connection,” which turned out to be a fateful choice.
A few days later, I got a call from a good friend of mine, John Schooley, who’d also attended the screening of “Ninja Annihilation War.” One of very few people permitted into my social circle, Schooley has indulged and encouraged my interest in gonzo action and martial arts cinema over the years. Most people who know Schooley would find this odd since those who know him hold the consensus that he pretty much hates everything modern cinema and music has to offer. His intellect acts like a fat blocker would, buffering out the majority of insincere commercial garbage that the vast majority roaringly approves. Schooley’s not a snob, though. He will sit in the same room I do and watch something like “Hollywood Cop” and appreciate it as simple entertainment. He will suck up every flawed nuance with a chuckle and cheer every explosion. The more nonsensical the physics behind the detonation, the happier he actually is. The average film audience is less likely to identify a truly bad film. Most people patronize bad direction glowingly because they’re no longer able to recognize it. It’s taken the film industry many decades to create a film goer that is incapable of discerning whether something is fundamentally bad or not. Most people determine what is good or bad based on very obvious visual errors in a film. They will lap up the average blockbuster with relish no matter how bland it is, because that’s what they’ve been trained to do. Put them in front of something with lesser production value, and they’ll rip it to shreds, no matter the depth of imagination or how fresh the approach. This is a clear demonstration of the inherent classist attitude mass audiences have developed over the years, thanks largely to the industry’s dominance of theaters. As a result, people have been trained to think that if it’s cheap it cannot possibly be good. Schooley is far removed from this breed of film fan. He is skeptical, but not cynical, toward the film with the megabudget, and is always willing to give the underdog a chance. He can extract the fun from b-to-z grade action flicks, and I relate to that.
I hadn’t seen Schooley arrive at the “Ninja Annihilation War” screening, but I KNEW he was in the theater and enjoying himself due to his distinct laugh. The next day, he spent some time reading about the film, which led to the discovery of his new favorite director, Godfrey Ho. According to what he’d read, many Ho-related films make up the body of “Ninja Annihilation War.”
Ho’s roots go way back to the Shaw Brothers studio of the early seventies, and he has since had his hand in well over a hundred films – most of which feature Caucasians playing ninjas in remarkably gaudy outfits that seem vomit in the face of stealth. Once the 90s hit, the Ninja trend was on the wane, and Godfrey hopped on the Muay Thai zeitgeist following the phenomenal success the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme film “Kickboxer,” producing such cult classics as “Robo-Kickboxer: Power of Justice,” and “Kickboxer from Hell.”
Godfrey had a unique, if not entirely economical way of making films, too, which involved heavily recycling and re-cutting footage from his own films as well as others he’d acquired. An excerpt from Ho’s Wikipedia page:
“Through the 1980s and early 1990s Ho has created a series of martial arts films made with a "cut-and-paste" technique, which means they were created with the help of splicing various unrelated material (including the recurring motif of absurd ninja-fighting scenes, often with little or no connection with the already disjointed plot) and dubbed more-or-less together. He would film footage for one micro-budget picture, and then edit and splice the shots together in a different order, adding in footage from the various obscure or unreleased HK, Thai, Filipino and other Asian movies (martial arts films, crime films, comedies, etc.) to fill the gaps, and then dubbing over the result to create a final product. This allowed him to create several Z movies with the budget of one, though it is often difficult to discern how much of the finished product he has actually filmed himself.”
While talking to Schooley, I brought up Ho’s IMDd page. Bells rang as I realized I owned a handful of the director’s films on VHS already, most of which were directed under various pseudonyms. One particular title I’d had for a while was “Ninja Terminator,” which led me to Nico Giroldi’s fantastic Golden Ninja Warrior Chronicles blog. It was there that I found an article on the Golden Ninja Warrior series, produced by IFD Films & Arts, a subsidiary of ASSO Asia Film – a company Ho had started with partner Joseph Lai and Betty Chan.
Combing through the list, Schooley and I were both excited to learn that Ho was also responsible for “Ninja Connection,” the tape I’d just scored at the “Ninja Annihilation War” screening. There was something drug like about what we’d been subjected to at the
Saturday, May 21, 2011
This Sunday, March 22nd, the VHS SUMMER series continues at the Beerland Venue in
Most remember Vanity as front woman of the sexually provocative pop group, Vanity 6, which quickly rose to fame with Prince-composed songs such as "Nasty Girl." At he apex of their popularity, Vanity left the group and went on to do a lot of irrational things, such as "The Last Dragon," Nikki Sixx, and shit tons of crack. She was also a part of the New Motown label, a Motown reboot which Berry Gordy refuses to acknowledge for some reason. Seriously, I went to the Motown Museum in Detroit about ten years ago, and while on the tour I noticed a darkened corner full of DeBarge cut outs. The guide deliberately steered us away from the corner, so I asked her about the blacked out exhibit. She rolled her eyes and replied, "Oh, that's all that New Motown stuff. Mr. Gordy don't like us to talk about that no more."
In the mid-90s, Vanity nearly succumbed to a drug overdose, but apparently Jesus intervened and told her if she renounced the Vanity persona that she would be spared. She has since distanced herself from her days as Vanity, and gone on to become an evangelist. She's also written a biography entitled "Blame It On Vanity," which is probably just a bunch of inspirational ministry crap instead of stuff about naked, coked up Satanic bonfire rituals at Nikki Sixx's mansion. But still, if you're morbidly curious you can order the book from her website.
Fortunately we're not celebrating the reborn Denise Matthews this Sunday. Instead, we'll be getting down with the original nasty girl herself! First, we’ll be screening the incredibly strange “Tanya’s
After that, we’ll be showing “Never To Young To Die,” starring Vanity, John Stamos, and Gene Simmons. Best Bond ever George Lazenby and Robert Englund also enhance the cast. Here, Stamos plays Stargrove, a budding gymnast (yes!) investigating the untimely death of his father, which ultimately leads him to uncover transvestite Gene Simmons’ dastardly terrorist plot to contaminate a reservoir. It’s up to Stargrove, with the expert aid of agent Vanity to help him keep our drinking water safe! This truly insane espionage action thriller cannot be missed!