21 June 2012 | BrianDanaCamp
Oddball ninja film has its charms
CHALLENGE OF THE LADY NINJA (1983) is a product of the same star-director team (Chen Kuan Tai, Elsa Yeung, Lee Tso Nam) that gave us A LIFE OF NINJA (1983), which I've also reviewed on this site. This one involves a Chinese woman (Elsa Yeung) who trains as a ninja in Japan and returns to Shanghai for the funeral of her father, a martial arts teacher who was killed in a conflict with a local crime boss known for collaborating with the Japanese occupiers. She then embarks on a campaign to recruit and train three female ninjas to help her kill the crime boss (Chen Kuan Tai). Why she's not considered a traitor herself for training in Japan at such a time is never addressed. The film is set during the war although you wouldn't know it from the fashions, hairstyles, late-model cars, interior décor and new building architecture that all scream early 1980s. There isn't a single trace of period detail in the entire film.
While the film plays lip service to a female empowerment theme with its female ninja figures, it crosses the line frequently into rank exploitation with scenes of women mud wrestling, fighting in swimsuits in shallow pools of water, and shots of cleavage and shaking booties in scenes where ninja seduction strategies are employed by one of the recruits, a prostitute-turned-ninja. Dressed in red ninja garb, the ladies can project multiple versions of themselves or turn into a pink bikini-clad version of themselves, all to distract their attackers. These techniques would pop up 20-odd years later in the ninja-themed anime series, "Naruto."
Eventually, a twist involving one of the main characters' loyalties causes a change in everybody's plans and culminates in a battle between Elsa and her male rival from the Japanese ninja school. Elsa is attractive and competent in a substantial fighting role although she's doubled in all of her acrobatic stunts. Chen Kuan Tai (BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN) doesn't have enough fighting scenes for a star of his stature and background. Robert Tai, a noted action choreographer and sometime director (NINJA: THE FINAL DUEL), plays a tattooed Japanese killer sent after Elsa and her team. The fight scenes involving the lady ninjas are generally quite imaginative and fun to watch, even if, from a narrative and production standpoint, the movie is below average. A LIFE OF NINJA was much better. I watched this on a VHS tape edition from Goodtimes Home Video under the title, CHALLENGE OF THE LADY NINJA. The English dubbing is rather poor.