This is REKT, the column where each month one Cinepunx staffer recommends films to the rest of the fam. We may be stoked, or we may be wrecked. This month, it’s Liam’s turn to do the damage. Here are Trey Lawson‘s thoughts on Ninja Busters.
I’m going to be honest with you: I’d never even heard of Ninja Busters (Paul Kyriazi, 1984) until it showed up on the list for REKT this month. Filmed in 1984 but never released, this flick was recently rediscovered by Garagehouse Pictures and given a full bluray release with all the bells and whistles. Presumably capitalizing on the ninja craze of the early ’80s (epitomized by Cannon fare like Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja), Ninja Busters stars karate grandmasters Eric Lee and Sid Campbell as a couple of goofs more interested in meeting women than learning martial arts. This is a weird low-budget slice of ’80s genre filmmaking, and while I didn’t love it, I’m really glad to know it exists.
Even for an ’80s martial arts movie, Ninja Busters barely has a plot. Bernie and Chic (played by Lee and Campbell) are two dudes who use the same strategy whether trying to pick up women or to bluff their way out of a fight: claim to have trained with Bruce Lee. After this (unsurprisingly) backfires several times, they decide to actually begin training in martial arts…which is still mostly an excuse to try and pick up women. But with the stern guidance of their sensei played by Gerald Okamura (Samurai Cop, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra) they become skilled fighters — just in time to run afoul of sleazy weapons dealing ninjas! The result is a movie that doesn’t give us much in the way of character development; Bernie and Chic are kind of bumbling leads in the mode of Abbott and Costello or Hope and Crosby, but without anywhere near the charisma or comic timing of those duos. There aren’t really any standouts in the rest of the cast either, aside from the aforementioned Okamura. Some of the dialogue-heavy scenes have a stiffness to them that suggests inexperience, lack of a second take, or both.
More important than dialogue are the fight scenes, which should be the cornerstone of any martial arts action film, and this film certainly has some scenes in which people fight. I don’t doubt that the two real-life grandmasters are actually very talented at martial arts, but the film’s lack of budget has a visible effect on the how the fight sequences are staged, shot, and edited. More often than not, I could clearly see one fighter going out of their way to not hit their opponent. That said, the film’s DIY style gives these sequences a sense of fun along the lines of something like Miami Connection, just without all the musical numbers. While not the most conventionally exciting scenes, the result (whether intentional or not) is a kind of slapstick quality that works for the film’s tone – especially given the running gag of Chic’s clumsiness. Also like Miami Connection I appreciated the film’s openness to diversity presented through the martial arts school’s various students, particularly in the film’s third act when they all work together to fight the ninjas.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Ninja Busters, but I will say I mostly had fun with it. It’s the sort of movie that I imagine plays better with a crowd rather than watching it alone. It’s not a “bad movie” (that label gets thrown around much too casually), but it is the very definition of a cult film. It does that thing where the film is aware it can’t really compete even on the level of Cannon’s action films, and so it aims for tongue-in-cheek comedy. It’s not a parody of the genre, really, but more often than not it allows the leads to be the butt of the joke. I’m frankly impressed that Lee and Campbell went along with it, given their accomplishments. Even if they aren’t the most compelling actors, they go along with being walking punchlines for most of the movie, and that’s pretty admirable. Ninja Busters is not my favorite ’80s ninja movie, but I’m glad it has been rediscovered and restored, and I hope it gets lots of play among the cult cinema/midnight movie crowd.