Anchor Bay // 2003 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 7th, 2004
A film that will touch your heart...after it's finished with your teeth, ribs, spleens, and kneecaps.
An insane import from those Kiwis over in New Zealand, Tongan Ninja is part video-game, part kung-fu parody, and all brain trauma.
Fear the Tongan Ninja! As a young boy, Tongan Ninja (Sam Manu) and his father were flying over the Pacific, with his good friend Marvin along for the ride. But a tragic plane crash stranded the trio on a remote island. Tongan Ninja's father, in an effort to save the boys, was devoured by piranha. Stranded, the boys were looking at a hopeless fate -- until a mysterious old kung-fu master rescued them. The two boys began their training under their master's tutelage, and fostered a bitter rivalry. Years later, with the pinnacle of their skills reached, the men squared off to prove once and for all who was the mightiest.
The showdown was interrupted by their master. He had an emergency mission for Tongan Ninja: travel to New Zealand and defend a sushi restaurant from the advances of the evil crime organization, The Syndicate, headed by Mr. Big.
Tongan Ninja obliged, and jumped a ship to meet his fate.
>From the second he sets foot on New Zealand, Tonga Ninja must deal with everything Mr. Big throws at him, including the lethal assassins Knife Man and Gun Man, not to mention an unending stream of disposable thugs. With the beautiful Miss Lee (Linda Tseng) at his side, Tongan Ninja will be forced to summon up all the training and skills at his disposal to defeat The Syndicate, and eventually face off with a long-time nemesis.
This is a ninja movie on PCP. Writer/director Jason Stutter has crafted a straight-up surreal take on the kung-fu flick genre. The entire movie is poorly dubbed, the action scenes are mockeries, and the plot is nonsensical. In any movie other than Tongan Ninja these observations would generally be regarded as unpleasant things; but for this lunatic outing, its success is dependent on them.
The crappy dubbing is part of the movie's charm. Sometimes the words match the lips, sometimes dialogue emits from a closed mouth. Not only does this allow the filmmakers the one-shot gag at poor kung-fu dubbing, but it also gives them free reign over insane dialogue. The movie is packed with these throw-away jokes. During melees, the henchmen will blurt out lines like "Take him one at a time!" The "dubbers," for lack of a better word (or a real one for that matter), ham it up and go overboard with the quips. And dig Mr. Big and his quasi-profanity laden tirades!
What's a ninja movie without action scenes? Tongan Ninja plays out like a video game, with different "bosses" being dispatched to thwart Tongan Ninja's advances. Knife Man has his knives, Gun Man his guns, and then there's the Big Bad himself -- Action Fighter! When each of these clowns is introduced, a video game screen pops up listing their ratings for strength and agility and fighting spirit and the like. The actual showdowns feature Tongan Ninja ripping down a boom mike and attacking with it, or yanking tufts of chest hair out from his adversary, or karate-kicking a guy's head off.
Finally, you've got the story, which is basically derivative of the typical action flick. But that's the point. A big shot criminal pushes around defenseless bystanders, a girl gets kidnapped, and the hero has to infiltrate the evil lair. The whole deal is mocked: Mr. Big operates out of a fortress on a mountain staffed by ninja secretaries; a piece of electrical tape over the mouth is enough to pacify any kidnapping victim; the struggling sushi restaurant is poor and patron-starved, prompting the chef to break out into one of the more surreal musical numbers you'll ever see.
So I liked Tongan Ninja, but I can't unequivocally recommend it. There's a real thin line between crazy-ass-stupidity that's funny and crazy-ass-stupidity that's stupid. Tongan Ninja traipses over this line at will. Sure there's some inspired stuff, but there are nearly as many misses as there are hits in the "Funny-Ha-Ha Department."
Tongan Ninja is released in a 1.85:1 widescreen format, with abysmal picture quality. The film is rife with grain, vacillating between cheap-looking and passable, and the colors are far from rich. The 2.0 mix is okay, shining particularly in the big musical scene and the hilarious opening credits sequence.
Two lively commentaries by Jason Stutter and the cast and crew are self-deprecating and enjoyable. A spoof "making-of" feature sports interviews with the cast, as well as a small bit with Peter Jackson that's touted prominently on the disc cover. Every little thing helps, I guess. Some "meh" deleted scenes and trailers finish up the extras batch.
Tongan Ninja is definitely not for everyone. I have the sense of humor of a ninth grader, and still found it uneven. Those of you with more advanced tastes might find the clubbing of a litter of Golden Retriever puppies more amusing.
A better-than-average jaunt into ninja parody, Tongan Ninja delivers an up and down experience, but boasts just enough sophomoric humor to bring a smile to my face.
The accused is set free. New Zealand's drinking water is to be tested for hallucinogens.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Two Commentary Tracks (Director, Cast and Crew)
* "The Official Making of Tongan Ninja"
* Deleted Scenes