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Movie Review : A Blend Of Two Genres Found In 'Ninja Turf'

March 19, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Sometimes you have to adjust expectations. Why bring standards you use for "Citizen Kane" crashing down on "The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant"? So, while "Ninja Turf" (citywide) is not exactly a good movie--most of it is pretty bad by any reasonable criteria--you can at least grant it the merit of being the most interesting low-budget, L.A.-based, teen-age Ninja movie around now.

Director Richard Park, writer Simon Blake Hong and co-producers/co-stars Jun Chong and Phillip Rhee are combining two genres here--the Bruce Lee-style martial-arts epic and the James Dean-style drama of alienated juvenile delinquency. The mix doesn't jibe, and often sinks to levels of gulping absurdity.

It's hard to become enmeshed in the psychological knots of characters who, at any second, will be required to kick, slice and chop-sock up to 50 knife-wielding, blood-crazed foes. But there's something sympathetic about the attempt. Hong packs a lot into his script--including a lot you wish he'd left out--and once in a while, Park comes up with unusual staging, such as the Ninja battle set in an abandoned abstract art gallery.

As for Chong and Rhee, they swagger around likably; Chong whirls, kicks and grunts with panache. In true Hong Kong fashion, there are lots of rumbles here (four or five separate gangs are listed in the credits), usually involving odds of 10-to-1, or at best, 4-to-2.

The plot is a heavy male-bonding liebestod of the "Rebel Without a Cause" variety. Chong and Rhee play a sort of Tae Kwon Duo: two buddies who meet on the vicious schoolyards of Los Angeles, strike up an intense friendship (so intense that at one point Chong tries to divert Rhee's love life by buying him hookers) and are soon part of a traveling squad of teen-age Ninja bodyguards, a crack quintet that eventually runs afoul of some big-time Hollywood coke dealers they've been hired to protect.

There's no question of logic or depth here. The movie takes place in a recognizable Los Angeles, which, for all its dabs of stray local color, might as well be never-never land. The action is vicious and frequent, the dialogue minimal and corny; some of the acting appears to be awkwardly dubbed. It's also not particularly well shot--the images have a low-life, underlit, grungy feel.

On the plus side, if "Ninja Turf" were better photographed, it might look even more ridiculous. And its bloody Wagnerian climax seems preferable to the standard revenge fantasy coda--with the Uebermensch hero walking away from a stack of 200 or 300 enemies he's just dispatched single-handed.

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