Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: NINJA TURF (1985)

Chances are you've never heard of Jun Chong. After all, how could one even notice this pint sized ass-kicker in the era of guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone? Born in 1944, Chong began training in the martial arts at an early age and was well versed in Tae Kwon Do by the time his family emigrated to the US. He opened his first Tae Kwon Do school in the late 1960s. With the onslaught of 1970s kung fu chic (thanks mostly to Bruce Lee), Chong's business thrived throughout the decade with the instructor gracing the cover of martial arts magazines left and right. Chong even gave cinema a try as the lead in the Bruceploitation flick BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE (1976). By the time the 1980s rolled around, Chong had been studying martial arts for nearly 30 years. And with flicks being offered to every other guy who could throw a kick, it seemed only natural that Chong would get back on screens. But this time Chong did it on his own terms as he took to producing his own action flicks.

NINJA TURF (1985) - Young (Chong), Tony (Chong student Phillip Rhee) and three friends start up a security business and this results in them getting in fights a lot. The main plot doesn't kick in until an hour has passed when Young steals a ton of drug money from a client who hired them ("It was bad money and I would put it to a good cause"). Naturally, the dealer wants it back so he hires two assassins - Japan's Yoshida (Ken Nagayama) and New York's Kruger (Bill "Superfoot" Wallace) - to retrieve it and teach the boys a lesson.

Chong's first foray into producing is an odd, yet enjoyable 80s action flick. Odd in the sense that it has no plot for the first hour and that lead tough guy Chong spends a lot of time crying about his drunk mom not loving him. Oh, and like the previously reviewed RUSSIAN TERMINATOR, there is some wonky retitling going on here as there isn't a single ninja in NINJA TURF (its original title was LOS ANGELES STREETFIGHTER). And, oddest still, in that Chong, who was in his 40s when this was shot, is supposed to be playing a high school student!?! Initially I thought there is no way he could be in high school. Maybe it was community college. But sharp-eyed junkie head Tom spotted this:

The supporting cast is sprinkled with familiar faces. Brinke Stevens shows up as a drug dealer's girlfriend and supplies the film's only nudity. In addition, future stars Thomas Wilson (Biff from BACK TO THE FUTURE) and Loren Avedon (KING OF THE KICKBOXERS) have small roles as gang members. Perhaps the most famous co-star in this day and age of the internet(s) is Mark Hicks. Hicks is a member of Young's crew (aptly named Mark) and he achieved internet superstar notoriety as the famous Afro Ninja, the guy who attempts to do a flip with some nunchaku and falls on his head. I'm sure you've seen it. Here he is crying about his birthday:

And while NINJA TURF is filled with plenty of unintentionally hilarious bits like this one above, the film has a certain appeal. Director Woo-sang Park (under the name Richard Park) directs the action scenes well with a focus on the marital arts talents of the leads. In fact, this might be some of the best U.S. action choreography from that time period because they shot it in the style of Hong Kong martial arts flicks with an emphasis on long takes and complex routines. Chong and Rhee would re-team a few years later on SILENT ASSASSINS (1988), to be featured in part 2 of this retrospective.

2 Reactions:

  1. I've had this on my to watch pile for a while, looks like I will have to check it out. NINJA TURF also features one the first film credits for one my faves, stuntman/martial artist James Lew. Interestingly I recently watched the Don 'The Dragon' Wilson film RED SUN RISING, where James Lew receives an "introducing" credit although he had been appering in films for about an decade!

    Anyway, great blog you have here, I'm always interested in reading about these kind of films, that sadly usually dont get much attention.

  2. Tony,

    Glad you are enjoying it. Yeah, I should have mentioned Lew as well. He has a smaller role, but there is a priceless scene where he tries to extort Rhee in school for $5.


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