This was Chang Cheh’s first film not featuring the “Venom Mob,” but he substituted them with gusto, by presenting ninjas, the animosity between China and Japan, and Cheng Tien Chi.
Chief Hong, leader of a martial arts school, once more challenges his archrival, Yuan Zeng, to a tournament between the two schools, for the title of martial arts master. Hong’s school has been losing for quite some time, and this time is not an exception. However, when all his students are defeated, he calls in a samurai from Japan to fight for his school. The samurai wins against his opponent and forces him to commit suicide, only to face the same fate in his next duel. Before he dies though, he asks Chief Hong to contact an allied ninja clan. Furthermore, as he warns Yaun Zeng that his and his students’ end is near, he manages to poison him.
As Zheng recuperates, he receives a challenge from the Five Element Ninjas. He sends ten of his best students to face them but keeps the two best, Sheng and Tiang Hao, to organize the school’s defense. The Five Element Ninjas using techniques, weapons, and cunningness based on their respective element (Gold, wood, water, fire, earth) make short work of Zheng’s students, who were unaware of what they were about to face. Furthermore, Cheng Yun Mudou, the leader of the ninjas, sends Senji, a female spy to infiltrate Zheng’s school. She succeeds, and even manages to send a map of the fortifications to her leader and to seduce Sheng, deeming him useless for the attack of the ninjas.
Chang Cheh directs and pens (with Ni Kuang) a very impressive film that draws much from the ninja’s techniques and weapons, having studied them from historic literature, as the introduction of the film mentions. These weapons are actually named with in-screen titles during the film, and have an impressive variety. Using these two elements, Chang Cheh manages to present many extraordinary battles, as the action almost never stops. These battles benefit the most from the special effects that fill the action with blood and acrobatics, and Liu Chi-yu’s costumes, who presented the different element ninjas in their respective color, with the golden ones definitely standing apart, being impressive as much as kitsch. The action choreography, which is planned and performed by Cheng Tien Chi who plays Shao is also amazing, using the concept of the ninjas to present a plethora of original battles. Chiang Hsing Lung and Li Yen Hai’s editing also helps in that department, with the well-timed cuts. All of the above find their elaborateness in the final sequence, which is absolutely magnificent, as they benefit the most by 88 Films’ restoration.
The sleazy element could not be missing, and although toned town, is also present, exclusively through Chen Pei Hsi who plays Shenji and spends most of her time in a very revealing net costume. The one who steals the show though, is definitely Michael Chan as Mudou, who presents a great villain while being very impressive in the various battles.
Expectantly, some nonsensicality could not be missing from a Chang Cheh film, but this time, the action compensates to the fullest.
“Five Elemental Ninjas” is a great spectacle in cult fashion, a must have for all fans of Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers’ films.
88 Films offers the uncut edition of “Five Elemental Ninjas” in an impressive Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack. The edition includes a reversible sleeve featuring Original Hong Kong poster art and a limited edition booklet by Dr Callum Waddell, available for the first 2000 copies. The discs are region B/2, the picture format is HD 1080p 2.35:1 and the uncompressed sound LPCM Mono and Dolby Digital Mono. The edition features English subtitles and Chinese language and English Dub.
The extras include the original trailer, the English Dubbed Soundtrack and a very informative Audio Commentary by acclaimed Kung-Fu expert, Bey Logan, who explains many things about Chang Cheh, the film and the story behind it.