Ninja In The Dragon's Den
HONG KONG LEGENDS
 
Starring:
Directed By:
Yuen Kwai
Year:
1982
Run Time:
96 mins
Producer: Hong Kong Legends
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Languages:
Cantonese 2.0, English 2.0
Subtitles:
English, Dutch
W/S Subtitles:
Yes
Ratio:
2.35:1 Anamorphic
Region:
2 & 4
Genre:
Martial Arts / Swordplay - 18 (UK)
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MOVIE
9/10

Featuring the star that never was, Conan Lee, Yuen Kwai's magically demented directorial debut is pure entertainment from the opening frame.

To summarise the plot is not the easiest of tasks, as the storyline appears and disappears in a way the film's ninjas could only dream of.
But as with many films of this period, a plot was the last thing you were watching the movie for...
Filled with almost limitless imagination and directed with the incredible verve which Yuen Kwai has become renowned for, the weapon to weapon, hand to weapon and hand to hand combat is stunning.
Highlights include the incredible stilt fight at the film's start, and the epic Lee and and Sanada pagoda battle.

Wang Jang-Lee is drafted in to provide a final adversary, but never really cuts loose with the footwork we've all come to love.

Acting-wise, Sanada is far more accomplished than Lee, and handles the moments of melodrama well.
Lee, the man with an ego far larger than his talent, looks awkward when not pummeling the rest of the cast.
However, his physical grace more than makes up for it with many superb combat sequences punctuating the convoluted plot.

One particularly impressive element of the film is its scale. Whilst never taking your breath away, the use of outdoor locations and large, beautiful structures, such as Uncle Foo's water-mill and Ching's (Conan Lee) pagoda abode, provide a varied environment for the action to take place.

PICTURE
8/10

For a film made 20 years ago, the print's condition is remarkable. The extensive removal of dirt and marks pays dividends, leaving a print which betrays its age.
Artifacts remain largely nonexistent, and grain is surprisingly rare, although at times a very obvious shimmering effect can be seen in the background detail..

Black levels are deep throughout, but due the absence of shadow detail, the night sequences can be somewhat indistinct.
The lovingly designed costumes featured throughout look excellent, as the transfer's colour reproduction is of a consistently high standard.

If there is one aspect of the print which does cause some disappointment, it's the fluctuating detail levels.
Whilst this is no fault of HKL, the print's condition means that shots can be crisp detailed one moment, and soft and blurry the next.

SOUND
6/10

Apart from the occasional use of the front surrounds, the Cantonese 2.0 soundtrack is almost totally centre focused.
This is no bad thing, as dialogue is reasonably clear and distinct.
However, from the film's fabulously hokey opening score, the track exhibits a rather 'raw' sound quality which affects much of the film.

SUBTITLES
5/10

Once again, a disappointing set of subtitles are provided by HKL.
For much of the time, their translation is spot-on, whilst at others it's totally incorrect.
It seems as though the film's English soundtrack has been used at times as the template for the subtitles, and therefore bears little resemblance to the Cantonese dialogue.
Also, the subs at times are too Westernised for th
eir own good, making them feel at odds with the film's period time-frame.

EXTRAS
8/10

Commentary
Lacking some much-needed input from the cast and crew, Bey Logan is left to comment only briefly on certain scenes, and their filming techniques, and instead talks rather uninvolvingly about the actor's and director's backgrounds.
This is a below-standard commentary from someone who sounds like they're tiring of regurgitating the same facts on each subsequent HKL release.

Biography Showcase

Ng See-Yuen
Wang Jang-Lee
Two rather short, though interesting, text-only biographies are found in this section.
Sadly, the two leads who I would be far more interested in reading about - Lee and Sanada - are conspicuous by their absence.

Deleted Footage

The 'Bull Devil' (2 mins 17secs)

This 4:3 ratio, VHS quality clip is an extension of the superb stilt sequence.
The way the scene has been edited is somewhat different to that found on the featured print, as the 'Bull Devil' meets out a heavier beating to the festival's Gods.

The Spiritual Boxer (2mins)
Another extension, this time focusing on the supposed spiritual power of Master Leong.
By evoking the spirit of the Monkey King in a member of the watching crowd, Leong alludes to possessing some actual San Da ability, rather than looking like the fake he does in the film.

Return To The Pagoda (40secs)

This very short scene features Sanada's character displaying his Kung-Fu skills, as he talks to Ching.

Trailer Selection

UK Promo Trailer


Original Theatrical Trailer
An oddly cropped presentation of the extremely enjoyable Mandarin trailer is offered by HKL. a 2.35:1 image is cropped at either side of the TV to present a literal 'letterbox' image.

Japanese Campaign
This Japanese teaser trailer, looking like a 3rd generation pirate video, does a good job of highlighting the film's gloriously OTT action.

Interview Gallery

Ng See-Yuen and Roy Horan (24 mins)
Alternating between the two interviewees, this specially commissioned feature makes for great viewing as both men discuss the film.
Of particular interest are their opinions and stories regarding Conan Lee. It seems that the arrogance and egotistical nature which has been become synonymous with this man is solidly based in fact.
This is an excellent extra which focuses solely on the film, and it's actors, and is all the better for it.

Additional Trailers


Police Story 2 • Mr.Vampire • Naked Killer • Police Assassins/Yes, Madam!Red Wolf
Once Upon A Time In China 3 • Hong Kong: 1941 • Magnificent ButcherEncounters Of The Spooky Kind
Iron Fisted Monk

CONCLUSION
8/10

In terms of plot and acting this 1982 film offers little in the way of innovation. However, the same cannot be said of its action choreography.
Yuen Kwai offers rarely anything but breathtaking action in his superb directorial debut.

An excellent visual presentation, backed-up by some very welcome extras, have the shine taken off them by an outbreak of subtitling schizophrenia.
All in all, however, this cracking 1982 movie is well-worth the price of admission.

MOVIE 9/10
PICTURE
8/10
SOUND
6/10
SUBTITLES
5/10
EXTRAS
8/10
MENUS
8/10
PACKAGING
7/10
OVERALL 8/10