Dragon’s Quest (1983) and Ninja Warriors (1985)

After making his debut in Murder in the Orient (1974) with Leo Fong (Kill Point) and finding a home in our public domain hearts with Death Machines (1976), Ron Marchini retreated from the film industry to concentrate on training and writing martial arts books with Leo Fong, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. He returned to our drive-in screens for his third film, Dragon’s Quest (1983). Sadly, as with Arctic Warriors (1989), Ron’s third film is a Marchini title lost to the analog ages. There’s no VHS tape images on the web and the blogs dedicated to Ron’s career make no mention of the film.

So, in desperation . . . and in the grand tradition of low-budget studios recycling artwork (know your Michael Sopkiw vs. Mark Gregory movies), we made our own (it must be cheesy) Dragon’s Quest VHS sleeve with the Mexican-distributed artwork from Ninja Warriors. Oh, what might have been. . . .

Image courtesy of Todo Coleccion Online books, art, and collectibles/design R.D Francis/text PicFont.

Courtesy of the digital catalogers at the IMDb, all we know about Dragon’s Quest is that the film was shot in the native Filipino and Tagalog languages of the Philippines and that Ron portrayed a character named Dragon. Director Celso Ad. Castillo has 65 directing credits and 50 writing credits (he only directs Dragon’s Quest). His career led to his winning the “Cinema Original Award” at the 6th Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival 2010 for the horror film 666.

As with much of the East and South Asian films cataloged at the IMDb, most of Castillo’s resume entries, as with Dragon’s Quest and his award-winner 666, are barren, dead pages. While most of Castillo’s films were Philippine-only distributed, several have English-language titles, so, most likely, they received distribution outside of his homeland: Dr. Yes (1965), Zebra (1965), The Tall, Dark, and the Handsome (1968), Dirty Face Max (1968), Inside Job (1970), The Virgin (1971), Isabel of the Islands (1975), Virgin People (1984), Snake Sisters (1984), Isla (1985), Paradise Inn (1985), and Virgin People 2 (1996). Unless your willing to explore the Filipino online marketplace for any possible VHS issues or grey DVDs, we’ll just have to let Castillo’s Dragon’s Quest go and live in the now.

The VHS I remember. It feels like home.

AKA Ninja Commandos and American Ninja
— Distributor hornswoggling to convince us Arnie or Michael Dudikoff will appear as a ninja warrior

That brings us to Ron’s fourth film — and his first of four appearance as Steve Parrish: Ninja Warriors. At the time, Cannon was swimming in cash with their initiating a new wave of martial arts films in the ’80s with the likes of Michael Dudikoff in every derivative of “American” and “Ninja” and “Warrior” in the title — and with Ron’s old tournament mate, Chuck Norris. As with most of the Ninja-cum-Kung fu flicks of the Filipino variety, you’re getting lots of action adrift in the seas of no plot: but who watches these movies for their plots or character development? And the acting stinks, but the fights are great: but who watches these films for their acting; we came for the fights, the acrobatics, and the stunts. Look, let’s be honest: it’s action porn. We watch porn for the porn and ninja movies for ninjas. And President Reagan — via photographs — is all over the place, just so we know that, while this was shot in the Philippines, the action takes place in America — although nothing in this film looks like America.

So . . . this film rolls out the old “secret formula” trope (this time: mind control) that can either save or destroy the world — depending on who possesses said formula. Baddie Ninja Kurado (Ken Watanabe; not that one, the other one) and his evil scientist boss, Dr. Anderson (Mike Cohen), want the formula. So Kurado’s seven-man, cartwheeling gas-masked paramilitary ninja unit storms the government lab (“Top Secret” stenciled on the cover, natch) and dispatches the ubiquitously feeble security guards by fire, throwing stars, grappling hooks, swords, and ball bearings/marbles; attack-by-trees is their forte. The ninjas, led by Kurado’s best warrior (Romano Kristoff), have succeed. But they only secured half of the formula.

Now, for their next mission: storm a country mansion to kidnap the tennis pro daughter of a wealthy scientist (the ‘ol chloroform n’ burlap sack trope; I was going to use the word “gag,” but I like trope, better, for its reader-irritation levels and to display my thesaurus-ignorance in finding non-repetitive words in my writing) as leverage to secure the second half of the formula. And the ground’s guards, as well as the cops, are, once again, dispatched in quick succession, but a policewoman is kidnapped; in a prisoner exchange gone bad with a captured ninja, the ninjas murder their cop hostage. To paraphase Tommy Wiseau: Is plot twist . . . of no consequence.

Well, it’s time to call in Steve Parrish: Ninja Warrior. And, while Steve has no last name here, in interviews over the years, Marchini has stated — as well as MarchiniHeads more fanboy-manic than I — that Ninja Warriors is the first Steve Parrish adventure. Of course, there’s no character development regarding Steve’s past to confirm his Parrishness. For he just is: a lone wolf wrapped in a puzzle sandwiched in an even-fewer-dollars spaghetti, uh, noodles western, enigma. (How’s that for a non-trope laden sentence? R.D has mad skills.)

Anyway, Lt. Kevin Washington (Paul Vance), lost amid this ninja tomfoolery, knows Steve better than anybody; he calls in his old buddy for schoolin’ of his Japan-based martial arts knowledge in the ways the ninja. But Parrish soon realizes “knowing” the ninja ways isn’t enough: to defeat them, he must become . . . a Ninja Warrior.

Romano Kristoff pops up often in our Marchini reviews this week. Amid his 30 films, he worked with Mark “Trash” Gregory in Just a Damned Soldier (1988) and Tan Zan: Ultimate Mission (1988). Ken Watanabe, who also penned Ninja Warriors, also stars in our favorite Brent Huff film of all time (Hey, Sho Kosugi, we love you too.): Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985).

Paul Vance made his acting debut as Praxis in the batshite-all-over-the-place wonder that is W Is War (1983) and Mad Warrior (1984) for Willy Milan, and Slash Exterminator (1984, with Romano Kristoff) for Jun Gallardo. In addition, Vance wrote Slash Exterminator and SFX Retailator for Gallardo. Romano Kristoff, starring here for director Teddy Chiu/Teddy Page, also worked on two of Page’s best: Black Fire (1985) and Jungle Rats (1988) (that we seriously need to rewatch and review . . . for a “Philippine War Week” blowout).

If you’re a frequent visitor to the Pasta and Philippine Apocalypses and Vietnam war zones, you’ll recognize the support cast of Mike Cohen, Mike Monty, and Nick Nicholas, each who could easily have a month-long B&S About Movies tribute month based on their respective resumes.

So . . . yeah, Ninja Warriors is bad. But it’s awesome bad because it’s better made than most Rambo and Arnie Commando pasta and noodle rips. Director Teddy Page, averaging a Woody Allen-inspired one film a year across 30-plus credits, ranks right up their with Cirio H. Santiago (Equalizer 2000) in terms of quality-against-the-budget and could teach a thing or two, or three, to Godfrey Ho (Devil’s Dynamite) and Jun Gallardo (Desert Warrior).

You can stream the majesty of Ninja Warriors on You Tube. It’s a kick!’

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies

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