Presented by Tomas Tang's Filmark and under its original English title, it's always a shocking truth when in fact they bring forth movies that are not pasted together from various sources but instead intact. It doesn't turn their catalogue into a status akin to classy but the "actual" filmmakers of this ilk can ACTUALLY keep the proceedings fun all the way as opposed to the cut-and-splice fun that most of the time sparkles only when Tang or even IFD's Joseph Lai inject their touches (their Westerners and Hong Kong stuntmen in the ninja suits). Our real filmmaker this time is Taiwan favourite Lee Tso-Nam (Eagle's Claw, Shaolin Vs. Lama, A Life Of Ninja) and although bootleg companies tried to sell this Elsa Yeung (Golden Queen's Commando) vehicle as a sequel to Chang Cheh's Five Element Ninja (to add insult to injury, it was cut and came with a false promise that Polly Kuan of Dragon Inn-fame would appear in the film), The Challenge Of The Lady Ninja works on its own. Although we get a taste of early music theft (Star Wars in this case), director Lee spices the proceedings with aspects that he's aware of works. Fans wants to see and get off on ninja techniques and whenever stopping for a fighting romp involving these, Lee has us in his pocket.
Wong Siu Wai (Elsa Yeung) has been training in Japan to become a ninja and passes the final, dangerous test. In need of going back to China because her father has died, it becomes clear he died at the hands of her fiancee Lee Tung (Chen Kuan-Tai) who's helping out the Japanese. Gathering up a gang of female warriors and training them in the art of ninjutsu, Wong leads the rebellion against the opposing forces and closes in her target of revenge...
Mixing the inventive and exploitation, if anything The Challenge Of The Lady Ninja represents material where director Lee Tso-Nam flourishes the most as a creator. With a furious pace, creativity and a free for all no rules arena to play on, the deadly serious story is still treated with a sense of relaxed fun and Lee asks his audience to do the same and possibly be dazzled and/or surprised. Within this 20s or 30s setting, he still gives us almost comic book design in for instance the four bodyguards around Lee Tung (among those Robert Tai in full make-up and a head tattoo) and fast paced action spiced up with various tricks but first and foremost ninja techniques. The ultimate test to be a ninja-scene chief among them as Elsa's striking red wear going up against against multiple opponents with fire shield but clouding their minds thinking she's almost naked and dances for them...regardless if this is a silly invention as part of ninjutsu doesn't matter. It's mad fun that Lee masters well.
Because as Elsa rounds up her female subjects for rigorous (but fast) training to become ninjas, they're of course all in skimpy outfits and in several scenes gets to demonstrate how you fool men and subsequently your opponents via sexual illusions. Lingering on this training aspect doesn't hurt any pace and The Challenge Of The Ninja moves distinctly well through training, taking out of the bodyguards while honing on the ultimate goal and some surprises along the way.
Lee Tso-Nam and crew come off as very inspired and manages to fill the movie with a varied assortment of creative trickery and inventive action. Elsa Yeung performs seemingly all of it and while a bit sluggish at points, surrounding her with the high flying skillset present in her character and her opponents (including a rival ninja at the end who she faces underground at one point in an inspiring moment) makes those thoughts go away and indeed, Lee has managed to evoke a relax and have fun because I know how to provide you with it kind of aura. It lasts all throughout and we become thirsty for more of this side of the Taiwanese veteran.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson