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Key To Vengeance, The (1988)

aka American Commando Ninja
Directed by Lo Gio aka Godfrey Ho
American Video VHS

It’s common knowledge that the most important ninja skill is stealth. It’s a lesser known fact that stealth can be achieved while wearing green parachute pants.

In the 1980s, filmmaker Godfrey Ho was responsible for the creation of approximately one-hundred-and-forty-three patchwork ninja movies. They have titles like Ninja American Warrior, Full Metal Ninja, and Ninja Demon’s Massacre. The method of attack was simple. Ho and his partner would purchase a movie that had nothing to do with ninjas. Then they would insert newly-shot scenes of ninjas, add unlicensed songs, and attempt to create a narrative through dubbing. In Diamond Ninja Force, a softcore Poltergeist rip-off was combined with scenes of Richard Harrison talking on a Garfield telephone and dismembering ninjas while songs from Architecture & Morality by O.M.D. played in the background. No matter the “genre,” Ho’s ninja movies are fascinating and stupefying. They don’t have the obsessive passion of other multi-sourced collages, like Desperation Rising. But they do guarantee an exhilarating state of anti-consciousness that’s rivaled only by Turkey’s most ruthlessly deranged filmmakers.

So what happens when Godfrey Ho puts down his 35mm film camera, picks up a camcorder, and makes a legit shot-on-video (SOV) ninja movie that contains zero recycled footage?

It’s called The Key To Vengeance aka American Commando Ninja aka a life-changing free-for-all with an agenda of desecration against your senses.

A non-American, un-commando, sometimes-ninja named Larry wears electric blue short-shorts and Hawaiian shirts, usually at the same time. Larry spends his time sitting in front of paintings, making objects movie with his thoughts, and sparring with ninjas who might be ghosts. Meanwhile, a scientist named Tanaka has created a formula that will revolutionize “germ warfare.” A gang of evil ninjas who practice “hocus pocus” are out to get that formula, as are some American gangsters. Larry will not stand for this! And so, he assembles a team of martial arts warriors to help Tanaka. One of the warriors wears a denim jumpsuit with rhinestones. The other wears Union Jack short-shorts. They do not change these clothes before fighting ninjas.

As long as you don’t think about it, the plot of The Key To Vengeance is easy to understand. That’s probably because it has the same general structure as Bionic Ninja and dozens of other Godfrey Ho productions. But the plot isn’t the focus. It’s not the thing that causes you to convulse and sweat because your body doesn’t know what to do with itself in the face of such misguided confidence. That honor goes to the execution.

Watching The Key To Vengeance is like drinking a suicide soda that was built from three-thousand flavors. It makes your eyes burn and your insides buckle, but there’s no other experience like it. And there never will be again. Because Ho’s technical decisions are as ridiculous as the fashion choices of his cast. When Tanaka drives a car slowly on the highway, digs a hole, or sits on a couch, revved-up synth-pop and one-fingered guitar shredding accompanies him. When Larry jumps off of a table, climbs a tree, or lights a candle, he does so in slow motion. As a climactic battle rages between Larry and a ninja, we cut to Larry on a dinner date. There’s a constant influx of unknown characters, illogical jump cuts, and nonsensical conversations. Everyone speaks English, but that means nothing to us. How can it? When Larry defeats a ninja, he glances at his friend’s crotch and says, “You’re quite a guy!”

This movie can’t be criticized. It’s an hypnotic, unbeatable snapshot of SOV madness that stands alone. Or it did stand alone, until Godfrey Ho made a direct sequel called Silent Killers. The sequel reveals the effect that Tanaka’s deadly formula has had on the world. This mostly involves the same locations with the same cast wearing the same clothes while Tanaka has a hallucinogenic nightmare about his victims. Plus bumper boats.

By the way, The Key To Vengeance is the only ninja movie in existence to showcase a fist fight between a man and La-Z-Boy recliner.