“7 Lucky Ninja Kids” and Earl Owensby

 

earl-owensby

 

   Earl Owensby has been referred to by others as a “Hillbilly Roger Corman” or a “Southern-fried Orson Welles”. It’s a shame to label the guy, and I don’t think that either of the descriptions really suit him- he never had the pure output of product that Corman had (I think that Earl has only had his hand in about a dozen or so feature films), and he never released anything that could be considered an artistic vision and something on par with Welles. However, he did have Corman’s drive-in sensibilities- knowing his target (basically people below the Mason-Dixon Line who like adventure, thrills and a moral thread running through their flicks) and attempting to deliver the goods. And, as Orson Welles, he could be a Jack-of-all-Trades; at different points in his career he was Producer, top-lining Actor, Director- Hell, he even built his own studio after acquiring an abandoned and half-built nuclear power plant in a small town in South Carolina (http://www.earlowensby.com/)- and this ain’t no tin-roofed shack behind an outhouse either, but a world-class facility worthy enough of the likes of James Cameron (who shot The Abyss there). The only person that I can really equate him with would probably be H.B. Halicki- the Stuntman/Director/Producer/Star of the original Gone in 60 Seconds; a self-made man who made a few flicks before tragically dying while performing a stunt in a movie he was making…

 

 

   I’ve been fascinated with him long before I ever saw one of his flicks- I had read somewhere about him (OK- actually the SOMEWHERE was in an issue of “Penthouse” that a friend of mine had snuck out of his Dad’s sock drawer. See- sometimes we DON’T lie and really DO read the articles, even as a kid) and had never thought until then the possibility of someone; ANYONE; being able to make a movie that actually played in theaters that wasn’t located in New York or Hollywood. This was a real guy making real features. The next few years I was able to catch various Owensby movies either at local drive-in’s or on TV (Wolfman– another one of his that seems to be released by all kinds of bargain DVD companies and one I have to bring up on the blog again, a true Gothic/Southern werewolf movie that must be seen to be believed; Seabo (aka Buckstone County Prison– made in the wake of mid-‘70’s badass Southern cops on a rampage like Macon County Line and Walking Tall) and Rottweiler– released to cash in on the brief resurgent 3D craze of the early 80’s). I’ve also missed out on some beauties that I have to watch; like Living Legend (his take on the whole “Elvis Presley thing”) and Tales of the Third Dimension. One of his later works (and, if I’m not mistaken, his last film to date as a Director) is 7 Lucky Ninja Kids, a movie that would appear to have been made to cash in on 3 Ninja and its never-dying string of sequels and rip-offs. I would once in awhile find this in on DVD in unexpected places like FYE but never thought of purchasing it until too late, and then when I started to look for it in earnest, it ended up going out of print and fetching as high as $50 from used movie vendors on Amazon and eBay. Imagine my surprise finding it at a Family Dollar for 60 cents (that’s what it rang up as- even though there’s a printed-on-the-cover price tag selling it for $1). Yeah, it’s packed in a cardboard sleeve, and manufactured by some outfit called Dollar DVD (don’t bother going to dollar.dvd.com; that web page is long gone), but I thought that I could risk three quarters for this obscure little item…

 

 

   Well, there’s a reason that this has fallen into obscurity- THIS ISN’T AMERICAN MADE! It’s a painful redubbing of some Honk Kong kids comedy, with skilled acrobatic kids performing antics that would make the Three Stooges wince and atrocious dubbing with clever repartee like “You dumb jerk” 50 times, and gems like “You don’t believe me? You’re an idiot! You don’t know anything! Only how to sleep!”; and “Over here I’m ‘Rocky’, but in the states I’m known as ‘Rambo’!” (the last line said by a fatigues-wearing ten year old who’s appointed as the squadron leader). The basic plot has the 7 Lucky Ninja Kids stumbling on a diamond heist and murder, but in between the idiocy of Japanese Gangsters trying to find ways to stop the meddling kids are restaurant hijinx; stuttering hitmen; tough guys trying to stand on an ice rink; a BMX bike chase; and a desk that beats up the guy sitting behind it (don’t ask). It all culminates in a prolonged warehouse fight, when, after the kids are victorious (sorry to spoil the ending) is an apparent out-take of the leaping-in-unison shot in the credits, showing the crew rushing in to goof around with the suspended tykes…

 

 

   Framed incorrectly to the right, therefore cutting off a fair-sized sliver on the right and leaving a large black band on the right, it is distracting to say the least- it’s as if the telecine operator (the guy who transfers this obvious ¾ video master to DVD) couldn’t stomach to watch this, so he started up the machine, then left for the local pub to get a few drinks in him. On top of that, it’s horribly zoomed in, easily cutting off a total of a quarter of the picture on both sides, like if you were to try to watch a movie with your face stuck right on the TV screen, and the tracking is bad, especially at the top of the screen and an occasional picture warble. The sound is very flat and has a slight hum throughout; all punctuated by the highly exaggerated smacks and cracks of all the worst Kung Fu movies of the seventies. The dubbing is (naturally) just awful, and the tinka-tinka theme song sung by the kids (“Olalala-lalalala chi chi chi”) doesn’t help matters…

 

 

   The Director listed as Chau Chen Li (I think- between the cutoff titles and the white letters on a washed out white background, it’s hard to see ANYTHING). Even though it’s aimed at kids, I’m not sure that this is wholesome Disney-esque entertainment, with lines like “Goddamn foreigners” and “What’s you problem? Go to Hell!” Also, watching the kids get punched and kicked around by adults double their size is a little disturbing. As for how Earl Owensby is tied to this I have no idea- nowhere on either the film or the packaging is his name (or ANY English name) listed. If this IS somehow his, I would guess that he was a distributor for it, but there aren’t a lot of clues that THAT ever happened, either. And after watching this 80 minutes of celluloid (that, at times felt like twice as long) I sat in a stupor, not believing what I saw so I was going to watch it again just to make sure. But you know what it’s like to suck in helium? How your voice gets funny and it cracks everyone up around you and you feel light-headed, so it wears off and you try it again, only this time it’s not as funny, and the high isn’t as high and all you end up with is a slight headache? Well, when the headache started about 5 minutes into re=watching it I couldn’t go through with it, ejected the DVD and sleeved it. Oh, and even though the date is reported as “1989”, I have to think that it was made at least 10 years prior to that, judging by the cars and scenery…

 

 

   One more thing- come to find out that “Dollar DVD” is an offshoot of the late Brentwood/BCI- Eclipse – it appears to be BCI’s ‘sub-label. They’ve released a whole slew of very old PD titles- things that have been in bargain bins as far back as the old VHS days (like Charlie Chaplin shorts; The Road to Bali and The Beverly Hillbillies that are in Public Domain). So if you find it for under a buck, consider it “fair market value”; if, however, you run into somebody asking you to pay anything more than that, tell them to lay off the helium.

 

 

7 Lucky Ninja Kids– 1 out of 5*

 

 

 

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