Ninja Assassin (2009)

Ninja AssassinReviewed by Nomad

Starring Rain, Naomi Harris, Ben Miles, Shô Kosugi, Sung Kang, Rick Yune

Directed by James McTeigue

NINJAAAAAAAA!! The word alone brought a giant smile to my face as a child. Back in my day (aka: I’m old), you could go down to the local magazine shop and buy throwing stars, daggers, and any number of ninja-tastic weapons. It was THAT big. Now Warner Brothers is hoping we are so bored of remakes and romantic comedies that we’ll open our hearts to the unbridled carnage offered by a modern martial arts kill-fest. They are right.

The plot of Ninja Assassin couldn’t even fill out the side of a milk carton. Police researcher Mika has stumbled onto a connection between ancient tales of dark ninja deeds and a recent payoff to a clandestine organization preceding bloody mayhem. In the time it would take you to throw down a smoke bomb, the ninja are after her. Luckily, one of their brethren has cut ties with his clan and comes to her aid. Now it’s Mika (Harris) and the renegade ninja Raizo (Rain) against a never-ending tsunami of masked super assassins! If that alone hasn’t done it for you, you have absolutely no need to see this movie. Those of us sold merely on the words “ninja” and “carnage” are already lined up.

Ninja AssassinMartial arts is the name of the game, and Ninja Assassin plays it better than most. I haven’t seen jaw-dropping moves like this in a very … very … long time! Sure, a lot of it may be CGI and wire work, but doing all your own stunts doesn’t necessarily blow me out of my seat at all times. Remember The Protector? This was a love story between a man and his elephant, and no amount of stunt work could save it. Assassin excels in believability amid the impossible. Throwing stars fly like bullets cutting through man, automobile, and sometimes, it seems, even walls. The ninja sword hisses as it sails, uninterrupted, through flesh and bone, leaving a sticky wet pile in its wake. Standing defiantly is Raizo and his chained blade weapon, which he wields like a fisher of men — lashing out and then pulling back a human skull. The ninja step out of flat shadows like vengeful spirits. They move in a streak and scale walls like hideous black spiders. There is no such thing as too much screen time for these warriors, and when they go toe to toe with Raizo, you are in for something special! Even John Rambo would hand over his headband to this guy. Just when you thought you were at the height of ninja glee, the movie tosses in one more element. A well armed special ops police force!! 200 swords vs, 500,000 bullets. FIGHT!!!

While it’s clear why people will come see this film, it is still worth mentioning that the acting performances are very impressive. Ninja Assassin COULD have been an oddly dubbed, overly dramatic, badly acted Hong Kong special, but it sheds all pre-conceived notions and goes for broke. Mika ACTUALLY appears to be scared out of her mind for most of the film. Rain might single-handedly spark resurgence in kung fu films! It’s funny because he embodies everything I usually trash in films. He’s a pop star pretty boy, doesn’t make many facial expressions, and spends 90% of the film with his shirt off!! You know what? I didn’t care. He was the right man for the job and pulled it off fantastically. Whether that is testament to the stuntmen or fight choreographers or cinematographer … hell … give them all gold stars. It all comes together on screen in the most mind-blowing fight scenes I’ve seen in years. For the old schoolers like me, you’ve even got Shô Kosugi as the leader of the ninja clan. PERFECTION!

Ninja AssassinOnly two elements keep Ninja Assasin from attaining the EPIC status. One is a thorn in the side of most horror fiends reading this. CGI BLOOD! CGI blood is still at least a couple of years away from looking flawless, and with so much of it splashing across the set of this film, it is painfully obvious. The second flaw lies in the ninja themselves. The film kicks off with the clan shrouded in mystery, fading in and out of shadow, cutting men to pieces. Next, we have to sit through the origin story of Raizo and his clan, which is fine when you get to watch 9-year-olds beating each other bloody. It’s like baby fight club. When we get back to the ninja action, the warriors are more man than wraith and even do this sort of Jason Voorhees whisper as they approach a target. NOT creepy at all. It’s a problem as old as movies are as an art form. Keep your monster in the shadows as much as possible, and you can raise the tension significantly. Put them in the light and give them a cheesy gimmick, and you are treading on dangerous ground. Luckily, the film is still packed with badassedness, including a fight scene that takes place IN heavy traffic and an all-out WAR in the film’s final scenes. You can either look at this as a live action film with anime pacing and cartoony blood or as the most realistic anime anyone has ever made. If this were an animated film, with all that action jammed into it, you’d be clapping every 15 minutes.

Ninja Assassin is the kick in the ass we’ve needed in the theater and a shockingly welcome bloodbath amid this holiday season! If you were a fan of martial arts films growing up, get out to your local theater as soon as possible and feel like a kid again. The men in black are back … and I can’t wait for more!

4 out of 5

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  • The Woman In Black

    If Rain isn’t the next Crow, then no one in Hollywood has a brain. Loved this flick, which was a total surprise since UC practically had to drag me to it. Loads of fun from start to finish. My only quibble with Nomad’s review is that I liked the whispering among the ninjas — I thought it was pretty creepy and perfectly in tune with the rest of the goings-on. 4 out of 5 indeed!

  • Uncle Creepy

    I loved this flick! Ninjas! Gore! Explosives! Burning embers! Sho MOTHERFUCKIN’ Kosugi!

    The only scene I had an issue with the the highway chase scene — too much shakey cam + quick editing + nighttime and main characters wearing black = a nearly unwatchable sequence.

  • frank_dracman

    Like Masked Slasher said, I half expected Chuck Norris to pop out at the climax. I was sitting there thinking “man, this is twenty years too late”. Amateur story, stiff acting and gratuitous violence. Ah, how I miss the Cannon days. Oddly enough, there were no titties in sight. It’s OK, though, I was still entertained by the shear spectacle of it all.
    That CGI blood HAS to go. Ugh, it was awful.

  • Styling Shatner

    Well, the story’s horseshit but at least the film managed to be entertaining horseshit. I wish the blood wasn’t all CGI and the camerawork would’ve been more steady during the fight scenes (although it wasn’t nearly as bad as Quantum of Solace or especially Splinter), but I still managed to enjoy all the carnage and the non-action stuff was tolerable. Seeing it in front of an audience that was digging it did help. I wouldn’t say it was better than Jaa’s movies-although their non-action stuff isn’t always the best either-but I had a good time with it.

    As for The Protector, the non action scenes were just there but the violence was spectacular and felt more real than in NA. Ripping on the elephant stuff is downright ignorant, as Thai culture holds that animal in the highest regard, so that’s why he went after it with such veracity.

  • Masked Slasher

    I think Nomad is spot-on here. I saw this on Thursday night and had a blast with it.

    The CGI blood was disappointing, but this movie’s spirit is firmly in step with the Cannon Group films of the 80s.

  • Denny Redrum

    They had me at “ninja” also. It was a fun action packed film. I didn’t even realize that was Sho Kosugi. That makes it all the more sweeter. Only disappointment was the CGI. It worked in some places, but I’d much rather see buckets of fake blood then CGI blood. I hope it resurrects a new line of ninja flicks.

  • Blockbuster

    I’m SOOO gonna watch this and then the “American Ninja” series again…I don’t care what anyone thinks. Heh.

  • Cash Bailey

    The title sounds like a Godfrey Ho film.

    And the reviews almost make me wish I WAS watching a Godfrey Ho film.

  • ChaosWeaver

    I will see any movie with either “Ninja” Or “Assassin” in it…I’m fucking sold.

  • kiddcapone

    The best way to describe Ninja Assassin: It feels like you’re sitting in a movie theater watching someone else play a ninja game on PS3 for 90 minutes.

  • Cinemascribe

    Ninja films have often been exercises in the theater of the absurd. One of my favorite examples is the 1981 film “Enter the Ninja” from the long-defunct Cannon films. That movie was low budget, had a paper thin story and some atrocious acting, but in terms of action it was all kinds of bloody good fun. This sounds like it may have the same vibe going on (albeit with a glossier shine)..but that’s fine with me. It’s all about the martial arts ass-whupping anyway, so game on!

  • Terminal

    Good horror movie all around.

  • kiddcapone

    I saw it today and reading this review makes me feel like we’ve seen two different films.

    The acting was terrible. I didn’t go into it expecting oscar award winning performances, but it was extremely laughable the entire movie. The story was paper thin. There was no real martial arts fights that lasted longer than 10 seconds. It was just CGI blood flying everywhere and frenzy camera work.

    I just don’t what this film was going for. It wasn’t original. The story was shitty. The ending was predictable. The CGI was fake looking. I have no idea what realm this fits into. It certainly wasn’t based in reality, yet it pretends that it’s happening in modern day society. They showed the extremely difficult “training” of the kids to be ninjas yet the hero easily dispatches them all like they were gas station attendants dressed up for Halloween. It went from 30 kids to 400 ninjas hunting down the main guy.

    I LOVE martial arts movies, but this hardly fits into that category. The carnage was AWESOME. Easily a 10/10. But way too much CGI and all the blood was even CGI. Not impressive at all. This is not something I ever want to see again or recommend to anyone I like.

  • Didn’t See It Coming

    Nomad approves…skip it.

    • Nomad

      Don’t deny your love for me and everything I like. I see you in the bushes.

      • doubleh55

        Yeah but you also trash The Protector which is a good movie so maybe DISC is up to something.

        Seriously, who doesn’t love Tony Jaa?

        • Nomad

          I like Tony Jaa, but the elephant stuff was REALLY forced on the audience and came off very silly.

          • arandomthought

            I’m on the same page as nomad here. I enjoyed the protector, but the elephant stuff was a bit much. If they toned it down a little it wouldn’t have affected the movie as much.

          • The Butcher

            With all due respect Nomad, you cannot give a nothing-there film like NINJA ASSASSIN 4 out of 5 daggers then level the charge of “silly” at something so obviously superior as TOM YUM GOONG aka THE PROTECTOR.
            The morality play that TOM YUM GOONG was is of course going to be completely ham fisted. Most tales like that are. See ANY Bruce Lee flick, it proves my point.

            NINJA ASSASSIN is the SHOWGIRLS of martial arts flicks.

      • Didn’t See It Coming

        I will say, more than any other critic here or elsewhere I use your reviews to decide if I will see a movie or not. If you hate it, I’m there. If you like it, I MIGHT wait for the DVD. So thanks for that.

        • Nomad

          Yes, you’ve said this before. You’re public hate of me is noted, and I couldn’t care one bit. I don’t think anyone else does either.

          I still think you secretly have pictures of me on your wall.

  • vorodex999

    I agree nomad it was a cool fun film.