Ninja Assassin (2009)
Reviewed 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.
Martial 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!
Only 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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