– Summary –
Director : James McTeigue
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles, Sho Kosugi, Linh Dan Pham, Sung Kang, Randall Duk Kim, Stephen Marcus, Lee Joon, Eleonore Weisberger.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: A rogue assassin must protect a forensic scientist who has uncovered the existence of a hidden group of Ninja, a group who threaten the very society we live in.
What we think : Depending on your tolerance for the fantastic, the bloody, and the completely insane, Ninja Assassin will either delight or appal you. Considering my favourite two films are Moulin Rouge and Armageddon, my credibility at detesting a film with less intellect than Showgirls is limited to say the least. Ninja Assassin is perhaps one of the stupidest, most predicable and nonsensical films ever to grace the Fernby Films screening room – but it also one of the most entertaining.
As a serious film critic, I’d have to warn you against watching Ninja Assassin. It’s truly a dreadful film. There’s moments of horrendous acting, full-frontal gore and bodily evisceration, as well as the sometimes jarring aesthetic of a Western style mixed with an Asian flavour – a combination which has often led to problematic cinema in the past. Far and away the most B-grade of B-grade films, Ninja Assassin never once ascends into the realm of “quality storytelling” once in it’s entire running time. It’s as far from being a great film as Jar Jar Binks is from being, oh, interesting in the slightest. That’s to say – not a hell of a lot. But where Ninja Assassin drops the ball in terms of characterisation, motivation and common sense, it more than makes up for in style, raw energy and the “this shit is so cool” ethos the Wachowski Brothers gave us with The Matrix. How can a film so dreadfully stupid be so much fun to watch? It’s easy to do if you park your brain, leave it at the door, and enjoy this film for the vapid, simple affair it is.
Ninja Assassin brings us into the shadowy world of… well, the ninja, particularly young man Raizo (Korean pop sensation Rain), a trained assassin on the run from the clan he was brought up by. Ninja master Ozuno (Sho Kosugi) rules his training school with an iron fist, a sharp whip and a whole slew of fast moves – survive or die is essentially the motto for the gaggle of young folk interned at the clan headquarters somewhere in the mountains. After falling for fellow trainee Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein), and tacitly assisting her to escape the camp after she becomes disenchanted with Ozuno’s training, Raizo is forced to watch her execution after she’s recaptured. Raizo himself decides to leave the clan, becoming a fugitive in the process, hunted to the ends of the earth by Ozuno and his forces. Meanwhile, Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) has uncovered the existence of the Ninja assassins, as the clan has murdered various political and religious figureheads over the years to bring about change – usually for corrupt purposes. Her forensic digging causes her to become the new target of the Ozumu clan, and her boss Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) must fight to protect her, while staying alive himself. Together, Mika and Raizon team up to fight the Ninja underworld, and eventually the inevitable confrontation with Ozuno himself.
Oh how much should I have hated this film! Effectively a style-over-substance promotional video for Rain’s workout regime, Ninja Assassin has a story and character that you could fit onto the last page of a George Lucas Star Wars script. It’s the kind of film where the story revolves around each action sequence, rather than the proper way of action moving the story forward – I mentioned the Matrix and its directorial team of The Wachowski Brothers due to their connection with this film – they produced it – and Aussie director James McTeigue, have given us a slam-bang action flick festooned with more digital blood than all the Saw movies combined. McTeigue, who helmed fan-favourite V For Vendetta, and assisted on films such as The Matrix and Attack Of The Clones, has once again brought his Wachowski-cloned directorial style to bear on one of the most mysterious of all the martial arts. Ninjas, long the fodder of Hollywood cinema as the ultimate assassins, are given full flight here, even if their intentions aren’t entirely honourable – they kill for money, effectively becoming extremely skilled mercenaries. The script, co-helmed by comic book writer and Babylon 5 creator J Michael Straczynski and Matthew Sand, is light on character and filled with body shredding action, leaving one to try and understand how a writer of JMS’s skill and ability could possibly be responsible for a script to breathtakingly shallow. The plot isn’t really the point, though, for anyone who’s even glimpsed the trailer to this film. The main selling point of Ninja Assassin is the action; the fight sequences and copious moments of gratuitous violence involving slicing, dicing and decapitating a steady stream of faceless Ninja henchmen.
You know those old Asian martial arts film where the hero (usually Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee or whoever) is surrounded on all sides by at least three hundred screaming foes, all determined to kill him? But for some reason they only attack one at a time and the hero still manages to survive, and walk away undefeated? Ninja Assassin is a modern update of that kind of silliness. Rain’s character of Raizo has a bit of character development, told throughout the film in flashback, but Rain is unable to deliver a solid performance due to his limited ability to glower at camera and look all serious-like. He looks the part, but his character is so bare of emotion that you tend to lose interest in his plight and merely enjoy the action scenes.
Speaking of action, what this film lacks in story development, it more than makes up for in stunningly executed, if entirely over-the-top fighting sequences. Never before has so much blood been spilled on screen, including both Kill Bills, Rambo, The Expendables and the entire Eli Roth back catalogue. Ninja Assassin relies heavily on incredibly violent acts, carried out by both Rain and his black-clad co-stars with the effortless ease of countless prior battles – discerning viewers will probably turn off after the first ten minutes (which is particularly bloody), and even hard-core action fans may find their patience tested by the sheer volume of limb-rending, skin-flailing, digitally augmented bloodwork. It tends towards overkill, the kind of volume of action beats that causes the film to become something of a blur after a while, a lot of white noise punctuated by characters espousing their ideals and beliefs to each other in stunted, angry tones before firing off another volley of violent carnage. Rain carries the action well, helped by the CGI backroom lads adding in digital blades, Ninja stars and other weaponry no doubt too dangerous to have on set. It’s quite graphic, this film, and certainly not for everyone. I can certainly see how it’s hated by the majority of serious critics.
That’s not to say those critics are wrong; but I think they’ve approached this film with the wrong mindset. It’s a film about ninja assassins, not dramatic narrative on the emotional consequences of humanity. It’s a film where people get killed, by silent, ultra-cool ninja people, so anybody expecting anything more needs to re-evaluate their expectations. One the one hand, many people will look on this film as a complete waste of their time, and rightly so: there’s not plot, no characterisation and an excess of blood and gore. On the other hand, there’s no plot, no characterisation and plenty of blood, gore and action – what more could an action junkie want? It’s a mindless, thinly plotted excuse to show off some cool stunts and CGI. Ninja Assassin isn’t a good film, but it is an entertaining one for those looking at a cheap, brainless night in front of the box.