You know? Even though it deviated wildly from the original comics and butchered my favorite scene, V For Vendetta could have been a lot worse. I actually liked it. It completely downplayed the political angle and I can sort of understand why. It was no longer the 80’s and it wasn’t produced in England. Context is everything when it came to V. Director James McTiegue had a good eye for style and even though I think his lens sterilized a movie that should have been a little murky, he came off like one to watch. Then they announced his next project.
Ninja Assassin hit the internet like a bomb with an amazing stunt training video. It was also a movie about ninjas. At least that’s what I gathered based on the title. To boot, it was to star Korean pop sensation, Rain, who co-starred in Park Chan Wook’s mostly overlooked crazy people in love movie, I’m A Cyborg But That’s Okay. So here we have a modestly budgeted picture out of Hollywood featuring ninjas and starring no one anybody in the west has heard of. Hyped by a killer training reel, Ninja Assassin was looking up to be the movie highlight of my year. It really sucks that the movie is such a fucking royal disaster.
Members of Europol in Berlin have been investigating a series of high profile assassinations around the world and the theory out on the fringe by an organization forensic researcher is that the killers are ninjas. Of course, her coworkers balk at this idea but she’s right. Raizo is a former member of a ninja clan who hit the road after his cruel masters proved to be too much and as a result, he’s been on the run for years because his former clan just can’t let go. If you’ve seen any movie ever, you can probably tell where this is going. Bonus points if you’ve seen a ninja movie before. Worlds collide is what I’m getting at and a lot of limbs wind up getting cut off in the process.
Last year, the most violent movie I saw was Punisher War Zone. This year, it’s Ninja Assassin. Let me clear about this. They don’t skimp on the gore at all. It’s a gleeful slash festival where bodyparts fly in every direction and every single cut from the myriad ninja weaponry results in an explosion of blood. The average adult human body contains 10 pints of blood. In Ninja Assassin, every single body that gets caught in a hail of shuriken loses that much blood and then some from every impact. I’m sure that this is some kind of nod to past Japanese sword epics that result in ridiculous, hissing geysers of blood from slashes. Rather than use that arterial spray, however, Ninja Assassin features gory explosions like the Mento in a Coke bottle effect as all of your body’s blood makes a beeline for the exit wound. It’s quite impressive. Also impressive is a number of action setpieces that nearly rescue the entire movie from being a bust. A ninja fight among rushing traffic is really something to behold and the finale is also noteworthy but I have hardly found myself sitting through action sequences and fight scenes, frequently wishing they would end so we could get to the point.
Rain, playing the lead ninja, Raizo, is an impressive fighter and the physical feats in this movie, unaided by the heavy handed special effects, are cool but rarely have I seen a lead with so little presence. His screen time is defined by scowls and blank expressions and what’s more, the film’s heavy imbalance of backstory flashbacks features other actors playing Raizo at different points in his life than Rain does. Neither of them has much more going on, either, but at least one of them has the excuse of being, like, eight years old. At the same time, our back up characters are just as forgettable and do little more than burden an already weak plot with a pointless investigation subplot.
Ninja Assassin has pieces and parts that could have been organized to create a halfway decent spy thriller with ninjas but they opted to throw out these elements and come up with your standard revenge movie that does little to convince you that the people out to get Raizo are actually as bad as they seem. The rest of the cast shows up to stand around and pass file folders back and forth while talking ex-KGB who found out too much. It’s just that Ninja Assassin goes nowhere and to make matters worse, it’s boring. It’s a real shame when a movie is boring. There’s nothing worse, actually. But the ultimate shame is that Ninja Assassin is a boring ninja movie and ninjas are supposed to be one of those foolproof plot devices. To worsen things, most of the movie, fights included, take place in the dark. Flashlight beams occasionally illuminate what’s going on and most of the action consists of our cast running from a cloud of CGI throwing stars. Many of the fights are perfectly exciting on their own, but each one has the heavy spice of CGI clouding their natural flavor. It’s as though McTeigue had no confidence in his own movie or comes from that school of film that believes that everything must be in your face at all times or it has no effect.
Ninja Assassin is such a mess and it’s a real shame because it had the potential to be really cool. It takes itself so seriously in spite of a number of hilariously bad script elements, a completely forgettable cast and exceptionally bad dialog. Isaac Florentine’s movie, Ninja (review), apes the same old ninja movie tropes and looks an awful lot like Enter The Ninja at times, but it has the balls to stage its fights in well lit areas and paces itself with expert grace. Ninja Assassin tries to be like a comic book and fails in just about every way possible. The opening scene, which explodes with gore and violence like the opening of the aforementioned Punisher War Zone, promises so much and then falls on its face for the next 90 minutes. How do you make a ninja movie and fuck up like this? Even 9 Death of the Ninja (review) is more fun to watch than this.