Rain as Raizo
Ben Miles as Maslow
Naomie Harris as Mika
Sung Kang as Hollywood
Randall Duk Kim as Tattoo Master
Jonathan Chan-Pensley as Yakuza Henchman
Yuki Iwamoto as Yakuza Couch
Ill-Young Kim as Yakuza Mohawk
Stephen Marcus as Kingpin
Shô Kosugi as Ozunu
Kylie Goldstein as Young Kiriko
Yoon Sungwoong as Young Raizo
Cool ninja action, not the script, make “Ninja Assassin” required viewing for fans of martial arts movies.
For over 1000 years, a secret clan of ninja have been acting as assassins for hire. Highly trained and infused with supernatural powers, they have been secretly working for various factions. Over the years the leaders have taken young orphans and turned them into killing machines. Young Raizo is one such orphan. He was a standout student among his peers, but over time grew to hate the ninja clan. He now finds himself at war against them and on a mission to end their centuries-long reign of terror. He finds help from an unlikely source – Interpol analyst Mika. She is the latest target for assassination thanks to her efforts to uncover the secrets of the clan. Her only hope for survival is to team with the rogue ninja.
“Ninja Assassin” is rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language.
“Ninja Assassin” certainly has a strong pedigree. It is produced by Joel Silver and the Wachowski… siblings of “Matrix” fame. It is co-written by J. Michael Straczynski who comes off a strong run of writing for Marvel Comics and for the Oscar nominated “The Changeling.” It is directed by James McTeigue from “V For Vendetta.” It stars Asian superstar Rain. The cast and crew alone should tell you this is better than your typical ninja movie.
But let’s get down to the real reason to watch a ninja movie – the action. Is it any good? Yes. Nothing groundbreaking, but still solidly entertaining. There are a few good fights. One ninja battle spills out onto a busy road and the ninjas fight among speeding cars. In another scene we’re treated to a great battle between a SWAT-type team and dozens of ninjas. There are also a few good training scenes showing young Raizo fighting other students among burning balls on chains. There’s also an incredibly brutal fight scene in a bathroom between young Raizo and a Russian mobster. But I’d say the opening fight scene is pretty much the most memorable. In it, we see a ninja slaughter a young Yakuza gang. Heads are sliced in half and spill on the floor. Blood spurts everywhere. Legs are sliced off. Ninja throwing stars tear people apart. It was to the point I thought we were about to see a ninja horror movie, not just a ninja movie. It gets toned down significantly as the movie progresses, but it’s definitely a scene that grabs you by the throat and holds your attention. While the blood verges on being over the top, you start to think that considering the slicing weapons a ninja uses, it’s probably realistically bloody.
The acting is decent. Rain holds his own as Raizo. While he’s a tad stiff in his performance, he more than makes up for it in the action scenes. He looks good on film. Naomie Harris is pretty as Mika, but she proves to be more than window dressing when the action starts. I thought she showed the right mixture of realistic fear and toughness. Ben Miles is also good as Maslow. His incredulity at having to deal with ninjas is amusing and is some of the little comic relief in the movie.
What Didn’t Work:
I was going to say that I expected a better story from J. Michael Straczynski, but I’ve since discovered that he was brought in at the last minute to do a complete re-write of the script. If it was a matter of time, I suppose it’s forgivable. But the script could have been better. The scenes showing the romance between Raizo and Kiriko were quite cheesy. Even the people in the audience most into the film were snickering at the hokey romance. There were also a lot of plot holes. When we see the ninjas in action, they appear to have supernatural powers that allow them to teleport through shadows, follow scents, have super hearing, and heal super fast. Yet when we see their training, there’s nothing supernatural about it. The film also portrays them as invincible killers in some scenes, yet cannon fodder in others. It was very inconsistent. The story also needed a bit more background. Who has been hiring the ninjas? How do they contact them when they’re super-secret? How do the ninjas know when someone is searching for them on the computer? Do they have ninja computer geeks? What do the ninjas do with 100 pounds of gold, anyway? And why haven’t they adjusted for inflation over the years! Maybe this is stuff that can be answered in a sequel, but in the meantime it’s a big gap in the story. Raizo is also portrayed as the best of all the ninjas, yet in the flashback scenes we never see anything that indicates he was a better student than the others (other than slight nods from his master). We needed to see more of why he was specially skilled.
Finally, the movie falls prey to many ninja clichés. Rather than expanding on them or even poking fun at them, they’re played straight up in the film. For example, when 20 ninjas attack Raizo, one attacks while all the rest hang back ineffectively. (I’m reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit where one of the ninjas says, “Why don’t we all attack him at once??”) Then, as tough as the ninja are portrayed as being, Raizo is able to take almost all of them out with a single blow.
The Bottom Line:
I think fans of martial arts movies and comic books will enjoy “Ninja Assassin” the most. It’s a solid entry into the genre and I’d be interested in seeing a sequel and following Raizo in his other adventures. There’s certainly room to improve from this movie.