James McTeigue, director of V for Vendetta, ably assisted by the Wachowski brothers (of Matrix fame), put their collective talents into Ninja Assassin. The film chronicles the life of ninja assassin Raizo (Rain), an orphan raised by the Ozunu Clan, who is groomed for the leadership position of the secretive clan of deadly assassins. Meanwhile Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) is a Europol agent who works out the amazing truth that an ancient clan of ninjas is behind the bulk of assassinations throughout history, and are still very much in operation.
If you read that and thought “wow, that sounds dumb” then you’re not wrong. The lead is a ninja played by K-pop star Rain. The terms ‘Europol’, ‘100 gold coins’ and ‘International Task Force’ are banded about quite a bit here. Oscar material this ain’t. The film revolves around swords, bloods, decapitations, machine guns, tattoos, scars and NINJAS! It knows it is silly, it knows people will come expecting to see cartoon violence, it knows that plot isn’t important. Thus, I will review the film on its own terms.
This is not a classic film on anyone’s terms however. This is not Enter the Dragon. Apart from the plot being sub-standard, the acting is woeful. Ryan Maslow (Mika’s boss) gives of the vibe of a dad on the school run rather than a high-level agent uncovering a massive conspiracy. The Yakuza members in the opening scene are about as believable in their roles as ruthless gangsters as the cast of Friends would be. Whilst this would be a major detraction in most movies, the nature of the film means it is more of a minor inconvenience than anything.
My main criticism would be a lack of humour; at times you may laugh at the film, but rarely with it. Swarzenegger/007 style comments would have been appreciated, and a few memorable zingers would have lifted the film immensely. More of a concern is the super-fast editing and lack of imagination in the violence after the first half hour. From the men who brought you the Matrix, slow-motion is to be expected. Yet once you have seen the effect once you have seen it a thousand times. Perhaps the brothers are hoping if they keep putting it in their films it will somehow become innovative again.
On the subject of violence, the BBFC justifies the 18 rating with the statement that “violent battles… are frequent and very bloody. Swords, knives, chains and throwing stars are all used to inflict injuries which always result in huge plumes of blood spraying into the air”. If this sounds like your kind of thing, then you’re probably not going to be disappointed. The film sets itself up as a high-gore, high-thrills, low-brow killfest. Yet at times in the feature the film seems to forget what it wants to be. The heartless brutality towards the young warriors is far from comical, the sinister sounds and fear of the dark push it towards a horror at times and at some points the obligatory emotional confrontations arise.
All scenes are well done, but somewhat out of place in the picture. All the while it is something of a chase movie. It does manage to just about stick to the traditional narrative of a good versus evil slugfest though, with the theme of light and dark giving a less-than subtle imagery. Rain also manages to hold the film together, despite the emotionless nature of his character he somehow manages to make the character likeable enough for you to stick by him. This may simply be due to his perfectly toned abs and cool hair; but it does the job.
Overall, it is a forgettable experience, though should just about keep you entertained throughout. If you still aren’t sure about whether to splash your cash on a ticket then ask yourself this simple question: would you like to see a knife on a chain slice through someone’s kneecaps? If the answer is yes, then see this film and stay the hell away from my children.