Friday, February 26, 2010



“Ninjas? More like Nonjas.”

—Pops Racer (John Goodman), SPEED RACER

Sometimes watching a film that has had nonstop bad press can be a good thing. When something great happens onscreen, it is all the more enjoyable because it wasn’t expected. But in the case of NINJA ASSASSIN, there is nothing whatsoever that makes the experience pleasurable. This movie is a slick, well-choreographed, broken machine.

At first it really looks like it is going to work, but soon it becomes apparent that the film's inner workings are hopelessly flawed. The truth of the matter is that Andy and Larry Wachowski produced this film, and their names brought the fanboys to the multiplexes. The Wachowskis have earned fanboy cred as a result of their involvement in the well-received MATRIX series. But since then, their heavily panned yet superior SPEED RACER is the only thing that they have done worth mentioning. And NINJA ASSASSIN is a mistake that would be better if it just went away.

That being said, NINJA ASSASSIN does manage to follow basic film convention. There is a protagonist, an antagonist, and some serious conflict. There is a story arc and conclusion. This is all a credit to Wachowski disciple James McTiegue who has directed the film. NINJA ASSASSIN looks and feels like it should work, but it is absolute, blood-soaked cornball. The plot is so completely asinine that it is basically nonexistent. What substitutes for plot are pornographic geysers of blood and hacked body parts. When viscera aren’t being punctured, the film lags.

NINJA ASSASSIN starts with some punk Yakuza named Hollywood (Sung Kang) getting a tattoo at the needle of a Tattoo Master (Randall Duk Kim). Their unrealized conversation about respect and tattoo pain is interrupted by the delivery of a wax-sealed envelope containing black dust. The Tattoo Master tells of a time fifty-seven years ago when he saw an envelope with such dust that was followed by a bloodsoaked ninja attack. Accordingly, this story is followed by one henchman’s DEAD ALIVE-status beheading, complete with tongue lolling in the now exposed mouth. The lights are knocked out, and there are slashed, gushing torsos and legs chopped. The ninja is unseen, and bullets won’t hit him. Wounds splash as if they are blood-filled water balloons. The Tattoo Master doesn’t survive the ninja attack this time around.

This tsunami of blood and appendages gets the attention of Mika (Naomie Harris), a forensic researcher, and her buddy Maslow (Ben Miles) at the Berlin Europol Headquarters. These two reveal all of the details of a network of ninja clans via more stilted conversation.

The ninja clans are comprised of young orphans turned ninja in a strange secluded compound. They are trained by a sadistic reverse-Mr. Miagi named Ozunu (Sho Kasugi). Ozunu is the type of sensei that disciplines his pupils with a blade slash to the face or by reaching into their chests to attack their heart like the high priest in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Ozunu raises ninjas that are trained killers, and for the monetary value of one hundred pounds of gold, they will eliminate any target.

Running parallel to the Mika and Maslow story is that of ninja assassin Raizo (Rain), told as a dirty ripoff of KUNG-FU. Raizo flashes back constantly to his old master Ozunu’s teachings. His most specific lesson is that weakness compels strength and betrayal begets blood. In these flashback sequences, young disciple Raizo (Yoon Sungwoong) comes up in the ninja ranks. There is a botched love story with teen Raizo (Joon Lee) and a free-spirited teenage ninja girl Kiriko (Anna Sawai) that ends in her punishing death and sours Raizo’s feelings towards the clan. When Raizo is full-grown, he rejects his training, slashes Ozunu’s face, takes a bunch of ninja stars to the gut and cinematically falls off of a skyscraper into a body of water. If this film were more intelligent, the water that he falls into could symbolize a baptism into humanity. This film isn’t intelligent, however, and Raizo proceeds to rack up a triple-digit blood-avalanche of ex-ninja buddies.

The rest of the film is annoying as Mika earns Raizu’s respect but inadvertently brings him in to the custody of the authorities. What organization he is being held by is so nebulous that it is stupefying. The CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security are all mentioned, but then there is also the GDR and the aforementioned Europol. Whoever is running the show does not have a chance when the blood-flood ninja brigade storm the compound looking for Raizu. The all-out ninja-versus-mystery-military-operative showdown essentially blood-surfs the plot to the end of the film. Raizu is taken back to his original ninja training grounds for execution.

The CIA/FBI/WTF team follows with Hummers, helicopters, grenades, and bazookas. When they drive through the wall of the compound, there are so many bullets being fired in random directions that the word absurd is completely deflated. What follows is more impalings, lost limbs, neck stabs, ninja stars, and katanas than I have ever seen before in one film sequence. Add a football stadium sprinkler system for the bloodspray and splatter, and this scene becomes one of the silliest showdowns in mainstream film history.

In the classic kung-fu movie final confrontation, Raizu has to go to war with his old sensei Ozunu. This battle is reminiscent of a video game boss-fight with one of those completely overpowered bosses that has you throwing down your controller and screaming profanities. Ozunu can disappear and reappear, and he gloats, reminding Raizu that he sucks. The silhouetted katana fight sequences make for some amusing shots, so do the falling ashes of the burning compound, but the suspension of disbelief collapsed in the opening scene. All that is left is the hope that this film will end soon.

B-movies are supposed to be fun. NINJA ASSASSIN is an ugly task. Its few attempts at humor are mired in such obvious timing and setup problems that they force groans and winces. This film is a disservice to better films with smaller budgets that actually give a damn about what they are doing. NINJA ASSASSIN is a mixture of all that has been wrong with martial arts films for the past forty years with some fresh air blown through and some nice effects on top. The only positive thing that can be said about this film is that there wasn’t an obligatory graphic rape scene which seems to be a cornerstone of the seedier elements of this genre. NINJA ASSASSIN is broken. There is nothing that resonates afterward, and hopefully, in time, this unnecessary piece of trash will be forgotten.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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