VOD Review: Ninja Assassin.
Dark, bloody and muddled, Ninja Assassin wanted to be cutting edge but fell on its sword instead.
With American Assassin hitting theaters today, we decided to pull another assassin movie off the shelf. Produced by the Wachowskis, the pair behind The Matrix trilogy, and directed by James McTeige (V for Vendetta), NInja Assassin tries to create the same explosive mixture as those films. It certainly has the same ingredients: stylish violence, impressive choreography, and stunt work that blends Asian cinematic techniques with modern computer effects. On paper it should have gone off like a rocket; in practice it smoked and sputtered out.
Ninja Assassin (2009)
Raizo is an orphan who is adopted/taken by an ancient clan of ninja assassins. Under the cruel teachings of Ozuno, he is honed into a living weapon who can kill with any weapon and escape into any shadow. Bearing witness to the harsh treatment of other orphans who are less skilled or loyal, Raizo rebels and begins to hunt his former brethren. A pair of Europol agents discover his one-man war on the ninja underworld and reluctantly aid him in his quest.
The first knock against Ninja Assassin is that the plot is both extremely simple and bizarrely complicated. A man swears vengeance on his former clan and hunts them down. It should be blood simple. Unfortunately we get too many distractions in the form of flashbacks, a love story, a police drama, and a complicated game of cat and mouse between the ninjas, Raizo and the authorities. They don’t materially add to the central story, but instead make things needlessly muddled and slow. By the end of the film, you get the feeling that the cops are only there to provide a sufficiently impressive body count for the ninjas to hack to pieces.
Chop Till You Drop.
This movie is awfully fond of hacking people to ribbons. The first sequence has a man lose the top half of his head mid sentence, and it’s all flashing blades and spurting blood from there on in. The ninja clans must own stock in artificial limbs with the number of extremities they lop off. This would be fine, and part of a damn proud tradition of bloody martial arts flicks except you can’t see a darn thing.
The lighting in this movie varies from dark to pitch black. Sure ninjas fight in the shadow, but I didn’t rent night vision goggles to watch this blasted movie. There is a definite reason for all of the darkness, besides allowing for ninja union stipulations: the CG in this movie is pervasive but not very good.
Flash in the Pan.
It’s probably no surprise that in 2009 directors like McTeige and The Wachowskis were enamored with digital effects. The Matrix movies pioneered pervasive computer wizardry, for good and ill. V for Vendetta dabbled more than its fair share into the medium, nearly ruining a solid film with the silly flashing blades that V kept throwing all over the place. The trend only got worse in Ninja Assassin.
You see flashing digital lights throughout the entire film. I don’t know if they had a single practical weapon model on the set during the whole film, as every slicing blade, swinging chain and flying shuriken is given a CG overhaul. It gets truly egregious. The ninja stars fly by the thousands, outpacing the automatic weapons of the police. Digital blood is added to every single movement: if you replaced every *thwack* and *whoosh* from a traditional chop socky flick with a spurt of blood, you’d get Ninja Assassin. The final fight scene becomes a farce where digital blood from a sword duel is thrown onto the walls. You know, an effect easily done better with a squirt bottle of ketchup for about a buck fifty.
Hiding Your Talent.
The shame of so much digital chicanery is that it obscures the well choreographed fight scenes and the efforts of the main star and the stunt crew. Pop idol Rain plays Raizo and he carried off the physicality of the role well. He was suggested for the part after his action scenes in Speed Racer. If you grab a guy with limited international appeal because he’s good at fight sequences…show his fight sequences! If he couldn’t hack it, go with somebody else; it’s not like Rain is a household name. But from this side of the TV screen, he looked capable. The rest of the film is likewise filled with either stunt players or actors familiar to the genre. Don’t sell them short by crapping all over their performances with Photoshop.
Death by a Thousand Cuts.
Ninja Assassin is one of those movies that may have been a spectacle in its day but has little else to recommend it. There are some nice fight sequences, but you can hardly appreciate them because of the lighting and the over-reliance on computer effects. The story itself is nothing special, a simple revenge story gussied up with some needless subplots. Because of these plots, the film feels like it’s always spinning its tires, not matter how constant the blood letting is. There’s a hundred martial arts flicks out there with the same plot, and a hundred more willing to drench the screen in blood. Hell, go check out The Story of Riki if you want to see gonzo bloodshed Now that the cutting edge CG looks dated and tacky, you’re left with an unremarkable film that can’t stand out from the crowd.