Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Movie Review: Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin **
Directed by:
James McTeigue.
Written By: Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski.
Starring: Rain (Raizo), Naomie Harris (Mika), Ben Miles (Maslow), Shô Kosugi (Ozunu), Anna Sawai (Kiriko), Rick Yune (Takeshi), Sung Kang (Hollywood).

Does anyone else remember the days when action movies let you clearly see the action? In the past decade, action movies have become more frantic in their editing and their camera moves. Things move so quickly that you have no real idea what is happening in one scene to the next. Michael Bay may have started this movement, but action directors have pretty much followed his lead. For every director like Paul Greengrass, who did the last two movies in the Bourne series, who handles the action sequences brilliantly well, there are dozens who don’t really know what the hell they are doing. What makes things worse in Ninja Assassin is that almost all of the action sequences take place at night in the dark. The only thing we get a clear view half the time is all the CGI blood that flies around the screen in every scene. For a movie like Ninja Assassin, which has no real plot or character development if the action sequences are not stellar, then the whole movie fails.

Ninja Assassin is about a man named Raizo (Japanese pop star Rain) who was raised by a group of ninja to be an assassin (you probably guessed that much from the title). They are a shadow organization that whose history goes back more than 1,000 years, that no government will admit exists. Yet a researched in for Europol Germany, Mika (Naomie Harris), has found some evidence of their existence. This makes them angry, and they send people to try and stop her - by any means necessary. By this point though, Raizo has left the clan, and is even more determined than Mika is to bring them down. They team up to try and stop them.

The movie is sparse on dialogue, which is good because although the movie takes place in Germany, and many of the characters are Japanese, they all speak English. Rain is not the best actor in the world, and his command of the English language is poor at best. He spends much of the movie glaring at people - that is unless he is involved in elaborate martial arts sequences.

I like martial arts movies of all sorts. Bruce Lee was great, Jackie Chan in one of my favorites, and there are only a few Jet Li movies I have never seen. What these three great martial arts actors have in common is that in their movies, they show off their skills in full view of the camera. Here, director James McTeigue, clouds the action in darkness, moves the camera around constantly, and uses rapid fire editing. I have no idea if Rain knows that much about martial arts, because we never really see him do much of anything.

I cannot say that I hated Ninja Assassin. It is enjoyable in a certain way as an exploitation movie, as the movie is certainly bloody in the extreme. Geysers of blood splash the walls, the ceilings, at times the camera, as heads, arms, legs go flying all place as well. Whoever the hell is doing the martial arts is great with that knife on a chain; whatever the hell is was called.

McTiegue’s first film was V for Vendetta, an intelligent, action movie based on the masterpiece graphic novel by Alan Moore. Under the guidance of the Wachowski Brothers, he delivered a fine film. This time, left to his own devices, he goes heavy on style, and low on substance. That would be fine if the style fit in with the rest of the movie, but it doesn’t. It undercuts the impact of the film. Ninja Assassin was never going to win any Oscars, but had it been done better it could have been great trash.

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