By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Ninja Assassin,” the new film from director James McTeigue, begins with a Japanese tattoo artist working on a yakuza’s back. Blood flows down from the tattoo needle. With only short respites, blood also flows throughout the rest of the film. Blood isn’t enough, however, to compensate for the film’s anemia in other areas.
South Korean pop singer Rain stars as Raizo, a lonely ninja. As the film unfolds, we see how he learned to stalk and kill as a child from master Ozunu (played by Shô Kosugi, a veteran of many martial arts films in Japan). However, Raizo later broke away from Ozunu and the entire ninja clan, and went rogue. As a result, his former “family” is trying to kill him.
Things take a complicated turn when Rain finds himself protecting Mika (Naomi Harris), a police agent from Europol, who’s learned some information that the ninja clan wants to contain. To be honest, the exact reasons for attacking someone don’t hold much weight in this movie. The clan will take out anyone in return for 100 pounds of gold. That’s been their price for centuries — apparently they don’t believe in adjusting for inflation.
The two acting leads bravely try to save the movie, and they each deserve a better setting. Harris gives off warmth and a sense of stubbornness. Her character doesn’t believe she needs to be rescued and resents it every time Raizo comes to the rescue.
Rain plays his character cool and subtle. The often silly script (re-written from its original draft in only 53 hours) requires him to say things such as, “One day, death will come for us all.” The singer pulls off such pronouncements by leaving them simple. He also knows how to look extremely cool in oversized black sunglasses.
The script, sadly, needed more than 53 hours of revision. Early on, the tattoo master (played by Randall Duk Kim, another martial arts film regular) warns a yakuza about the ninja stalking him, “You cannot bargain with it, you cannot reason with it … it is not a human being.” That sounds pretty good — except it’s lifted, almost word for word, from the dialogue in the first “Terminator” movie.
The movie’s action certainly impresses with its bloody sequences. People lose hands, limbs, and heads, and some fall apart in sections. By the end, enough blood spills to fill a small lake.
But most of the intense battle sequences take place in the darkness. This makes it very difficult to figure out what’s going on. They utilize CGI effects and other “cheats” that distract the viewers from having the sense of watching an actual fight.
The makers of “Ninja Assassin” trust that nonstop gory action and flat platitudes will hit big at the box office. They may be right about that. But this film won’t last. It washes down the drain like thin drippings from a minor cut. ♦
“Ninja Assassin” opens Wednesday, November 25 in Seattle. Check local listings for prices and show times.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.