Well, Ninja Assassin won’t be starting a new ninja craze in Hollywood. It’s a big mess that might have some good ideas in it, but definitely doesn’t work as a whole.
Review: Ninja Assassin
It starts strong with a hardcore mix of traditional Asian themes that gets you pumped. The opening scene hypes up the ninja legend well before it explodes into bloody violence. It’s kind of like an ultra-violent James Bond opener.
Then the Europol agents start talking and it’s like, “Uh, what?” Something about clans and the cost of assassination. I think it’s meant to point out that the history of ninjas makes it anachronistic for them to exist now. I didn’t get it from their exposition though. I take their word for it but they’re trying to explain a lot. Then there’s a furious fight in a Laundromat so that’s cool.
Unfortunately, they’re not done talking. The premise is that ninjas don’t exist, but we already believe they do if we’re here. Maybe we haven’t seen ninjas in American movies, but if you call the movie Ninja you don’t really need to explain that there are ninjas.
The story feels like it’s chopped down, like maybe there was a version that made sense. Not that I want to see a longer version with more talking, so maybe they were just trying to get through it quickly. They could have done away with it all. Why do movies think they need to explain things when the only explanation they need is “because it’s awesome.”
The ninja preparations are cool, sharpening and practicing his stars, doing katas with weapons. There’s a good legend behind Raizo (Rain) and cool training scenes. It’s way more hardcore than The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I’m not making a qualitative judgment on a classic, just that the stuff they do in Ninja Assassin is more brutal and violent, for whatever that does to the ouvre of training movies.
The action is shot well considering the whole premise is that you don’t see a ninja coming. Even in the dark scenes, you can tell what’s going on. There’s a certain comic book extremity to it all with super high falls and outrageous kill shots. CGI blood looks terrible but so did the old paint blood spray from early Asian movies. At least the kills are outrageous and gory.
The investigation B.S. is just so generic and boring. They use terminology from episodic TV shows and surveillance camera angles and just talk, talk, talk. They sound so muted and mumbly it’s like they’re rejected from the 24 casting offices. I’m not sure ninja legend is so cool that they need to try so hard to put it in movies, but I certainly think it can come in a better package than generic cop talk.