In the 80s, anyone could make a movie about ninjas and attract an audience. No matter if it was an authentic martial artist or some guy in his pajamas, the ninja subgenre of martial arts films were carried by guys like Michael Dudikoff and David Bradley, though the guy who popularized the genre in the states was Sho Kosugi, star of 1981’s classic Enter The Ninja (among other ninja-related movies).
For a solid decade, ninjas were it. If you had a guy who could perform martial arts, you threw a gang of evil ninjas at him, no questions asked. Then, as the movies got cheaper and cheesier, and the ninjas started to dress in solid-color Crayola uniforms of red, blue, yellow, and green, the ninja started to die away. Undoubtedly, this was due in no small part to ninja overexposure and the demise of Golan-Globus/Cannon Films.
Fast forward nearly 15 years from American Ninja V (and, boy, does that sentence make me feel old). There hasn’t been a non-Mutant Ninja Turtle ninja movie in theaters in years. Needless to say, as a child who grew up martial-artsing imaginary ninja to death, nobody was as excited as I was for Ninja Assassins, in spite of the underwhelming trailer.
Raizo (South Korean pop star Rain) is a disgraced member of one of the nine clans of ninja. He turned against his family, against his master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi), and against the rest of the Clan of Black Sand. If you think turning against a clan of killers and assassins is a bad idea, you’d be right. That’s why Raizo lives his life on the run. However, when Europol researcher Mika (Naomie Harris) and her partner Maslow (Ben Miles) begin investigating one of the Osunu clan’s murder for hires, that puts her directly in the ninja cross hairs. As any good fighter knows, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and thus it’s up to Mika, Raizo, and Europol to take on the Clan of Black Sand.
Turn your brain off for this one, as the script from Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski is nothing more than a delicious collection of clichés for you to roll around in. Basically, it’s the story of Raizo. He grows up in the clan, he falls in love with a cute kunoichi, she runs away and pays the price, he turns against the clan after his first kill, and he comes back to take his revenge. All Rain has to do is be physically impressive (which he is thanks to hours in the gym). Basically, it’s a distillation of every martial arts movie ever, but turned up thanks to the direction of James McTeigue.
McTeigue, if you’ll remember, is the guy who directed V For Vendetta for the Wachowskis (who produced this one). He lends his love of CGI and hyperkinetic editing to the martial arts genre, and while there are some significantly dodgy moments of CGI blood and weapon effects, as well as some pretty poorly-handled fight scenes, the good thing about Ninja Assassin is that it doesn’t last long. If one fight scene is a little too shaky and dark, just wait a few minutes and the next fight scene will come along and wash the taste out of your mouth.
That’s the beauty and the bad part of Ninja Assassin. If you have to leave to go to the bathroom or get more popcorn, you’re going to miss someone or something getting killed. That’s just how it is. Once the ninja bloodshed starts, it just doesn’t stop. If you like action movies like I like action movies, you’ll never have more fun wading through the slaughterhouse floor of severed limbs and splattered gore.