Thursday, February 25, 2010

REVIEW: Ninja Assassin

2010 Action/Martial Arts
StarringRain, Naomie Harris, Rick Yune, Sho Kosugi, Ben Miles
Written by Matthew Sand
Directed by James McTiegue
Back in the 80s of my childhood, a spectacular idiot once asked me why I liked that era’s cheesy Ninja movies so much.  “But dear brother,” I told him, “it’s because they’re extremely fun”. Were I to in any way still dwell around that particular person today, I sadly would not defend Ninja Assassin with such gusto.

In the politically correct setting of Europol, a nosy department researcher does what no one else in a millennia could’ve: uncover a secret network or traditional high-priced assassins called Ninjas. Such a discovery would bring her quick death if it wasn’t for protection from a rogue member of the organisation bent on tearing it down. And that is the story, not even in a nutshell...

It had been a long time since international audiences were treated to an actual bona fide (and good) Ninja film, and a big-budget one with the Wachowski siblings and Joel silver producing sounds mighty sweet on paper; suffice it to say I wanted to like it. But what I got was the Ninja equivalent of Star trek The Motion Picture: a 10-minute story for a 2-hour movie. Even worse, it caters to the Twilight crowds with quasi permanence of the star’s 6-pack onscreen!

Speaking of him, I can’t say I know much about Koeran super-star Rain (come one dude – even Leaf Phoenix kept enough brain cells to swap for a normal name) but from watching the film I CAN tell three things. One: the dude’s had a 2-day crash course in English which allows him to flatten-out the few funny bits in his already scarce lines. Two: even a guy can’t help be amazed by the sweetness of the sweat on his perfect abs. And three: the guy has low-to-no chemistry with his lovely co-star Naomie Harris. Sad for her; she’s good enough to have deserved better exposure.

Casting-wise, the film does one thing absolutely right in bringing back 80s genre icon Shô Kosugi. The veteran actor demonstrates a confidence onscreen and impressive moves for a guy his age that made me wonder why the heck he hadn’t done a movie in 17 years. His memorable villain makes the other antagonist, the perpetually typecast Ricky Yun, look like a cardboard cut-out – who even whimpers when he’s about to get killed. Fearless Ninja, riiiiight...

As for fight scenes –it IS a Ninja movie after all- no hesitation in saying they are quite spectacular. I least I guess they are; sometimes hard to make things out in the permanently dark settings punctuated by over-CG’d blood spurts. Kudos to Quentin for going low-fi with Kill Bill’s haemoglobin! Superb choereography still, but serves only to point out the non-existence of any sort of story. Half the film consists in rapidly-annoying flashbacks to the hero’s harsh training while the rest is both leads running from other Ninjas for God knows what reason.

If made for $15M by an upstart director, I probably would’ve been lighter on the sarcasm and heavier on the praise since the film does give a high-octane does of gory martial. But coming from James McTiegue with the Wach sibs and Warner behind him, I expected a lot more quality – or at least a really entertaining film. Neither were present in the screening room when I was.

Story has it the Wachowskis, unhappy with the shooting script, asked the great J. Michael Starczinsky to rewrite it all a mere 6 weeks before production start. Easy to guess what Mike wrote: His name, on the back of a check to endorse it. No other explanation as to how this awesome writer’s involvement couldn’t churn out better results.
Final Word: 5/10

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