Ninja'ed by popular culture ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ninja'ed by popular culture

Ninja Assassin
My rating:

"If I’m a Ninja Assassin, I’d wonder why I’m so redundant – like 'army soldier', or 'kitchen chef', or 'stupid idiot.'" That's the penetratingly witty comment what failed to win me the free invite to this movie's premiere screening. (I'd've done better if I wasn't limited to 15 words, dammit.) I guess the fine folks at Nuffnang just didn't realize how cheesy the title is. Seriously, Ninja Assassin? That right there needs to be a deliberately self-referential parody of B-grade chop-socky ninja movies - a film that's meant to be cheesy. Certainly not a film that takes itself 100% seriously.

Aiyoo, Wachowski Bros., what laa??

Raizo (Rain) was once the finest assassin of the Ozunu clan; trained from childhood by his master (Sho Kosugi) in the deadly arts of the ninja. When Europol researcher Mika Coretti's (Naomie Harris) investigations draw closer to the secret organization of hired killers, she becomes a target herself - but Raizo is out to protect her, not kill her. Despite the protestations of her superior Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles), she goes on the run with him, aiding him in his quest to destroy the Ozunu - and learning why he turned against everything he's been taught.

Dear filmmakers of Ninja Assassin, which includes director James McTeigue, producers Larry and Andy Wachowski, and screenwriters Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski: ninjas are post-modern. The trope has so pervaded our pop-cultural consciousness that it simply cannot be played straight anymore. Even the word itself has become a slang term with at least a dozen different tongue-in-cheek definitions. You cannot make a ninja movie - much less one titled Ninja Assassin - that's as dreary and self-important as this one. It's not like it has to be a goofy parody; it just needs to be aware.

It also needs to not be so lame. Raizo's ninja training is painful and sadistic and child-abuse-tastic blah blah, and his master's instruction has him delivering one villain cliche line after another. Oh, but there's a cute ninja chick who gets him all hot and bothered, and maybe thinking that there might be more to life than this cold-blooded killer thing. He'll slice and dice a hundred faceless bad guys, but ask him to murder a weepy little girl and he's all "oh noes". The Law of Conservation of Ninjutsu is in full effect here - a single ninja is a deadly killing machine, but the more there are the more ineffectual they are; the hero will just slaughter them en masse. And they're like, super-secret, but they'll run right into busy traffic in full ninja gear just to chase down one guy.

Yes, it's all very very stupid, made even more so by how cool it thinks it is. It even depicts ninja super-speed in exactly the same laughable way Twilight does - which isn't even forgivable in a vampires-as-excuse-for-teen-romance flick, much less an actual ninja movie. Shurikens are cool, but not when they're CGIed with cartoony speed lines. And then there are the fight scenes, which, frankly, are the only reason why anyone would watch this. I wish I could say they were its saving grace, but spastic editing spoils any decent martial arts choreography; worst of all is the aforementioned fight in busy traffic, in which the cameraman appears to be shaking the camera for no goddamn reason. The only thing notable about the fights is how bloody they are - gallons of karo syrup are splattered everywhere. It's quite effectively nauseating.

Oh, there might be one other reason why someone would watch this - "Nama saya" Rain himself. Sorry to all fans of the Korean heartthrob, but he sucks. He's physically impressive in his action scenes, and he clearly trained really hard for them - but any time he's not grimacing and yelling his way through a fight scene, his expression perfectly mimics a blank wall. His less-than-perfect English doesn't help either, nor does Sho Kosugi's. Naomie Harris and Ben Miles do the best they can in thankless roles, made even more thankless by the terrible dialogue.

I was shocked to see J. Michael Straczynski's name on this - I loved Babylon 5. (This might have something to do with how bad the script is.) This is a film that really has no idea how to depict ninjas in a way that's still cool and relevant; it may have been cool and relevant, say, twenty years ago, before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Naruto and Beverly Hills Ninja. And I'll confess, I almost gave it two-and-a-half stars, because I'm a sucker for martial arts fight scenes. But aside from the blood-spattering, they're not even very good fight scenes. This film belongs right alongside stuff like this, and every other B-grade ninjasploitation flick ever made. Which means that, tragically, the definitive ninja movie has yet to be made.

NEXT REVIEW: The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Expectations: well, the first one wasn't... um, horrible?


McGarmott said...

Forget Babylon 5, this was the writer who single-handedly wrote Clint Eastwood's Changeling! All respect lost now.

TMBF said...

I confess I haven't watched that one.

chris said...

I think it's called Ninja Assassin because hujian kills ninjas.

TMBF said...

But the way he kills them doesn't quite fit the definition of 'assassinate'. :)

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