Raizo (Rain) is a rogue ninja who comes to the aid of Mika Coretti (Harris), a Berlin-based Interpol agent who has linked the shadowy Ozunu Clan, a secret society of assassins who trained Raizo, to a series of murders. Most dangerous to them both is Takeshi (Yune), Raizo's former ally and the assassin leading the charge of Ozunu killers to Berlin.
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It's Fall again, and in the 2000s, Fall means it's time to sit and talk of many things; of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of Oscar bait and children's adventure films and absurd over-the-top R-rated action films. Not the limp-wristed, effects filled teen fodder of the Summer; the hard stuff. The stuff the children of the 80s speak of when they get all glassy-eyed and talk about 'the good old days.'
Actually, James McTiegue's ("V for Vendetta") sophomore effort, "Ninja Assassin" goes back even further than that, to the wave of kung fu-ploitation films that washed up on American shores in the 1970s. From its nigh-invincible ninja's to its various, slightly repetitive, training sequences "Ninja Assassin" is drenched in nostalgia for the old "Street Fighter" films and their like. Also blood, lots and lots of blood.
Raizo (Rain) is one of a multitude of orphaned children who are taken periodically to fill the ranks of Japan's most feared assassins, the Ninjas. Trained since birth to fear nothing, to remove all weakness, to reach the peak of physical ability, they'll kill anyone anywhere in the world for 100 pounds of gold.
But while feared ninja master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) may be the best of the world at removing fear from his students, he's not quite as practiced at ridding them of love, and his oversight soon sets his prize pupil Raizo after the most difficult prey of all: the Ninja's themselves.
Outside of the action sequences "Ninja Assassin" is about as cardboard a film as has ever been made with several pointless kata montages and a pair of Europol officers (Ben Miles and Naomie Harris) who exist mainly to parse all of the exposition kept out of flashbacks. The result is a very start and stop quality that it's very hard to maintain any interest in when the ninja's themselves aren't around.
Fortunately they are more often than not and the fight scenes are the reason anyone would watch this film after all. McTiegue cut his teeth as an assistant director on "The Matrix" films and "Star Wars: Episode II" so he's got a lot of experience with swords and kicking. He's decided to forego some of the ballet-like choreography of his forebears for a more fast-moving, visceral film that more than works on the only level it cares about.
Some of the sequences are quite visually breathtaking, from a fight in the middle of traffic to a group of dueling ninjas dancing in and out of the light cast by a flashlight that gives the only clue to the death and dismemberment going on.
On the other hand there's quite a bit of shaky, very close camera work and a great number of sequences that take place at night, in the dark. Sure that is realistic for how a ninja might do things but let's be honest. No film called "Ninja Assassin" is interested in realism, and an action film the audience can't see is a failure no matter what the director was going for.
As a vehicle for carnage, "Ninja Assassin" is enjoyable enough once, but far too hackneyed and lazy for anything more than that. It's always a wish that these films would put as much inventiveness into their characters as they do their fight sequences, but that would probably be asking a lot. It would be hard to expect any surprises from a film called "Ninja Assassin," but on the other hand, it would be hard to be disappointed by it either. It does exactly what it says on the tin.