Ninja Assassin is a movie likely to polarise viewers. On the one hand, you have the anime generation numb to the gory violence cheering on every move of the spectacular ninja Raizo (played by Korean actor/popstar Rain). On the other, there will be those outraged by the excessive blood and carnage, wondering how a movie like this ever got made.
Personally, I didn’t mind all that ridiculous gore. They are ninja assassins! That’s what happens when sharp weapons make contact with human bodies! I did get a nasty visceral shock at the beginning, especially during the opening sequence, but by the end I was starting to get used to it. It’s actually no worse than films like Saw and Hostel.
So Ninja Assassin had a cool, manga-esque concept. Young kids kidnapped by some clandestine clan and trained to become super weapon-wielding, kung-fu assassins who kill people in the goriest ways imaginable. The ninjas move in and out of the shadows like ghosts and no one can touch them. They are every nerdy kid’s wet dream.
The fight scenes are pretty amazing. They all looked like they knew what they were doing, and each sequence was wonderfully choreographed and executed. Knowing a little about Rain (who was previously seen by American audiences in Speed Racer) before the movie, I was impressed by his drastic improvement in English as well as his astounding physical transformation. I read elsewhere that Rain trained so hard for this film that he vomited after training almost every day.
Now that we’ve gotten the positives out of the way, allow me to rip into the rest of Ninja Assassin. The director, Australian James McTeigue, wasn’t really the problem. He had previously directed V for Vendetta, so it’s obvious the man has some skill and ability.
The biggest issue I had with the film was the fact that everything else about it, apart from the fight scenes, felt hopelessly amateurish. It would have been almost better had there been no plot at all. Raizo is just this killing machine who harbours resentment against his old clan and for some reason decides to save a Europol agent played by Naomie Harris. These two never click, and its painful watching them try. The rest of the characters are better ignored, and apart from that, there’s really not much left of the film.
If Ninja Assassins was slightly more credible apart from the fight scenes, it could have had the potential to be a cult classic. All it needed was a proper plot, more interesting characters and subplots worth caring about. It didn’t need to be convincing — just more intriguing. Unfortunately, however, I feel it was ultimately a waste of a promising opportunity.
2 stars out of 5!