Your Heart is Special: 'Ninja Assassin' Review
Well, now that Werner Herzog Month is over, it's time to transfer over from Existential Nihilist thought films into the world of the martial arts. For my first film of the month I've been assigned the 2009 feature film Ninja Assassin. Since it had both assassinations and ninjas in it, I assumed I would enjoy the deviation from the ultra-depressing but intense feelings of Herzog. Unfortunately, Ninja Assassin managed to go to far in the other direction and met every stupid cliché in the martial arts genre. Fortunately, it managed to have just a few positives that made it at least bearable.
Ninja Assassin follows Raizo, played by a man named Rain, as he tries to fight against the clan of ninjas that trained him from youth. Raizo was orphaned and kidnapped by the clan and trained by head ninja Ozuno, played by Shô Kosugi. Ozuno abuses Raizo and the other students, brainwashing them to serve only the clan. Luckily for Raizo, there is a young girl who withstands the brainwashing and nourishes the softer side of Raizo, at least until she tries to escape and gets executed in front of him. After Raizo is finally forced to take another human life, he realizes how messed up his world is and betrays the clan. Years later an Interpol agent named Mika, played by Naomi Harris, pulls on a few loose ends of a few various cases and somehow comes to the conclusion that an ancient clan of ninja assassins has been providing kill services to the governments of the world for centuries. When a ninja comes to kill her, Raizo saves her, leading to the typical series of events in which the helpless damsel in distress does whatever the noble male savior says if she wants to live. This continues till the climax of the film, at which point Interpol takes an assault force into the ninja base and murders them all with assault rifles and rocket launchers. Despite all the explosions it still manages to be anti-climactic.
What's most unfortunate about Ninja Assassin is it's tendency to stick to the beats of conventional Asian storytelling, which is to say the standard beats of “Asian” narrative that film producers and writers think will sell in western cultures. It's second biggest misstep is the way it shows it's action. The blood is that overtly digital kind that they use whenever a low budget film thinks quantity is better than quality. Most of the combat uses a blade on the end of a chain, so there's little to no real contact between the combatants that isn't a digital blade flying through the air as the opponents sit and spin around the set pieces. The final major issue is the plot. Naturally any plot involving an ancient clan of ninja assassins is going to be absurd, but the issue is its inconsistency. They are a clan of trained assassins that are never caught, yet they have huge teams of ninjas fighting in the middle of a busy street. They leave witnesses alive at strange times for the convenience of it, and they're abilities are never fully explained. In the final fight when Raizo is fighting Ozuno and suddenly gains the ability to zip back and forth at super speed from shadow to shadow slashing at his former master who had just been doing the same technique. There's no real reason why he's able to or why it works except that Ozuno needed to die.
Aside from the issues mentioned above it was a tolerable film. The stakes felt sufficiently high even if they were cliché. The acting was acceptable. The visuals were sufficient if nothing special. The main thing the movie did right, and this was possibly unintentional, was it's ending. The clan captures Raizo and takes him back to their hideout. However, he is rescued when Interpol assaults the compound with assault rifles and rocket launchers and armored Humvees. While this is nonsensical, because the film had already established that the governments were in the clan's pocket. It makes no sense that they would ever allow an armed task force to get near them. Though, it's still entertaining to watch this army of bad ass hand to hand combatants get mowed down and set on fire by modern day bullets and flames. It says something about the way of the overtly traditionalist, and perhaps functions as a commentary on the nature of organizations that devalue the life of the individual over the needs of the organization.
Of course, more likely is that they just wanted a cool scene with a lot of dead ninjas, and I'm reading too much into the totally accidental correlation between the subtext of the finale and that of the characters involved. All in all, it's a thoroughly mediocre flick that I'd suggest you skip in favor of something better.