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Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin

CIA analyst Mika (Naomie Harris) discovers that ninjas still exist in the modern world, employed by various governments as trained assassins. Can she survive an onslaught of ninjas sent to silence her? Who is the apparently rogue ninja, Raiko? Is he friend or foe?

Director James McTeigue delivers crazy non-stop ninja mayhem with Ninja Assassin. Rogue ninja Raizo (played by the singularly named 'Rain') must protect Mika from the black pajama-wearing assassins he once called his family. Can Raizo stop them?

Put on your black pajamas and your black tabi socks, because Ninja Assassin rides the ninja theme about as hard as 'The Real World' rode the word 'real' -- really, really hard. This is the most Hollywood representation of ninja-ness that I've seen, with ninjas being presented more like supernatural killers, and less like highly-trained martial artists who specialize in deception. McTeigue dispenses almost entirely with the historical reality of ninjutsu, instead focusing on the ninja's violent coolness. Every single scene of the film grabs you by the collar and shouts "Ninja" into your face.

Ninja Assassin has got to be one of the most violent movies I've ever seen (and that's saying a lot) producing minute-for-minute more human salsa than three horror movies combined. Limbs are lopped, heads spin off necks, and the blood? Well, ordinary blood special effects won't do for Ninja Assassin, which actually opts to use digital effects to make the blood even bloodier, adding digitally rendered arterial spurts to the action. Even the weapons are digitally enhanced, with the whirling sickle-shaped blades seemingly coming out of the screen.

Gone is the ninja of older movies that strangled silently, or put a single well-placed blade in an enemy's back. No, these ninjas pull people up into the darkened rafters of a building by a chain and moments later the victim's dismembered limbs rain down onto the floor. They're not ninjas, they're human cuisinarts!

These ninjas display all the ninja trappings that audiences will expect. They throw ninja stars (shuriken) but they throw an awful lot of them. And not with much accuracy either at times. Mika's car ends up studded by dozens of shuriken during one escape sequence -- they couldn't hit her? They are able to sneak about quite well, however. But even that ninja skill doesn't avoid digital enhancement. The ninjas simply vanish (digitally) at times. In one scene Mika watches two ninjas fight in a dark room, waving her flashlight across the room, and as the swath of light moves around the ninjas actually disappear and re-appear.

But these are not especially quiet ninjas. There is the obligatory scene in which an apparently empty room suddenly has ninjas stepping out from concealment, but at other times the ninjas do a lot of whispering, like the old 'kill-kill-kill-die-die-die' whispering from the Friday the 13th movies! Stupid ninjas, hush! Didn't they teach you that in ninja school -- be quiet? Geez!

Speaking of ninja school, it's pretty harsh. The ninja master buys orphans and then trains them to 'hate all weakness in others, and most especially in yourself' by forcing them to spar, caning their feet or slashing their faces when they disobey. It's no wonder that Raizo, the heroic rogue ninja, decides to abandon his clan. Raizo loved a fellow female student, who showed mercy to an opponent (remember, no weakness!) and her face is slashed by the master ninja.

When she decides to climb over the wall and escape, she asks Raizo to come with her, but he refuses. She is caught, and publicly killed by another student as punishment. The final straw comes when, after Raizo's first successful assassination (a brutal experience reminiscient of James Bond's first assassination from Casino Royale), he is commanded to kill another former student who tried to escape -- a woman. He attacks his master and barely escapes with his life.

The over-the-top violence will turn some people off, but others will love watching the hot ninja-on-ninja action. I confess to shouting 'Ninja! NIN-JAH!!!!' a few times while watching Ninja Assassin and laughing. The fight choreography is rather good -- Raizo fights off dozens of ninjas at once, and he gets the living daylights beaten out of him.

There's an interesting dynamic in the fight scenes in that the evil ninja are all very cool, collected and deliberate in their fighting while Raiko is very Pulp Fiction -- all gritted super-white teeth, snarling. He's passionately fighting for something, and the rest of them are just soulless murderers.

The silliest, most non-ninja part of the movie is when Raizo is being pursued by ninjas on a crowded nighttime street. Would ninja really do that? Chase someone out onto the street? Now, if I were a ninja (I'm not saying I am, if I were I would hardly reveal it here) I would slink back into the shadows after I missed my chance.

But no, these ninjas just sprint over the double-yellow line into oncoming traffic. So are people in their cars pointing, agog and watching the ninja jump over cars, etc?

Commuter #1: (swerves) "Damn ninjas!"
Commuter #2: "I hear if you hit one you get to keep the carcass."
Commuter #1: "Yeah, the meat's a bit gamey, but if you season it right..."

The plotting and action are surprisingly good for such a violent movie. The main character, Raizo, is interesting even if he doesn't speak very much. The ninjas are compelling, especially the idea that they're all orphans with a fanatical loyalty to their respective clans. All in all, one of the better martial arts movies I've seen. There's just enough plot here to keep the action moving, and the plot slowly reveals the characters' motivations over time, but ultimately the plot serves as a background canvas on which to paint the action; in bright fountains of arterial red.

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