This was also written in a McDonalds in Matamata. I had some time to kill, clearly
First Viewing 31 August, 2010
Rating: 5.5 Bad/Acceptable
A film that makes no pretensions of quality, Ninja Assassins uses an entirely parenthetical plot to showcase some slickly produced (if occasionally muddled) action sequences that make full use of a budget that clearly wasn’t high. While no one who watches this movie expects a Chinatown-level screenplay, the writing isn’t actually as bad as I expected going in. In all, Ninja Assassin is a passable motion picture that entertains even as it is forgotten.
For what it’s worth, the plot centers around the premise that nine superpowerd ninja clans have been carrying out assassinations for the past thousand years for anyone who can afford their steep price of a hundred pounds of gold (why they need nine large clans when one ninja is more that enough to assassinate anyone short of Chuck Norris isn’t dwelled on). The movie begins in the present day with the (needlessly) graphic execution of a Yakuza cell, which segues into the main plot. It seems a junior, and inexplicably American, agent at an Interpol expy has a crazy theory about ninjas that her superiors laugh away. She comes up with some evidence, though, that is convincing enough that her boss decides she might not be completely off her rocker. Of course, somehow the ninjas learn that she’s onto them and go after her. Fortunately for her, the agent is protected by a defector (played by Korean actor/model/pop star/nuclear physicist Raine) who became disillusioned with the ninja life after his girlfriend was killed for desertion. Or something.
Again, the plot doesn’t matter much, which is good because it really doesn’t make any sense. That said, it also doesn’t dwell on exposition more than absolutely necessary, which prevents the movie from getting in its own way. The only exception is the flashback scenes to Raine’s childhood in the secret Ninja compound. The scenes of his at times brutal training are interesting enough, but the rest of it, which sets up young Raine’s ill-fated love interest, is dull. The rest of the plot, in the present-day, is quickly paced and even contains a few minor surprises. In other words, it reaches the minimum level of competence for a movie of this sort, even if only just. Something similar could be said of the acting which, while hardly good, also manages to avoid being distractingly bad.
Of course, the reason anyone is going to see this movie is for the action scenes, which promise high-octane ninja action. Do they deliver? The short answer is yes, mostly. The fight scenes are fun enough to watch, with shurikens whizzing through the air (and making noises suspiciously similar to bullets) and people being relieved of their limbs left and right (pun not intended, but embraced anyways). In a nice break from simple sword-fighting, Raine fights mostly with a novel blade-chain combo that I’m sure has a name somewhere.
The problem, though, is that the film places most of the fights in very dimly lit areas. While this may make some sense vis-à-vis ninjas, it also makes a number of the fights somewhat muddled. The film climaxes with a fight in a relatively well-lit burning building, and it is no coincidence that this one is the easiest to follow and probably the most entertaining. I also feel I should mention that the movie takes gleeful delight in gore, to the point were it becomes very nearly self-parody at times (which may have been the intention). While fairly unrealistic and harmless, it is possible that the sheer volume of shredded flesh may deter some viewers.
So what is Ninja Assassins? Escapist fun. Watch it, enjoy it, and then forget about it forever and you’ve done the movie justice.