Sunday, April 11, 2010

Movie: Ninja Assassin

I remember last fall, when I saw a trailer for Ninja Assassin. I thought to myself, "That looks like it could be a lot of over-the-top fun." Oh, how wrong I was.

The basic premise of the movie is muddled, to say the least. What appears to be the plot is that ninja clans have existed for centuries, and in the modern world they sell their services as assassins to the highest bidder. Two Europol agents have begun investigating the possible connections between these rumors and various assassinations, a path which eventually leads them to join up with Raizo, a rogue ninja who betrayed his clan and is now hunted by them. It seems that in the ninja world, forgiveness is not a common virtue.

During his ninja training, Raizo (Korean pop sensation Rain) learned all sorts of nifty things, like moving silently, hiding in shadows, how to use ninja weapons like shurikens, and of course, how to heal himself using the power of meditation. He was beaten for failures and praised for not dying after his master caused internal hemorrhaging with his fingers.

This movie suffers from the same problem I felt befell Ong Bak 2 (not reviewed here): trying to be a film when its primary audience mostly wants to see a bunch of cool fight scenes with something tying them together. What's worse, the bizarre directorial choices resulted in most of the ninja fights being filmed in very low lighting, so you can't see them very well anyway. Now, it's explained early on that ninjas always take out lights before attacking (and apparently are afraid of it?), so one can almost rationalize it in that sense. But seriously, why put all the ninja attacks in the dark?

There are a lot of inconsistencies and leaps of faith in the movie that don't follow from earlier scenes, like a group of ninjas running down a road in full view of the driving public trying to get Raizo. For a secret clan that attacks from the shadows and leaves no trace, they seem awfully comfortable parading around in their pajamas and waving swords.

Rain is about the only character worth watching. The female lead is so annoyingly Commando's Rae Dawn Chong that I was rooting for her to die. Her fellow Europol agent has very little to say or do, and the only other character of note is Raizo's master. Suitably sinister, but stuck on a single voice inflection, he is pretty one-dimensional. Any character progression that takes place happens when Raizo is still in training. After that, everyone pretty much ends up with the same outlook on life as they did going in.

The ninja way is on full violent display here, as people get hacked up pretty regularly and with lots of blood. Unfortunately, the blood is overdone as apparently every square inch of a person's body contains a major artery, and the most violent scenes are in the opening. The fight choreography is good enough, mostly because of this great weapon whose name may or may not exist; it's simply a curved blade on a chain, and it's used to devastating effect in the movie.

I think that what ultimately doomed this movie for me was that I asked this question: How can a movie called Ninja Assassin be so boring?