Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review: Ninja Assassin

My younger brother Drew is a student at British Columbia's Simon Frasier University. About a month ago, I received this cryptic Facebook wall post from him:

"I saw Ninja Assassain [sic] at the VIFF [Vancouver International Film Festival] today. Best movie ever."

Drew and I have similar enough movie tastes to the point where if he recommends something, I'll give it a chance. If he refers to a schlocky ninja movie from the Wachowski Siblings (Larry's a woman now, right?) as the "best movie ever", it's likely that it's at least worth seeing.

Little brother did not disappoint me. There's been a serious dearth of ninja movies in recent years on this side of the Pacific...in fact I can't think of the last ninja movie I saw. I don't think there's been a straight-up ninja movie in this country since Ronald Reagan was president and that's a damn shame. What have our nation's 11-year-old boys been doing for entertainment? Jenkem? Ninja Assassin is the best thing to happen to the boyhood sleepover in twenty years: just add some Mountain Dew and Cheetos and you've got yourself a party!

Ninja Assassin has a plot as straightforward as they come. Raizo, played by South Korean pop star Rain, is a ninja assassin (aren't all ninjas assassins?) who rebels against his cruel sensei (Sho Kosugi!) and begins a one ninja war against his clan. There's also a couple of Europol agents (one of whom is American for some reason) trying to track down the ninjas but that's really not important. What is important is that the ninjas fight and bleed a lot.

Ninja Assassin might be one of the goriest mainstream movies I've seen in a long time. The blood is unfortunately mostly CGI and this, a couple of slow motion fight scenes, and sequences of children brutalizing each other make it bear a striking resemblance to 300. In spite of it's computer generated handicap, the sheer absurdity of the ninja kills more than makes up for any newfangled technological interference. Limbs are lost, blood spurts for record distances, and heads are cut in half if they aren't severed entirely. It's great. If someone tells you this movie looks crappy or that it has ridiculous dialogue, don't listen to them: throw down your money for a matinee and prepare for the most blood-soaked hour and a half of the decade.

Having said that, you should be warned that the script is atrocious. It was written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski (who had a run on Amazing Spider-Man that started out pretty good in 2001 but ended in 2007 with Spider-Man becoming the magical avatar of the Spider God and making a deal with the Devil to save Aunt May's life in exchange for erasing his marriage to Mary Jane and retconning all the sitcky situations Straczynski had written the series into over the years- like Peter revealing his secret identity to the public during Civil War though supposedly this was editor-in-chief Joe "the Enemy" Quesada's doing and wasn't really his fault) in the span of just two days. Comic nerd ramblings aside, this all just means that whenever a character says something that isn't "You have dishonored our clan!", "KILL HIIIIIIIIM!", or "HAI-KIBA!" it's practically a war crime. Do your best to try and ignore the police procedural subplot and anything that doesn't directly involve katanas, shurikens, or kusarigama; you'll have a much better time that way.

Before I say anything else, this movie deserves big props for a discussion of fourteenth-century Muslim historian and traveler Ibn Battuta.

When I saw this movie at a midnight show, my friends and I sat in front of a row of about 3 or 4 young Asian women. I was a bit surprised to see a group of girls out so late to see a hyper-violent B-movie, and then Rain took his shirt off (and took his shirt off, and took his shirt off, and took his shirt off...) and the squeals became audible across the entire theater. The Wachowskis seem to be doing their damndest to make Rain a crossover success in the United States, he's something like the Asian Justin Timberlake for lack of a better description. Maybe this and Speed Racer aren't the best means of bringing the Korean hunk into the American consciousness but I still think this movie ruled. Though for all of Ninja Assassin's merits, Ninja Scroll remains the best ninja movie of all time.

If the sound of a ninja movie is of any interest to you, get yourself to Ninja Assassin: it's like a throwing star of awesome right in your jugular. Now if only this was the movies's theme song...

Final verdict: 56 Congos