Starring Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii
Fight Choreography by Akahiro Noguchi
Directed by Isaac Florentine
After toiling away in DTV films and rising up, going from thug#3 to badass thug #1 to lead henchman and finally to main bad guy, Scott Adkins has paid his dues. Thanks to Undisputed 2 Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White scored a hit film that brought them to the fore of martial arts films, and showed that Isaac Florentine is the best director for English-speaking martial arts films anywhere. Adkins and Florentine team up once again to bring us Ninja in Adkins’ first starring role. So does he hit or miss as a leading man?
In my humble opinion, Hell Yeah, He’s a Hit.
Adkins stars as Casey Bowman, an American orphan in Japan who was taken in by a ninja dojo, and raised there by the Sensei. Now an adult, and old enough to become a Soke (master of the dojo) if his Sensei deems him worthy, is also in love with the Sensei’s daughter Namiko, which irks his chief rival, Masazuka, to no end, primary because he’s a dick of incredible proportions who wants control of the dojo, Namiko, and the Yoroi Bitsu, the last set of ninja armor and weapons from the Koga ninja clan that is centuries old.
Since we know Masazuka is a little bitch you know he’d have to try to start some shit with Casey, and he does so during a sparring match with Casey, which is a fantastic fight that spirals out of control when Masazuka escalates the violence by attacking Casey with a real sword, which brings him dishonor to the clan, and the Sensei expels Masazuka, who is cast out in disgrace. We then fast forward to “some time later” and we meet a cult that looks like a group of reject bad guys from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dressing like they shopped the bargain bin at Hot Topic, and they are using Masazuka’s skills as a ninja to off their rivals, and we get an example of this in Russia, where we get cool, bloody scene of Masazuka assassinating an oil magnate who is making a merger deal with another oil company.
Soon Masazuka turns his attentions to the dojo, and returns, threatening the school that he would have the Yoroi Bitsu. The Sensei, knowing this crazy jackass means it, sends the Yoroi Bitsu, along with his daughter and Casey to New York to be taken in by a University professor friend of the Sensei’s. Sure enough Masazuka arrives at the dojo, and in a thrilling, well-choreographed weapons fight in the rain, Masazuka kills over a dozen of the students, and finally the Sensei himself, and learns the whereabout of the Yoroi Bitsu, and with the help of the Temple Cult, goes after it, and Casey is the only one who can stop him…
Folks, this is a really fun, comic-booky kind of ninja film. Some things, like the Temple cult, are ridiculous, but we know they are there for Casey to beat up on, which he does, and does well. The fights range from good to great, and the best fight is the Temple fight with Casey beating down over fifteen guys, and his final fight with Masazuka and the Temple thugs. The choreography is fast and fluid, with the best of the Hong Kong films, and Adkins proves he’s up to the challenge. He has this rare mixture of grace and speed, as well as acrobatics and strength. His acting is okay, and I would place that on the same level as a Jean Claude Van Damme or Seagal. In other words, just fine for a martial arts film. You may also recognize the jacket he’s wearing. It’s the same jacket Hugh Jackman wore in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Adkins did the stunt double work for both Wolverine and Weapon X.
Casey’s final fight with Masazuka featured a bit more wirework than I would have liked, but fits the comic book nature of the film. Tsuyoshi Ihara is great as the slimy villain, and arguably does a better acting job than Adkins. It should be noted that Ihara is the star pupil of legendary martial arts screen fighter Yasuaki Kurata (Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Heroes of the East)
You may also recognize Fumio Demura who plays Shihan Dei. He did all of the stuntwork for Pat Morita in the Karate Kid films, and performs great here, even having a few fight scenes for himself.
Florentine continues his great run with fantastic camera work, knowing where to have the scene edited and shots long choreographed scenes. He understands what martial arts film fans want to see, and gives it to them as much as possible.
If you want a fun, not so serious ninja film, with good fight choreography and a rising star in Scott Adkins, you’ve found it!
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) This is some great stuff here. Noguchi has the fights going at Hong Kong speed, and is fluid and simple yet complex at the same time.
STUNTWORK: (7) These guys really tossed themselves around and took a couple of nasty drops. Adkins has a lot of acrobatic scenes and Ihara has some good stuff here, too. Bear in mind that many of the stunts in the dojo attack scenes were performed by real black belts.
STAR POWER: (9) Scott Adkins jumps right alongside the best English-speaking action stars, and Ihara is just starting, and he looks to be a force on his own in the future.
FINAL GRADE:(9) A great ninja film that is fun and full of great fights, and a good hint that things to come for Scott Adkins and Tyoshi Ihara. Note to Hollywood: Give Scott Adkins a great action role! This guy is ready to be a star!