Starring Rain, Naomie Harris, Sung Kang, Sho Kosugi, Rick Yune
Fight Choreography by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Directed by James McTeigue
In 2009, hot off the the Matrix Trilogy, the Wachowskis decided to apply their aesthetic to the world of ninjas, that old reliable world of the 80’s, and with a new star in South Korean pop singer Rain, they set out to redefine what a ninja movie could be, with a big budget and the latest in special effects…
The film opens with an attack on a local street gang, killed by a single ninja. Later we meet Raizo at a laundromat, who is immediately attacked by an assassin from a local clan, but he wins the battle. Meanwhile, a Europol investigator named Mika (Harris)starts to close in on the ninja clan. Soon Raizo and Mika meet, with Raizo thwarting his own clan in their attempted assassinations, and soon they are out to end his former clan once and for all.
Newcomer Rain does a fairly decent job as Raizo, but doesn’t really imbue the film with the star charisma it needs. Naomie Harris does an admirable job, but the two actors together don’t share any chemistry onscreen, and it hurts evert scene they are in together. Rick Yune isn’t in the film enough to really make an impression, so he is wasted here. Sho Kosugi as Lord Ozunu does standout more than the rest, and gives the film that martial arts “legitimacy” but just like Rick Yune he’s barely in the film enough to get a true sense of his villainy.
The film moves at a brisk pace, and there are problems with this. We never get to truly know Raizo except through flashbacks that don’t allow the audience to really feel anything for him or his plight. In this instance I believe the flashbacks hindered the film. The better choice is to either go linear to tell the story, or just let Raizo’s past be a mystery as we follow Mika on his adventure, with only hints as to the reason why he’s helping her.
So much CGI…too much, in fact. These ninjas look like something a superhero should fight, not someone in the real world regardless of skill. CGI throwing stars flash out like machine gun fire. CGI blood and guts, even CGI ninja movements. Just too much.
The first big fight scene..happens in the dark. No way to see how good the fight choreography is because I couldn’t make out what was happening. This is even more maddening during the Europol Building siege, and some parts are cool, but the camerawork is all over the place, with a deadly combo of quick cuts and shots that are zoomed in too close to truly see the action. It actually gets better when the fight goes into the street, with Raizo avoiding ninjas as well as cars, but it gets ridiculous when ninjas get hit with cars and just keep truckin’ along. The only fight with any real excitement, at least for me was the final fight with Sho Kosugi vs Rain. The background fire and scene framing reminded me of a video game, and the fight was good until Raizo went all Naruto in the fight, displaying a skill the movie had barely hinted at before. It was a silly way to end the fight, even if it was meant as a crowd-pleasing moment.
I get what they were trying to do with this film. They were trying to merge ninja films with modern day special effects, trying to make the ninjas as mystical as they pretended to be to the peasants in ancient Japan, but none of it really works.
Funny enough, there was another ninja movie that came out that year. It probably cost about the same amount of the craft services in this film but is a far superior ninja movie. That would be Ninja, with Scott Adkins…
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 5
A middling film that overloads itself with special effects with a story and hero that aren’t very interesting, and Sho Kosugi is truly wasted here in what was a misfire of a film.