Archive for Ninjas

Review: Ninja Assassin (2009)

Posted in Rain, Rick Yune, Sho Kosugi with tags , on January 18, 2019 by Michael S. Moore

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. 

 

 

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Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Posted in Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christopher Lambert, JJ Perry, Keith Cooke, Reviews, Robin Shou with tags , , , on February 9, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Robin Shou, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (CHT), Christopher Lambert, Keith Cooke (cameo), Bridgette Wilson, Linden Ashby

Fight Choreography by Pat E. Johnson

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

For martial arts fans in the US, the early and mid 90’s were rough. Unless you knew a buddy who got the bootleg stuff from Hong Kong and Japan, you were left with Steven Seagal with the ever-expanding waistline, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, master of the ass shots and splits. In other words you were shit out of luck. There was cool martial arts to be found in video games, with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat leading the way. Hollywood thought they would both make a good film, and they were half-right. Little did we know that Jackie Chan was about to change US cinema forever with Rumble in the Bronx a year later, but at that time we were given Mortal Kombat…

The film opens following three characters: Liu Kang (Shou), who wants to avenge the death of his brother Chen by the murderous Shang Tsung (CHT), Sonya Blade (Wilson) who is hunting a smuggler who killed her brother and has lured her into the tournament, and Johnny Cage (Ashby) a Van Damme-like movie star who enters the tournament to prove he’s the real deal. They make their way to an island owned by Shang Tsung (doesn’t the plot remind you of another martial arts classic?), and meet his fearsome fighters: Sub-Zero, a ninja who has perfected a freezing technique, and Scorpion, a ninja returned from the dead with a grapple claw and fire breath, which I hear is standard fare for all resurrected ninjitsu warriors. They also have to face Goro, a six-armed 7 foot tall muppet, and Reptile, a lizard who can transform into a ninja fighter. They are all from another dimension called Outworld, ruled by their master Shao Khan.

Our heroes are aided by Princess Kitana (Soto), the former ruler of Outworld, and Rayden (Lambert), the god of Thunder and Lightening, worshipped by the chinese monks for being a god of Thunder and Lightening. And a kung-fu master. And French. Liu Kang and his new friends soon find out they aren’t just fighting in a tournament, but are fighting for the fate of Earth, and each of them learn a valuable lesson about themselves in the process.

Yes, this is truly a silly film, but it’s still fun, probably one of the better video game adaptations done. They rip off the plot for Enter the Dragon wholesale, but hey, someone was going to eventually. Robin Shou does okay for Lui Kang, but his acting leaves a lot to be desired. His fighting isn’t so great either. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not bad. His kung-fu is technically good, but he doesn’t have the grace and speed of Donnie, Jackie or Jet. Everyone else is cut from that same Hollywood cloth of actors who don’t really know any martial arts but has a lot of stunt people doing it for them. In the case of Johnny Cage some of the stunts are done by JJ Perry, the fight choreographer fromUndisputed 2, and Blood and Bone, and Keith Cooke, he of China O’Brien.

The fights themselves are either pretty good or really weak. Sonya Blade’s fight is really weak, but Lui Kang versus Sub-zero and Reptile is pretty damn good. The best, in my opinion, is the fight between Johnny Cage and Scorpion. That has a great fight in Scorpion’s lair, with really good choreography, the best in the film. CHT brings the villany as he always does, and gives a decent fight to Lui Kang at the end of the film, but his-and Lambert’s scene chewing are the best moments of the film, aside from one last thing:

The Music. George S Clinton brought techno music to the attention of pop culture after being in the underground scene for years. Suddenly we became aware of acts like Orbital, Utah Saints, Massive Attack, Juno Reactor, and more. The Mortal Kombat theme itself wants to make you get up and smack someone. Think not? Listen to this:

Makes you want to jump up and give someone a tornado kick to the face! If anything, this film was a good mix of old school martial arts and special effects that had good and weak moments for both, but overall is an enjoyable film, but the soundtrack makes the film better than it actually is.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Good choreography for an American film, and could have been better if the actual stars of the film outside of Robin Shou and CHT (I don’t think he knows much) actually knew martial arts.

STUNTWORK: (8) These guys had to hold up the actors who didn’t know martial arts and did a good job at doing so. The guy wearing the Goro suits deserved a raise.

STAR POWER:(6) CHT is money in the bank as always, and Christopher Lambert is always a treat. Robin Shou doesn’t have the charisma to be a big star. Everyone else is fairly forgettable. Some of the stuntmen in the film went on to bigger and better things.

FINAL GRADE: (7) One of the best video game adaptations ever, which is faint praise, but is a good check-your-brain-at-the-door film for martial arts film buffs.