Ninja Assassin is a 21st Century film that was produced by the Wachowski siblings, Directed by James McTeigue – Assistant Director of Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones, The Matrix trilogy, Director of V For Vendetta and The Raven – and the film stars Korean pop sensation Rain in the role of the main protagonist Raizo. Thus, on paper, Ninja Assassin sounds like it should be just another mainstream cinematic snooze fest full of cliches, pointless action scenes and poorly-written, ridiculous dialogue. For context, by 2009, the cinematic industry had grown weary of the Wachowski’s iconic style of overly dramatic, non-coherent storytelling combined with action scenes that make no logical sense, and the film version of V For Vendetta had become tired, outdated and despised by the author of the original comic. Ninja Assassin, however, is an astounding achievement of the action genre that puts a new breath of fresh air into the ‘Ninja’ genre of film which, by 2009, had become completely stale with the overabundance of terrible ninja films that were made by the infamous Godfrey Ho during the 1980’s. Ninja Assassin is a film that retains a lot of the familiar ‘Hollywood’ styling: pristine aesthetics with ‘comic book’ style action sequences, which are very indicative of the Wachowskis and McTeigue. However, unlike other Wachowski/McTeigue projects, Ninja Assassin delivers copious amounts of blood, gore and adrenaline pumping, ‘video game’ style action sequences which gives Ninja Assassin it’s own identity amongst the flood of polished action films released in the 2000’s.
Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that Ninja Assassin has the Wachowski’s fingerprints all over the film’s story. Like other Wachowski projects, Ninja Assassin tries to tell the stories of multiple characters at once: Mika the forensic agent and Raizo the ninja outcast. The film flits between characters and flashbacks throughout the entire film. As a result, Ninja Assassin is quite a clumsily written film with scenes of wonky, unbelievable dialogue and painfully obvious foreshadowing. The film’s plot is abundant with scenes that go nowhere and characters who do absolutely nothing to further the plot: for example, one major crux of the story revolves around the story of Kiriko, Raizo’s love interest. However, after watching the film, I’ve come to the realization that Kiriko and her relationship with Raizo bears absolutely no impact on the plot, and I feel that her short story-line was ultimately a completely pointless waste of time. This technique of ‘introducing potential characters only to have them wasted and become ultimately pointless’ is, sadly, quite indicative of a Wachowski picture; it ruined The Matrix trilogy and especially ruined Jupiter Ascending, and it’s a huge problem with the story of Ninja Assassin. However, it’s not the only flaw, the representation of ninja in Ninja Assassin is very strange and slightly xenophobic. The ninjas in Ninja Assassin, especially the antagonist ninjas clad in black shozoku, are portrayed as supernatural demons instead of actual ninjas: the ninjas talk in unintelligible whispers, have the ability to teleport and are even referenced as ‘demons’ by one character at the beginning of the film. At one point in Ninja Assassin, the film decides to portray the ninjas like xenomorphs from the Alien franchise because of the similar way they move, strike and stick to the walls, ready to leap down and tear soldiers limb from limb. This representation of ninjas is far too removed from reality that it’s almost insulting to Japanese culture, but the film uses this odd representation to it’s advantage by creating some absolutely mind-blowing, over-the-top ninja action scenes.
The action scenes in Ninja Assassin are the film’s primary focus. Utilizing CGI, wire manipulation, and sleek choreography, the film’s fight scenes are a pure adrenaline rush. With multiple weapons, ninja superpowers, intimidating villains, kung fu flips and flying kicks, the action sequences of Ninja Assassin feel less like movie sequences and more like fight scenes from video games such as Assassin’s Creed and Ninja Gaiden. However, to enhance the fight scenes, and give the film a visceral impact, Ninja Assassin is incredibly gory. The film contains copious amount of blood, decapitation and dismemberment from beginning to end. Although the film’s gory deaths utilize a lot of obvious CGI, Ninja Assassin more than makes up for the lack of practical effects with an abundance of over-the-top scenes of mutilation that come hard and fast during the film’s mesmerizing fight sequences. Although, Ninja Assassin makes a point of avoiding one on one ninja fights, and instead fight scenes always incorporate hefty amounts of ninjas all ready to be sliced and diced by the protagonist for a viewer’s enjoyment. As a result, I definitely believe that Ninja Assassin is possibly the bloodiest film that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t fall under the Horror genre.
All in all, I really enjoyed watching Ninja Assassin. The film does have it’s flaws, many of which come from the clumsy writing and stunted storytelling, but the action sequences more than make up for the film’s flaws. Ninja Assassin is memorable slice of ninja cinema and it’s much better than anything else that the Wachowskis had a hand in making, that includes Lana Wachowski’s comic book entries. In conclusion, I whole-heartedly recommend Ninja Assassin, even if it’s just for the action sequences alone. It’s better than any other ninja movie I’ve seen thus far, and although it pales in comparison to traditional ‘Hollywood’ movies, I believe the discerning gore-hound would get a real kick out of seeing Ninja Assassin as much as I do.