Like all great ninja movies “Ninja Assassin” (maybe the best movie title this year) is about revenge. Raised by the Ozunu Clan on a ninja farm run by the evil master (Shô Kosugi) Raizo (Korean pop star Rain) breaks free from his clan after the brutal murder of one of his fellow ninja disciples. He spends his days training and plotting revenge. Meanwhile in Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) is tracking a series of ninja murders that seem to be linked to the Ozunu Clan. Together they may be able to take down the evil ninjas, exacting justice and revenge!
“Ninja Assassin” is an amplified version of the cheapo ninja films of the 1980s. It has all the earmarks of the classics of the genre like “Enter the Ninja” and “Pray for Death,” that is: stiff acting, loads of mysticism, slow motion fight scenes, a simplistic good vs. evil plot and buckets of blood. In fact the blood budget on “Ninja Assassin” could finance well, dozens of other, more worthwhile endeavors. The special effects are better than in the earlier films, but for all intents and purposes this could be a relic from the heyday of ninjitsu flicks. It even co-stars Shô Kosugi, the godfather of the modern ninja film.
The term slice-and-dice hardly does the carnage on display in “Ninja Assassin” justice. There are more blades flying here than in that Slap Chop infomercial with the Shamwow guy. The first unbelievably bloody killing happens about three minutes in and is followed by a body count that would make Rambo envious.
Go for the action, which is pretty much state-of-the-ninja-art. There’s nothing here that rivals Quentin Tarantino’s House of the Blue Leaves sequence in “Kill Bill” for sheer manic fun, but when the throwing stars are flying and the blood is squirting, “Ninja Assassin” is a lot a hoot, it’s only when the characters start talking that things get dull. Partly it’s the wooden acting, but mostly it’s because the screenwriters feel they have to over-explain everything. When Raizo helps Mika escape from the marauding ninjas heading her way, he explains they can follow her scent. He tells her to undress, shower without soap and change into new clothes. It’s pretty clear what’s happening, but in the world of “Ninja Assassin” his obvious instructions lead her to ask, “This is for our scent, right?” Yes genius, it is. Everyone in the theatre knew and so should you.
It’s a dark movie—both in tone and visually—but there is the odd laugh here and there. There are visual ninja jokes—a car parked at a no-tell motel parking lot, riddled with dozens of throwing stars, is hilarious—and when a government official says of Raizo, “He doesn’t look like a killing machine to me, he looks like he belongs in a boy band,” it raises a laugh given star Rain’s background as a pop star.
Despite some silly dialogue and low light action—ninjas exist in the shadows, we’re told, so all the fight scenes are shot in the dark and it is sometimes hard to tell what is going on—“Ninja Assassin” is bloody good fun, emphasis on the bloody.