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Posted: December 09, 2009

Dave on film: “Ninja Assassin” is bloody entertaining

Dave Taylor

There are a lot of great films coming out as we head into the final stretch of 2009, partially because of the Academy Awards: you can't win an award in 2009 if your film doesn't hit at least one major screen before the year ends. Coming up are Up In The Air, Nine, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar - lots of great films! This week, though, we'll look at a movie that isn't going to be in the running for Best Picture but is still entertaining in its own way.

REVIEW: Ninja Assassin

The extraordinarily violent Ninja Assassin opens with a tough guy Yakuza gang leader having a tattoo inked on his back by a mysterious old man who talks about the four noble professions, the five rings and other cliché Japanese cultural mumbo-jumbo. A henchman enters the lair and announces "I got something for ya, boss". It's an envelope, full of black sand.

The old man (Randall Duk Kim) says he's seen it before, and last time everyone was then slaughtered by ninjas. Seconds later - surprise! - ninja assassins appear and everyone in the the room is graphically, methodically slaughtered. The "splattered blood on the wall" motif is also established in this first scene.

Cut to Berlin and the headquarters of Europol, where forensic researcher, Mika (Naomie Harris) is explaining to her skeptical boss Maslow (Ben Miles) that she's uncovered a trail of assassinations that appear to have been committed by modern day ninjas. "Wait a minute," he responds, "What word doesn't belong in this sentence: laptop, space shuttle, nano technology, ninja?"

But the ninja clans are real and they operate by stealing children and training them to be vicious little killing machines willing to beat each other to death, all in the name of honoring their new family. Yeah, insert "kung fu movie cliché here".

One young boy, Raizo (Korean star Rain), proves to be more talented than any of his peers, but also more troubled, and he eventually, and inevitably, falls for a beautiful young female ninja trainee Kiriko (Linh Dan Pham).

Much of the film is told in Raizo's flashbacks, memories of training to be a Ozunu black sand clan ninja and, eventually, turning on them when he refuses to kill a defenseless woman in cold blood.

The action in the film takes a while to get going after that first violent scene, but once it starts, it really doesn't stop. I lost track of how many bodies are scattered to the ground as the Western Europol cops with guns versus the black pajama'd ninjas battle from place to place, leaving rivers of blood and no wall unspattered. Yes, it's pretty darn violent, and then some.

But it's also fairly entertaining and some of the set pieces, including the battle between Raizo and his arch-enemy and fellow ninja Takeshi (Rick Yune), are pretty darn impressive. Sure, there are some confusing elements, like how Takeshi is slammed off his feet by a car in Berlin, just to show up next scene back in Japan, unharmed, but maybe it's just that amazing ninja ability to heal yourself (and, presumably, catch plane flights while bleeding)?

If you're expecting Ninja Assassin to be a thoughtful film that explores the nuances of a society built around the twin pillars of honor and violence, this is not it. If you're just looking for a rollicking good time, a kung fu film with all the sensibilities of The Matrix, then you've found a good guilty pleasure movie. And that's no surprise: from the director to the producer to many of the f/x and production team, this is the same group who worked with the Wachowski brothers (Larry and Andy) to bring the Matrix trilogy to the big screen too.

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Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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