Ninja Assassin is not a straight up horror film. It is a neo-grindhouse, martial arts action flick infused with horror elements. The stylized violence is amongst the most brutal I’ve seen from an action picture in recent years. Buckets of stage blood are spilled throughout the course of the feature and copious amounts of CG blood were added in postproduction for good measure. The CGI is obviously CGI and looks a little out of place but I eventually grew accustomed to it. There are too many death scenes to count but each of them is sufficiently brutal and laden with an exceptional amount of gore.
Ninja Assassin stars Korean pop star Rain as Raizo, a man on the lam. The clan of ninjas that raised him is pursuing him with intent of doing him harm. He has separated himself from the organization and now has a bounty on his head. With the help of a government agent, he works to evade his former peers and stay alive in spite of repeated attempts on his life.
The film’s screenplay is based around a conspiracy theory regarding ninjas on the government’s payroll. The seemingly farfetched theory ends up being quite correct. The underlying storyline about a clan of ninjas manages to be more entertaining than I would have predicted. It allows for copious amounts of violence and ample battle scenes. The relationship between Raizo and the government agent also makes for an interesting subplot.
James McTeigue directed Ninja Assassin. It is co-written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (World War Z). McTeigue worked on the Matrix films and that is evident in his directorial aesthetic. The plentiful action scenes are highly stylized and reminiscent of those in The Matrix without being derivative. McTeigue masterfully paints a dark aesthetic that is fitting to the film’s somber tone.
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The fight scenes and the brutal violence are the primary focus here. However, that’s not to say that the acting is bad. In fact, it is pretty okay for the type of film it is. Rain turns in a much better performance than I would have expected from a pop star turned actor. And Naomie Harris (28 Days Later) is quite capable in her turn as the female lead.
The biggest problem I have with Ninja Assassin is that some of the exposition is a bit clunky. It’s delivered by way of flashbacks throughout the feature. And the flashbacks are not always integrated very gracefully. It would have better served the picture to group the retrospective sequences into one segment, rather than scattering them throughout in what seems like totally random order. The clumsy exposition proves to be a distraction at times. But it’s ultimately more of a nuisance than a major issue.
One of the best things about Ninja Assassin is the raw, visceral, and unrestrained approach it takes to violence. The body count is innumerable. And each death scene is expertly choreographed. The high level of violence harkens back to the martial arts exploitation films of the ‘70s. But thanks to advancements in technology, Ninja Assassin is able to up the ante by way of technological advancements and a considerably larger budget.
If you have not yet seen Ninja Assassin, it is a ferocious, action packed, good time. The fight scenes are skillfully choreographed and the film as a whole is quite entertaining. It is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray release boasts several informative featurettes as well as a few deleted scenes.
Director(s): James McTeigue
Writer(s): Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles
Studio/ Production Co: Warner Brothers
Budget: $40 Million
Length: 98 Minutes