It goes wrong in the very title. “Assassin.” Can we get past this notion of the ninja cult of hired assassins? Some historians question if there ever was a documented assassination in Japan reliably credited to a shinobi agent. Why are we still leaning on that crutch? Are the more real and rich concepts of espionage, guerilla warfare and military intelligence so much harder to pull off than a cliche hooded hitman? Guess so…
Alright, so if we climb off the collective soapbox and take the assassin cult (yawn) at face value, does NA even hold up to it;s own rules and logic? Shit no. The cult itself for starters – orphans and kidnapped children raised in a remote fuedal-age compound (in what looks like Mordor) abused and beaten and scarred so badly in their training, it would hinder their martial skills as adults. The logic doesn’t stop breaking down from there in what has to be the most stupid and vacuous expenditure of martial arts movie dollars EVER IN ANY COUNTRY!
There’s much ado about NA‘s ninja being living shadows, with often lousy digital effects making their mastery of dark spaces an X-Men-like super power. But then all their weapons have CHROME FINISH.
This is an American studio production shot in Germany, starring a Korean, featuring Chinese martial arts, and one can rightfully make the complaint that it’s just not Japanese enough. The Chinese-based martial arts of NA have ZERO to do with ninjutsu or Japanese budo in general. It’s basically all twin darn-do broadsword techniques and wu-shu chain darts. Unarmed, it’s all high kicking Tae Kwon Do. And EVERYONE yells and screams before they attack, while they block and parry, basically at every opportunity they can to make the fights louder. Real masters of stealth.
The story… sorry, it’s been a few hours, and I can’t remember it. Or maybe there wasn’t one. NA instead leans on often humorous amounts of digitally generated gore to supposedly entertain. FAIL!
I guess if this thing wasn’t called “ninja” anything, I’d have no beef. Contending to the ninja genre gives it the high bar of 60’s Japanese cinema to live up to, but the results end up beneath even the 80’s American stuff. Sure, Enter the Ninja and The Octagon were dumb, but they were CHEAP and dumb, and thus were entertaining as hell pieces of exploitation that stand as cult classics. NA is EXPENSIVE AND DUMB, and in this economy, that just offends.
The pluses… Rain worked his ass off for this role, and misguided and non-ninja as it was, I give him props for effort. Sho Kosugi gets a beefy heel role (only his third by my count), and of course we’re all glad the father of western ninja flicks got a late-career payday.
Overall, Ninja Assassin is an empty, expensive jerk-off session that does nothing to add to the richness of the genre. It’s a wasted opportunity, and a discredit to it’s pedigree. Fuck this movie…
My recommendation is to take your $12 and instead put it toward THE BEST holiday rec I can possibly make this (or any other) year: Animeigo’s Shinobi-no-Mono box set! These films are the super-ego of the genre (see for yourself), and the term “must-own” isn’t just cliche here. If you don’t own S-n-M, you don’t know what a ninja movie is supposed to be (and are probably the exact market the NA folk were hoping to reach this weekend). So fight shinobi-ignorance and give the gift of this box set this holiday, even if it’s just to yourself.