10 Things I love about Isaac Florentine’s NINJA

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Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp. Deep Impact vs. Armageddon. Films rushed out ahead of bigger budgeted studio tentpoles that ended up being better, more satifying and in general more FUN films. Its happened again (albeit a little late in this country) as Isaac Florentine‘s throwback Ninja kicks all kinds of ass over last year’s forgettable and regrettable Ninja Assassin.

Ninja Assassin took itself way too seriously, had poorly filmed fights and was too slick for its own good. It looked expensive, but in what was an ultimately dumb movie, you end up resenting that bigger budget feel. I can’t remember liking much of any of it, save for Sho Kosugi’s big screen comeback.

Exploitation films are a guilty pleasure to many because they are cheap and fun as hell, and what money they do have is spent in the right places – hiring more stunt guys and martial artists and blowing more shit up. When Golan-Globus beat the big studio development of Eric Van Lustbader’s The Ninja to the screen with Enter the Ninja, they proved how little money the genre needed to totally work (and the proposed major studio project never went anywhere as a result).

Fast forward three decades and here we are with Ninja, a throwback romp full of weapons fights and black costumes. Damn if it isn’t as warming to my soul as the 80’s Canon fare was back in the day. As a lover of that 80’s clamshell VHS and late-night cable period, as well as 90’s direct-to-video fare, I have to salute this film’s fighting spirit!

Here’s ten reasons to buy/rent/stream this thing NOW:

(images ©Nu Image / First Look Studios)

1.) Illustrated pre-credits and a logo using shuriken as one of the letters

The graphic designer side of me gives thumbs up all around.

2.) Scott Adkins – MARTIAL ARTS ACTION STAR!

He's 'Casey' - American ninja student in Japan. In an age of mainstream actors and pop stars being digitally composited into wire-assisted fight scenes, Adkins is what the genre needs again - a real fucking karate guy on screen! Seems like he works out on occasion, too...

3.) Cute-as-a-button Mika Hijii

She's the hot daughter of the dojo's sensei. When the school's #1 Japanese student (Tsuyoshi Ihara) sees Casey making the moves, whadda ya think is gonna happen? Hijii is a real trooper in this, getting thrown around like a 90's HK heroine. Her posing is excellent and she blends seamlessly with her stunt double in some very nice action scenes.

4.) Wait a minute… is that Fumio Demura!?!?

I marked out for not only a training sequence cameo but a full-on fight scene with legendary karate / weapons expert Fumio Demura, a familiar face in martial arts mags and books in the 80's.

5.) Actual effort expended on costume design.

OK, you have an evil student who decides to throw away tradition and strike out on his own as a modern merc. Of course he'd update the gear to reflect 21st century tech. The evil Masazuka's costume is definitely in the Blade / Snake Eyes vein, and considering those property's successes, not a bad decision by the film makers.
Night vision for a ninja (makes all sorts of sense) via a rather video-game-like visor that turns any fight scene into a first-person shooter.
I'm thinking the filmmakers consider this flying wing gimmick something right out of BATMAN, but in reality it has a much older pedigree, harkening back to the spy kite from such properties as AKAKAGE.
Casey's more traditional gear is of the MORTAL KOMBAT vein. Makes sense, as Florentine's resume includes POWER RANGERS and the unsung WMAC MASTERS.

6.) Evil cult led by even more evil international industrialist!

I really lost it when this scene came on - such a throwback to an era I so miss. Not that you needed extra villainy in a ninja-laden betrayal / love traingle flick, but why the hell not. Combining both the evil hooded cult with the logo altar and secret warehouse chamber AND the evil industrialist cliches is sheer brilliance.

7.) Power-up scenes and hidden weapon caches

More tenets of the 80's genre! Hand symbol power-up in front of weapons chest - CHECK! Although by strict union rules, this chest should light up from below and emit smoke...

Hidden closet full of martial gear - CHECK! Again, some smoke would have been nice...

8.) Actually trying something different with fight scenes.

Florentine employs all sorts of effects tricks and editing gimmicks to add some new life. Some work, some could be seen as annoying, but at least he's thinking and TRYING to push the envelope. This sword sequence with a sort of vapor trail effect is pretty damn nifty.

9.) No daytime night mission gear!

Ninja has some really nice night time lighting, exterior compositing, and low light cinematography.

Florentine never puts a ninja in night gear in a sunlit scene. Seems like a common sense thing, but even the best of the 60's Japanese films did stupid shit with black clad ninja running around in cane fields in broad daylight.
See, with the right lighting (and it is excellent throughout), you can put a black-clad figure against pavement and still read details. Well done!

10.) The “Only a Ninja Can Stop A Ninja” commandment is obeyed in full…

Its traditional weapons vs. high tech violations of tradition in the climactic ninja-on-ninja showdown!

Man was this movie like seeing an old friend. Overall, Ninja looks great and is the product of a director who cares about martial arts. I wish this had gotten US theatrical and stolen some of Ninja Assassin‘s thunder, but at least it beats it to the home video shelf.

If you were raised on Kosugi/Dudikoff fare, I think you’ll dig the retro soul of this movie. I almost want to dub it down to an old VHS tape and watch it full frame to see if it can really hang with Pray for Death and The Octagon.

The 2000’s model of American martial arts cinema was built on Blade and The Matrix, while a generation of young movie goers have only seen big screen shinobi via Batman Begins and GI Joe. Florentine’s Ninja addresses those aesthetics, but processes them through an 80’s/90’s martial exploitation model that puts a genuine karate guy in the lead and delivers on everything you could ask for in a modestly budgeted but ambitious actioner.

In short, this is the FUN American ninja movie we all wanted last year but didn’t get. See it!

Amazon has the best price on this of anyone – buy it here.

And while yer at it, the same team is responsible for the superb 2007 film Undisputed 2 – a throwback to 90’s kickboxing flicks, complete with illegal prison fighting rings! Absolutely awesome combat, with a sequel coming.

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