In Japan, where the blades are shiny and sharp and if the
fake blood isn’t staining the lens, you’re not trying hard enough, there’ s a
rich tradition of sword-and-splatter pictures. That’s the tradition Quentin
Tarantino’s Kill Bill leaned on, and
it’s the foundation of Ninja Assassin, a more run-of-the-mill Hollywood ninja movie with Matrix ties.
For a thousand years, “The Nine Clans” have taken
in orphans from around the world and have forged — OK, literally beaten — them
into cold-blooded killing machines, lightning-quick shadow warriors who move
too quickly to see and have supernatural abilities to recover from all the cuts
their samurai swords, throwing stars (shuriken) and neato dagger-chains
(kusarigama) inflict. Meet their price — and it hasn’t changed in a millennium,
“100 pounds of gold” — and they’ll kill anybody you say.
Ozuno (Sho Kosugi) trains his clan to kill without mercy —
orphans beating and killing other orphans — and ignore their blood and their
own agony because “pain breeds weakness. Suffering exists because weakness
Raizo (the Korean actor Rain of Speed Racer) remembers this brutal training in flashbacks. He
wears the scars of those years on that mountaintop clan hideout. But he got
out. Now hiding in Berlin, he tries to help those the clan has marked for
Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean) is a Euro-police researcher who has learned too
much about these secret societies. As she digs deeper, shadows shift and move
into place to slice and dice her. Will Raizo awaken from his endless flashbacks
in time to save her?
The action is dark and savage in this Wachowskis-produced
film from their Matrix protege James
McTeigue (V for Vendetta was his,
too). The brawls, beginning with an opening Yakuza (Japanese mob) slaughter in
which we can’t even see the killers, are graphic in the extreme — the most
realistic decapitations and dismemberments ever filmed, if that matters to you.
The design of the picture is stylized — crimson-colored washing machines in a
laundromat where one front-loader is a swirling foam of body parts, ornate
Japanese paper walls streaked with arterial spray.
There aren’t many surprises here — from the training
flashbacks (blindfolded sword fighters) to the murder of Raizu’s one true love
to the climax — a real Battle Royal. Ninja Assassin has some cool touches — the death warning to the
doomed is a wax-sealed envelope with dark black (volcanic?) sand in it.
However, since “cool” was the only goal, I have to
say Ninja just isn’t cool enough. Rain
makes a charismatic coiled spring of hero. But there’s more to making
sword-and-splatter work than just shiny blades and blood. It’s got to have an
edge, and the one on Ninja Assassin
is dull as a butter knife.
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Cast: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ricky Yuen
Director: James McTeigue
Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Industry rating: R for strong bloody stylized violence
throughout, and language
Roger Moore writes for the Orlando Sentinel. Via
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.