Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What do you call an old ninja?


Yesterday, I went to see the movie Ninja Assassin. The latest film from Joel Silver & The Wachowski brothers, who brought us the wonder of The Matrix films. I wasn't really expecting much more than some decent American style martial arts action and a loose storyline at best. Apparently, I'm a flaming moron, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Ninja Assassin is about a man named Raizo (portrayed by the actor, Rain) and a woman named Mica (portrayed by Naomie Harris). Raizo is the titular ninja on a crusade against the Clan that created him and Mica is a Europol researcher who has stumbled upon the existence of Ninja Clans in the modern day world. When Raizo discovers that Mica has information he needs to bring down the Clan and the man who runs it (Ozunu, as portrayed by martial arts movie legend Sho Kosugi), he becomes her guardian angel and together they work to stop the Clan. And I have to admit, seeing Sho Kosugi again was a major geek out moment for me!

First off, let's talk about the action. There's LOTS of it. There's lots of blood. Lots of gore. But, in what's becoming a trademark for The Wachowskis, the action is precise. Granted, The Wachowskis didn't direct the movie, that honor goes to James McTeigue. But, the Wachowski influence can be plainly seen in little details like the "ninja time" shots and the controlled camera work that manages to keep the viceral nature of the action while not losing the audience in a series of blurred images. The action here is the way Bruce Lee wants it to be: disciplined, full of emotional content, and fierce. But the action is not what impressed me about this movie.

What impressed me about Ninja Assassin was the respect paid to the archetype of the ninja. It's been my experience that most martial arts movies take what they want from the ninja mythology and then set it up as only marginally viable in the real world. Ninja Assassin does things differently. The movie sets up how the ancient traditions that are at the root of any ninja character are always effective, even in these modern times. Seeing these creatures of legend use shadows and optical illusions to mislead their prey into firing their high priced bullets into the wrong areas was fantastic. Showing how difficult it is to track someone wearing all black in the dark only lends more power to the ninjas in the film, both the good AND the bad. By presenting the ancient ways as a viable lifestyle, the movie allows the viewer to suspend their disbelief long enough to accept the idea of ninja magic and rapid healing wounds. Yet, none of this was done at the expense of the modern world the audience lives in.

While paying respect to the ancient ways of the ninja, the movie (in the climatic final battle) also shows that the modern ways of the military and newer technologies are also effective. Ironically enough, this doesn't lower the compelling nature of the ninja in the movie, instead it gives them more realism by showing that as powerful as they are, even a ninja can be taken down by machine gun fire. Another example of this is when the movie makes it known that even ancient ninja clans need POLITICAL backing to operate with that level of autonomy.

In the end, the most impressive part of Ninja Assassin is how the story manages to pay homage to both the ancient ways of the ninja and the modern ways of the world while blending them both into a compelling story. Yes, you could just watch this movie for the action. But, if you look deeper, you'll see so much more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


  1. Yup, I enjoyed it! Going to watch it a second time. I mostly enjoyed the seriousness paid to the martial arts. Scenes like Raizo training alone in his apartment shows respect for the artform and the filmmakers desire to not just show scene after scene of mindless action. On the contrary, the actions scenes--while extremely gory--all had a purpose to further the plot, and were not there just to look cool.

    Even though they certainly did. Look cool, I mean.

  2. Oh, I can't wait to go see this movie now. I'm going this afternoon, fuck it!!! Thanks for the push, needed it.