November 28, 2009 § 6 Comments
Being a ninja has never been scarier or bloodier.
I had high hopes for Ninja Assassin. The trailer seemed filled with action and Asian choreography — what’s not to love? I’ve been seeing pictures of Rain’s transformation and was excited to see him in action.
The very beginning of the film showed promise. Sung Kang, whom I recognized from Tokyo Drift, plays some kind of mob boss who is getting tattooed while his lackeys hang out. On the big screen, it’s rare to see a room full of Asians who are fluent in English, but the enjoyment stopped there. The lines uttered between Sung Kang and his wizened tattoo artists are full of overacting, and the lousy script didn’t help.
Soon afterward, we were treated to a display of violence so gratuitous that I had to shield my eyes from the sheer brutality. In every fight scene, blood sprayed like water coming out of a whale’s blowhole. Is it really possible for ninja blades really able to cut cleanly through a human’s torso?! This was the resounding question in my mind for the whole movie. I know that our belief is supposed to be suspended, but perhaps director James McTeigue could’ve tried to exercise just a bit more restraint in this area.
Rain is the headlining star in this movie [which might partly account for the relatively low budget]. This is good because it means we get to see him a lot, but disadvantageous because he’s still a comparatively amateur actor whose English is imperfect — carrying a film is a big burden. Also, his hairstyle in this movie is awful.
Much like the seventh Harry Potter book, the first half of Ninja Assassin has no plot. It consists of three vaguely connected subplots: a Europol agent trying to uncover the ninja clan with no apparent motive, Rain working out in his apartment, and Rain’s flashbacks of training to be a ninja. The film’s problems begin here.
Although most of the movie is set in Berlin, everybody inexplicably speaks English. I understand that many American movies do this out of convenience, but there isn’t even an attempt at pretending these people are German. Actress Naomi Harris speaks with an American accent the entire time, as do all the other Europol agents except for her co-worker, who has a British accent. In fact, the setting of Berlin is such a trivial detail that they might as well have been FBI agents. Unfortunately, her scenes are so boring that I spent most of them typing notes of complaint into my phone to remember later when I wrote this review.
The more important issue with language comes from the fact that this film heavily features Asian [and Asian American] actors. I would firstly like to ask why Ninja Assassin chose two Korean singers to play the lead character. If I were Japanese, I’d be offended that they didn’t bother to find an authentic representative. [Still, Lee Joon is not bad at his role as teenage Rain, and his English is pretty good as well.] To pile on the confusion, EVERYBODY in this movie speaks English, including the Japanese ninja master and his entire clan. The film would have been much better if the supposedly Japanese people actually spoke Japanese — the oversimplification makes the cheesy lines sound even stupider.
I don’t know very much about ninjas other than the stereotypes, and the ninjas in this movie are much less subtle than I’m used to. They whisper creepy threats when emerging from the shadows and run through the streets [and get hit by cars] in pursuit of prey. What? Aren’t they supposed to be stealthy and discreet? Instead, they leave blood spatter everywhere. As powerful as he is, even Rain is not very smooth when jumping from platform to platform, and there are many cringe-worthy scenes of him acting like a crazy, murderous fiend. It adds a human element, I suppose, but it all somehow falls to the wayside during the very last fight scene.
My final complaint is the total lack of character development. We never get to see what’s going on inside of the main character’s mind. Nobody really has a motive to do anything, and the end of the film is dissatisfying because of the total lack of direction. Rain stares off into the Japanese landscape with a slight smile, but what does it mean? Did he learn anything in the course of the 109 minutes? I certainly didn’t.
There are a few redeemable qualities to Ninja Assassin, but not enough for this review to be favorable. For one, every scene featuring Rain’s torso is incredibly hot, even when he’s covered in blood and battle scars. The choreography is entertaining [though not beautiful or inspiring], as is the cinematography. Also, Rain’s weapon [two blades swinging on a long chain] was really cool. Props to him for doing most of his own stunts.
In the end, I don’t regret seeing this movie. I’m happy to support Asian artists trying to break into the American entertainment industry, and I just hope that the next films will be better.