Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chock Full Of Ninja Goodness

In Ninja Assassin, Raizo (Rain) is one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them…and vanishes. Now he waits, preparing to exact his revenge.

Ninja Assassin isn't just one of the year's best action films; it's one of the best this decade with each fight outdoing the last leading to an exciting climax that will have audiences spellbound if they can handle the sight of a lot of blood. The script, penned by J. Michael Straczynski and Matthew Sand is serviceable in bridging the gaps between the next spectacular fighting sequence, but anyone looking for a gripping plot might not bother watching a film about ninjas in the first place. An Europol investigator Mika (Naomie Harris) is looking into mysterious assassinations and her research has her convinced that the notorious Ozunu clan is taking in orphans and training them to be ninjas emotionless, deadly silent killing machines.  Ozunu (Sho Kosugi), reinforces failure to follow his implicit orders completely with vicious beatings. Ozunu's prized student Raizo (Rain) turned his back on the clan after Ozunu ordered the senseless killing of Raizo's one friend and has vowed revenge the old fashion way by killing every one of his former associates. Straczynski and Sand primarily use flashbacks to detail Raizo's ninja training, which help explain his deadly proficiency in killing and his torment in trying to gain revenge on Ozunu. Rain plays the brooding loner expertly and displays the type of charisma that could make him a major star in the U.S. if he chooses to continue to crossing over in the film world. Realizing that even with his skills he cannot defeat the entire clan by himself, Raizo partners with Mika in the hopes of bringing down Ozunu once and for all. 

Director James McTeigue stages some amazingly unflinching fighting scenes from a rainy battle on a rooftop with raindrops being sliced through with ninja stars and flashing swords to a final battle waged amid a burning dojo. McTeigue smartly paces the battles in a manner to keep raising the stakes and intensity so there's not an hour left of the film after the best fight. McTeigue knows a thing or two about directing blockbuster action sequences as he's worked as assistant director on 'The Matrix' trilogy and there's definitely a 'Matrix' feel to the action without an overreliance on the now over done slow-mo effects. Playing up on the ninja aspect of the film, McTeigue keeps the ninjas to the shadows, moving across the screen as if they were ghosts. The action is not for the faint of heart as the violence is very graphic, with Raizo's opponents spraying out blood like geysers and getting their arms, hands, legs and even heads chopped off with relative ease. The fights make The Bride's clash with the Crazy 88 in Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' seem like a very intense game of dodge ball by comparison. At first glance, the action is almost a bit too cartoonish and over the top, but McTeigue makes it work by making the Ozunu ninjas nearly as credible as Raizo so the only way he can keep them down is by incapacitating them. Ninja Assassin is a throwback to the 1980s action flicks where one highly skilled man could take out seemingly overwhelming odds and there's no sense in explaining the logic, but just to sit back and enjoy the ride. This gets an ass-kickin' 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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