Ninja Assassin (2009)

Going into a movie called Ninja Assassin, I was expecting a few things. I was expecting ninjas. And assassinations. And most of all, I was expecting to have a fun time. Unfortunately, this movie only had two thirds of my expectations. And it had a lot of ninjas assassinating a lot of people.

This movie follows an ex-Ninja (although you can never REALLY be an ex-ninja) played by Korean pop star Rain, as he protects an Interpol agent played by Naomi Harris whose trying to uncover an international ninja conspiracy. Damn, that sounds stupid.

I’ll start with the thing that I noticed first, and that’s the acting. The acting in this movie is atrocious, and you can tell from the first two minutes of the film. A bunch of Asian gangsters are in a tattoo parlor, and then the tattoo artist tries to tell them about ninjas. Their reactions are both irritating and exaggerated. Luckily, they all get killed in about 5 minutes, in the most gory ways possible. But more on that later.

It’s not just the bit players (there’s a double entendre in there) who are bad, either. Rain is physically impressive, for sure – I would do a few ninja slayings myself to get his body, which is persistently put on display in the most glistening ways imaginable. Unfortunately, when he’s not fighting, he’s biting. At acting. He’s not very good. Half of the time he’s stoic, and half of the time he has these little attempts at humor, but all of the time he’s horrible. Maybe Rain should stick to singing and feuding with Stephen Colbert. Naomi Harris, while succeeding at being attractive, fails at bringing anything to the “damsel in distress” sidekick role.

What’s strange about this movie is the way it takes itself. It obviously isn’t afraid to censor itself when it comes to gore. Let me emphasize that. This movie is as gory as an 80s horror film. Heads are cut off and slide away with sickening noises, and legs are sliced down right at the knees… the whole thing is straight out of Hostel, only with Ninjas. And yet, even with this obviously camp appeal, the movie takes itself very seriously. After the first scene, there’s probably 40 minutes of slow story-building without much of any action. You will get bored.

The story is built through flashbacks of when Rain was in Ninja school. There’s conveniently ONE female ninja in his school, a plot device so obvious that you know her purpose the instant you see her. Yeah, Rain falls in love with her. She tries to escape the school. She’s killed. That’s why he quits and is an ex-ninja. But she’s THE ONLY female ninja in the school, which seems contrived. The whole thing is just such horrible writing that I wonder if I have more screenwriting experience than writers Sand and Straczynski.

There are tons of other problems with this movie, too. The fight scenes are so choppily edited that you long for the days before digital editing, just so you could see a single blow land in a single take. As if the editing didn’t make the fighting unenjoyable enough, most of it takes place in the dark, which I guess is accurate considering the whole “ninja” focus, but still takes away any kind of visual candy. On top of that, the weapons are all CG, and it’s painfully obvious every time a chain or a shuriken flies at the screen. The overabundant blood didn’t sit well with me, not because of its graphicness, but because it looked like it was from a comic book – way too saturated and spurty.

Ninja Assassin is a movie that you’d think would have a simple aim: to entertain with action scenes. Unfortunately, it fails at this by taking itself way too seriously and having horrible writing and editing. Honestly, I would have been able to get over the bad acting, the trite dialogue, and even the elementary writing, if I had just been able to have a good time. But I didn’t. Ninja Assassin fails a simple job, and it’s quite a cinematic disappointment.

Final rating: 3/10

–James A. Janisse





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