In 2003, Quentin Tarantino redefined the kung-fu movie genre with Kill Bill: Vol. 1. In 2009, Director James McTeigue made a similar move. 90’s movies like Beverly Hills Ninja, 3 Ninjas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Surf Ninjas had belittled one of Japan’s most deadly historical groups. McTeigue’s Ninja Assassin redefined the trending paradigm for ninja movies, which had been relegated to cheesy “fly-by-night” flicks and humorous bit comedies for the past two decades. The movie’s flair for overdramatic action sequences and semi-historical foundation reminded martial arts movie fanatics of just how cool and deadly ninjas could be on screen.
Ninja Assassin stars Korean pop star Rain as Raizo, a ninja from the Ozunu clan. Raizo has been trained since childhood in the ways of Ozunu, the clan’s patriarch (Shô Kosugi) who recruits orphans into the family. The physical training is as deadly as the mental challenges Raizo must face growing up. These challenges eventually lead to a rift in the family, leaving Raizo the sworn enemy of Ozunu.
Unlike US made ninja movies, which seek to Americanize the genre, the filmmakers behind The Matrix and V for Vendetta decided to take this film outside of the US landscape. So instead of a threat on US soil, the ninjas are a worldwide threat. Europol agent (Naomie Harris), Mika Coretti, uncovers the potential ninja threat in her research. Through a short dialogue exchange with Coretti’s boss, the film calls out the strangeness of modern day ninjas then quickly moves on – the threat is real. However, there is one scene where Raizo practices his art with his apartment blinds open, which will make you wonder what happened to secrecy.
Mainstream viewers may not find the story to be something revolutionary, but the manner in which this tale is brought to life is exceptional. The action in Ninja Assassin is fast paced and non-stop. It is an action-packed thrill ride that grabs hold of your gut and doesn’t let go. Much like Tarantino, McTeigue upped the ante on bloody theatrics and gore. The blood levels in this movie will be even more over the top than what you’ve seen in Kill Bill. McTeigue really tried to push the envelope on repulsive and relentless violence. The director employed several camera techniques, adapted from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, to snap viewers into and out of the combat without cutting between shots.
McTeigue respected the genre of ninja movies by diving head first into the ninja’s rich history. Instead of just being a ninja clan that assassinates for a living, McTeigue did his research and established Ozunu as a Shugenga Mountain priest. By doing this, the film involves a mental aspect to story, which would otherwise be a straight action-adventure. Employing Shô Kosugi, a ninja movie legend, as the lead antagonist helps to make the movie. Kosugi delivers a visceral performance that is compelling to watch.
This movie gets an additional ratings boost for delivering on bonus content. The Myth and Legend of Ninjas featurette dives headfirst into the historical reality of the ninja. Instead of delivering a shallow background story, Warner was able to go to the ultimate authority on ninjas, Soke Massaki Hatsumi. As the documented living air to the ninja tradition, Soke Hatsumi discusses the reality of the ninja and what it means. His students, Richard van Donk and Stephen K. Hayes, also appear in this featurette discussing the rich history. They also relate Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rise to power through the use of legendary ninja, Hatori Hanzo of Iga.
The special features also include a unique behind-the-scenes segment, The Extreme Sport of a Ninja, that doesn’t feel like a few arbitrary snippets tossed together. This featurette focuses on how the on-camera action was created through the use of extreme sport loop-kick specialists. Most of the stunts performed are done so without the use of camera tricks or wirework, which really creates a larger than life reality for the on-screen action. Also, the Training Rain featurette shows just how much physical training Rain went through to prepare for this role. The stunt choreographers and martial arts trainers state that most of the stunts the doubles perform, Rain could just as easily perform due to his intense conditioning.
Ninja Assassin may not win any awards, but it is one of the most memorable movies you’ll ever see simply for McTeigue’s intense storytelling and thoughtful attention to detail. The special features are more than just a quick add on. The producers did their research and made this one film any ninja or martial art enthusiast will want to check out.
- The Myth and Legend of Ninjas
- The Extreme Sport of a Ninja
- Training Rain
- Deleted Scenes
- Includes Digital Copy