Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Movie Review: Ninja Assassin
Did you really think Spencer would miss out on any movie called "Ninja Assassin"? Surely you know me better than that! That said, let's dive right into the film here.
I had no idea what this film was about, having only seen some TV commercials and such. But, come on, ninja? So, basically, all I knew is that it looked cool, had ninja, and was made by the Wachowski brothers, the minds behind the Matrix films. Now that both excited me and made me slightly skeptical--I knew I could expect a dazzling entertainment experience, but I question their philosophy as seen in the Matrix films. (Brownie points to anyone who caught that The Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded had a cameo role as the tattoo artist.) I knew so little that I was somewhat shocked to see that the film was even modern day!
I don't feel bad in "spoiling" the main gist of the story as the theatrical trailer did so itself: children are trained as ninja assassins, one rebels against the evil clan, and now we have a movie. (I will discuss a few points here and there, and attempt to avoid huge spoilers, but be forewarned now.) I won't ruin any little details here, but some of the intrigue was a bit fun (although it would have been weak if it had been pulled off wrong, which it wasn't too much).
So, what did I like? Hmm...where do I start? (Oh yes. A really good soundtrack, from what I could tell.)
Excellent martial arts action. Ninja fight ninja. Ninja train. Ninja fight police with big, bad machine guns. Ninja kill, cut, slash, stab, hack, kick, and do everything imaginable to their foes. They use samurai swords, shuriken (throwing stars), and and our main protagonist, Raizo, has a favorite weapon that is a dagger at the end of a long chain (a form of a kyoketsu-shoge I believe). He swings this weapon to slash and cut many a hapless ninja to bits. He uses the chain to tangle and twist his foes, and even deflects the sharp blades of his enemies with it.
Now this brings me to my next point. It didn't bother me any, but I think it might bother some of my readers. The movie was filled, filled, with blood. The first fight of the film was a little over-the-top, to be honest, and as I hoped/thought, it was somewhat meant to be a shocker statement for the beginning.
Anyone remember The Last Samurai? Take all the cuts in that movie, and add at least five times the amount of blood for each cut. Blood erupts, spurts, and sprays in enormous amounts. Some of this was realistic (bladed weapons do tend to cut things open), but a few times it was in something of an artistic manner. The MPAA gave it its R rating for, literally, "strong bloody stylized violence throughout"--and that's exactly what we get. And tons of it. A few shots linger on the nasty wounds inflicted, and one in-your-face moment is when a head is suddenly sliced off of a body. which falls, showing us the neck, er, stump (I thought I could see the spine?). The only thing that I didn't like were the bits of stylized blood (CGI of course, bright and red), but others may disapprove, be grossed out, or be just plain bothered by it.
Heads, limbs, fingers, etc. disappear with the whip of the chain-blade (causing understandable dismay amongst their former owners), and even bodies are sliced in half. The large shuriken used apparently can penetrate through helmets, deeply enough to cause great eruptions of blood upon impact. And besides just the blood violence, there were at least a half-dozen scenes when I literally cringed and squirmed. That's more than any movie I've ever seen, I think (and Tae Guk Gi makes me cringe). One that comes to mind is a man's head being repeatedly smashed into a urinal with great force.
I won't lie, it was done well, but the violence in the film was very heavy, and very frequent. Children fight each other, and when students [SPOILER! The children are kidnapped very young and forced to learn the most brutal form of ninjutsu, under Ozunu and his men.] fail, even in sparring sessions with other students, the punishment is nearly always a cut (when it's not, it's much worse). Some may be disturbed by seeing what basically amounts to torture on the screen, especially committed against children (including girls). However, make no mistake, this is the bad guy doing this, so no, this isn't some sort of child-abuser movie.
I didn't really mind all of this, and it didn't bother me any. However, I tell you because it was there and some may not like it. I like my movies realistic, so my only minor complaint were the stylized portions. And no, I'm not a depressed, lonely, emo, ax-murdering blood-bather, k?
Beyond that, the fights were excellent. We see a touch of Matrixesque filmmaking (in a good way, no blatant reuses of shots or anything), and the it pretty much looked good all the way through. One fight between two ninja was very novel--completely illuminated by a bystander's flashlight beam. Excellent! The many training scenes were also excellent. Spencer likes training scenes in his martial arts movies.
Any issues? Well, it being the Wachowski brothers, as I said before I was expecting a little something. No sex, thank God (oh wait, does a mild little kiss count?), and the language wasn't too bad (except one scene where the person repeatedly F-bombing is supposed to look bad). But we did have....
Strange spiritual themes. It wasn't just your average "be the dojo, become one with the Buddha" sort of references. (In case you didn't know, I was being funny there, k?) Apparently the ninja possess spiritual powers. It is not entirely clear if only the most powerful of ninja learn these skills or not. It depends on what you define as spiritual, or rather what they intended as such. Either way, the powers were present for all viewers to see.
Our first indication is the evil Ozunu cutting his hand, closing it, waving his hand with a special configuration of his fingers and speaking some sort of incantation. When he opens his hand back up, the cut is gone. I waited to at least give them the opportunity of explaining it, although I didn't expect they would. I don't particularly adopt this position, but you could say that if it was only the evil character using such powers, then that might be different for us Christian viewers (but again, to be clear, I do not advance that position).
But no, the hero Raizo uses such powers himself. Via hand motions, and what appeared to be concentration and a bit of energy (it seemed hard for him to do), he heals some very nasty wounds. He and the evil character both dematerialize and rematerialize in one scene. Raizo can hear when he shouldn't be able to, biologically speaking (when he is fast asleep, or even when in a completely different room), and at one point says so. And whether this was intended to be spiritual or not I am not sure, but in two sequences the ninja assassins create this sort of unearthly noise when they approach their victim, and they whisper things like "kill", "murder", and "revenge"--obviously their thoughts at the moment. Another scene that you can question, Raizo and a friend appear to feel something that makes both of them smile (Each other's presence?). Oh yeah, and Raizo can kinda/sorta raise people from the dead?
On the good side, Raizo protects a woman throughout the film (as does another man), and he leaves his former ways and is now fighting on the good side.
As unfortunate as it is, I must give this film a no. The Wachowskis just can't resist dabbling in the spiritual in the wrong sort of way. The only power for good comes from Christ, not what Raizo might have learned from evil humans. Humans cannot teleport themselves, and they certainly cannot heal their wounds. Even if they could, such occultic practices are condemned by the one true God. If the filmmakers had refrained from such material, Ninja Assassin would more than likely have taken its place amongst my other DVDs upon its release.
P.S. Come on. The tagline on the poster is pretty cool, you gotta admit!