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Ninja Assassin

dir: James McTeigue
[img_assist|nid=1201|title=The promo poster is better than the flick itself|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=389|height=581]
Wow. I haven’t seen a flick with as many meaty chunks flying around since the last time I took a trip to a slaughterhouse, or perhaps Easter Sunday lunch at my parent’s place. There’s substantially less mooing going on here, but all the same, the majority of the people who appear onscreen are here only to end up as chunks of meat on the floor for our entertainment.

That is what we are, after all. Maybe there’s something depressing about seeing visual (and entirely computer generated) representations of the essential meatiness of our bodies. Rendered down into our component parts, everything we were and ever will be, annihilated like that, well, it’s pretty confronting.

At least for a while. This decidedly substandard action movie opens with a bunch of yakuza thugs exploding into discrete piles o’chunks, at the hands, blades and shurikens of unseen, shadowy assassins. In other words, there must be murderous ninjas afoot!

The heyday of the ninja flick was definitely the 80s. At no other time has there been as much of a market for the endless permutations of the magically murderous character, which is why we had, for an all too brief, halcyon period, a stream of ninja related action flicks. For reasons I haven’t expended and won’t expend brain power on, the ninja sub-genre appealed to American audiences, leading to this procession of flicks starring obviously non-Japanese people as experts in ninjitsu, and the art of assassination and deception. Not for nothing did men like Franco Nero and Michael Dudikoff become household names.

What do you mean, they didn’t? Surely almost everyone in Christendom and Buddhisdom, for that matter, watched everything from Enter the Ninja to Silent Assassin to American Ninja 5: The Re-ninja-ing? They didn’t? Well, what were they busy doing, building treehouses, setting off bottle rockets or building crystal meth labs instead?

I don’t know if I’m at all glad that they’re bringing this genre back again. Like Michael Jackson, it had its time and place, and probably doesn’t merit resurrection. It feels uncomfortably like coming home and finding your significant other in flagrante delicto which Chuck Norris. Tell me seeing him on his hands and knees with someone else in deep up to their elbow wouldn’t be the most retro yet disturbing thing you ever saw in your life.

Yes, you’re welcome for the horrible imagery. I, too, can thank this flick for giving me images of horrific intensity that I thought would never fade, just like with all those repugnant Saw franchise flicks, but which eventually, thankfully, did. The bigger problem is that the script, and the dialogue these poor actors are forced to mumble is a far greater artistic atrocity, which will live in infamy, just like something else the Japanese warmongers of the 1940s were responsible for.

There’s no value in blaming the Japanese this time, even though they’re responsible for the creation of the ninja as a force mostly for evil, though occasionally for good. No, we can blame director James McTeigue, who is the Australian protégé of the Wachowskis, and who previously made the not-too-shabby V for Vendetta adaptation, a flick I have a great deal of appreciation for.

The material here, and the script, are so very weak in comparison. Everything that occurs is mostly an excuse for mounds of body parts and instant death, which makes the plot itself seem even more superfluous.

And let’s not even get started on the acting. Oh, actually, let’s.

Our main character is a ninja called Raizo, played with absolutely zero charisma by Korean pop singer Rain. He casually saunters through this flick like he is a catwalk model, walking up the catwalk with a bored and affectless expression on his face until he reaches the platform’s end, and then, purpose fulfilled, walks back again.

At least if he were a catwalk model, we could justify his existence by noting the expensive clothing his lithe frame was holding up off the ground if only for a few moments. There’s utility in that, usefulness even.

Instead they try and then chicken out on using him to hold up a movie so flimsy in its premise that it seems less a movie and more a trailer for another movie. It’s almost as if the people making it realised halfway through just how boring it would be for people to have to look at Rain for an hour and a half, regardless of whether he’s trying to kill people or people are trying to kill him. It seems like an inordinately long fake trailer that would be watched by dead-eyed goon characters in a Quentin Tarantino flick before the heroine bursts into the room and kills everyone.

Raizo is on the run from his ninja clan. Apparently, there’s a whole bunch of ninja clans that either find orphans or turn kids into orphans and then train them up into being super assassins. Because they killed another little orphan girl, he eventually turned his back on the clan, and now hides from them, biding his time to, um, kill everyone.

Ninjas are, understandably, since this is a deranged action flick, supernaturally fast and lethal, able to leap out of shadows and kill anyone with fearsome speed. Raizo is just as apparently badass, and generally has little trouble dispatching non-ninjas, who are weak and pasty gaijins. With many other ninjas he has a little bit more difficulty, but not too much.

At the same time, and here is where the flick’s inherent weakness lies, a Europol (?) agent played by Naomie Harris, who was so good in 28 Days Later, so Haitian in the terrible Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and so awful here, plays a pointless character whose only purpose is to explain shit to us we already know (There’s ninjas! And they kill people!), and to be a pointless damsel in distress with a mechanical American accent. She has these intense and pointless conversations with her boss (who I think I recall from that show Coupling) whose only purpose is to kill time. They could have cut all that shit out and no-one would have noticed or cried.

Some of the fighting scenes are done okay, and are choreographed okay. Mostly what we as the audience behold is a whole bunch of silvery images flittering across the screen like malevolent and hypercaffeinated butterflies, accompanied by screams, gurgles, fountains of blood and body parts crashing against the floors and walls. There’s a time and place for that, and this is the time and place. You don’t go to a flick called Ninja Assassin for parasols, croquet and delightful misunderstandings whilst punting down the Thames.

But it’s all empty and hollow, and it’s forgotten as soon as it is viewed. About the only inventiveness on display is that expressed by the programmers who find slightly amusing ways for rendering the dismemberment of faceless characters. You’d be surprised how quickly that gets dull, or maybe you wouldn’t.

A good friend of mine commented that the flick doesn’t really manage to sustain the intensity or sheer over-the-topness of the flick’s first half hour. I’d argue that he’s being generous. I’d further argue that the flick doesn’t manage to sustain the promise and intensity of its first ten minutes. The rest is just bloody, bloody filler.

5 reasons why the notion that having situs inversus, which is the condition whereby one’s internal organs are located on the opposite side to the usual, means that people easily survive and thrive after having a huge blade pushed through their chest, is deeply fucking retarded out of 10

“Weakness compels strength, betrayal begets blood.” – you say goodbye, and I say hello – Ninja Assassin.