Pros: Rain is a fabulous Martial Artist. Cinematography. Special Effects. Coreography.
Cons: Wooden performances and less than two dimensional characters. J. Michael Strazinsky rewrote this?
Ninja Assassin. (2009) Directed by James McTeigue
Mika (Naomi Harris) is a forensic researcher, or a librarian crime-fighter. She works for Europol, and believes she has stumbled across a clue to several assassinations. By checking international bank-drafts in the amount of the exact price of 100 pounds of gold, she believes she has stumbled across evidence that Ninja really exist. (Pay attention to that; it's the cleverest thing in this movie.)
The Nine Clans of the Ninja have accepted 100 pounds of gold as the price for a man's life for a thousand years. The Nine Clans steal children, raise them in hidden monasteries, and train them to be heartless killing machines, more loyal to the clan than to their own lives.
Raizo (Rain) is one such child, and his body is a roadmap of the scars his training has left him.
However, Kiriko is another student, and her kindness to Raizo touches him in a profound way. So that is why when her unwillingness to become a soulless killing machine led her to rebel, and be killed, Raizo took it hard.
So, when a ninja came to kill Mika, for getting to close to the secrets of the Nine Clans, Raizo was there to save her. Why? I don't know; perhaps he was tired of killing the assassins one at a time in Laundromats. Whatever the case, the two of them now have the entire nine clans coming after them.
Mika, of course, tries to do things by the book, involving her boss, Maslow (Ben Miles) with ineffectual and indeed disastrous results. Can Raizo bring down the Nine Clans all by himself with Europol running interference? Of course he can.
This is not what we would call an Oscar candidate folks. The storyline is ancient, and the new twists, Ninja versus S.W.A.T. come across as ludicrous. However, as an action movie, it definitely delivers. There are car chases, cat and mouse hunts and ninja fights everywhere. And if you like gore, there is enough blood in this movie to choke Rob Zombie. There are buckets of it splattered across every clean white surface (what is this, a Romero flick?) It rains down in a crimson deluge. It pours out in a scarlet flood. And when the action is going in slow mo you can see the fountaining gush from severed limbs and decapitations like some modern Jackson Pollack painting in three dimensions.
It pours, it gushes, it spurts, it drips, it pools, it spreads, it flows.....
There's a lot of blood in this movie is the main thing to take away from this portion I guess.
There is also a lot of weapons play. Raizo is a master of the kusuri-gama, (correction:Kyoketshu-shogei) though the blade is more like a scimitar than a sickle, and flings the razor sharp blade around on its chain with gleeful abandon. There are ninja-to and shuriken, and other fun and creative ways to kill people.
And the cinematographer captures it all. Borrowing the "slow time down so you can capture it all" John Woo method, they turn the fights into masterpieces of composition, the silvery chain inscribing looping arcs, the bodies flying in formations that aesthetically balance and counterweight, the sprays of blood enlivening the carnage. I mean it is really beautiful, if you can get past the decapitations.
And that was what I found odd. There was such artistry in the mayhem, and such a lack of substance in the storyline. It took me awhile to recognize what it reminded me of, but it came to me; two other movies in theaters now; 2012, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Each one of these relied on great visuals and knowing their target audience so well, that they forgot to include a decent story.
If you are a martial arts movie fan boy, or you just enjoy watching dismemberments, then this movie is definitely for you. If you expect a story, rewatch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Ninja Assassin is Horribly Bad.
This review is Lean-N-Mean at a concise 666 words.