Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ninja Aasassin

I still remember seeing Sammo Hung's Pedicab Driver on the big screen and marveling at the exquisite choreography of the brutal fight scenes. Hung, who is a masterful director, deftly draws for us the geography of the setting before tackling the action. Once the action begins, he assaults us, but never disorients or confuses us, let alone makes us nauseous. He designs a sequence that becomes art through its amazing aesthetics and pitch perfect editing.

In James McTeigue's Ninja Assassin, we get action choreography that is obliterated by misguided shooting and editing techniques. Clearly, someone got into McTeigue's head and fucked him up with theories suggesting chaotic action needs to be recorded and cut equally chaotically. Of course, this brainiac approach is akin to aborting a beautiful fetus with a rusty coat hanger.

Fuck this Hollywood bullshit!

Ninja Assassin represents a sad situation because it does have plenty good going for it, despite the fact that it steals set-ups (and images) wholesale from The Story Of Ricky, Ichii The Killer, and a hundred Shaw pics.

The training sequences with Sho Kosugi are strong, dark, and brutal. Kosugi is excellent, and the sequences he appears in feel like they were shot by another director. Korean-born Rain is well cast as 'Raizo', the supreme Ninja whose "issues" with Kosugi force him to go rogue. The lame contemporary story involves a government agency's hunt for modern ninja warriors who are being hired internationally as assassins (yawn!). Raizo is hunting them, too, and they're hunting him. None of this is well thought through, so coincidences and contrivances are piled high. As is typical for this genre, the script provides a framework to hang action sequences on. Nothing wrong or unusual about that. That IS why we're watching.

Unfortunately, aside from an impressive opening sequence inspired by Ichii The Killer, Ninja Assassin gives us very few reasons to watch.

My advice is to head to the DVD store or to your collection and run a mini festival of your own right away. Be sure to include Revenge of the Ninja, Burning Paradise, Sword of Vengeance, Lone Wolf and Cub (series), Operation Scorpio, Drunkenmaster 2, and Beach of the War Gods. These magnificent titles will reset your expectations just in case you've been deceived by this nonsense (as some have).

Rain does Fan Siu-wong

It's interesting how short many of this film's action sequences are because the reason points to the film's failings. The scenes are short because you can't watch material cut by ADD-ridden morons for longer than three or four minutes. Can you imagine for one moment watching the glorious final battle of Wang Yu's Beach of the War Gods if it was shot and cut this way? Wouldn't happen.

Criticisms I have read of the film have focused on its lack of illumination in key fight scenes; this criticism is valid. The film is very dark at times, and I found myself asking: If you want to showcase action, why hide most of it in shadow? Dipshits! Of course, it's the scenes themselves that really suck, and it's hard to see what's going on already because the cutting, fake blood, and spastic camera work are creating an unholy, expensive mess. Let's make it clear: These contemporary fight sequences are not fight scenes, they are fight soup -- sticky, steamy melanges of randomly tossed in ingredients that steam, boil, and burn until the kitchen stinks. There's no finesse to the coverage, no feel for the ballet of combat. The choreography, when you can see it, is strong, but it's stolen by retards who spend their days jerking off to CG-laden fantasies and blowing their loads on giant LCD screens .

In its final twenty minutes, Ninja Assassin becomes Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (replete with burning building), and Rain becomes Fan Siu-wong (replete with long hair and bloodied face).

Fan Siu-wong does Fan Siu-wong

This thievery of a humble, low budget classic reminds us that shitloads of money can't buy originality or love for this martial arts soup.


  1. "Fight soup" about sums up why I didn't go googly-eyed over it. Something this over-the-top bloodthirsty generally leaves me feeling pretty satisfied but it's hard to get excited over shit you can barely make out, awash in CGI blood spatter. I guess I'll keep waiting for something to trump Kosugi's Ninja III: The Domination.

  2. I had a good time watching this one last night, but I had also been taking painkillers all day. I probably would have enjoyed anything anyone had taken me to, bought me a ticket for, put a diet coke in my hand, and said, okay, sit here and watch this in my addled state of yesterday.

    But yeah, I could still tell it was bad. They spilled plenty of the red stuff too; lame that it was mostly CGI. And I thought Raizo was totally hot, so that saved it for me, all other lambasting aside.

  3. d -- yes, Ninja III is a good one -- the opening scene is amazing.

    I don't like CG blood at all.


    Jenn -- I'm glad you enjoyed it (with pain killers). I enjoyed parts, but was annoyed by lots of things.

    Next time I'll pop pain killers first. I trust you're not too ill?

    Rain as Raizo was very good.

  4. I went in to this with low expectations, having heard the worst, and ended up having a good time. I agree that a film shot according to more old-school methods would've been more satisfying but as far as Hollywood bs goes, this didn't rankle me much.

  5. Jeff -- I originally had low expectations after se4eing trailer. Then ,I read very favorable on-line reviews on a few forums like maniacs. So, I ended up being disappointed. I'm glad you weren't.

  6. Maybe people should just watch STORY OF RICKY again! Love that film! Just got hold of PEDICAB DRIVER by the way!

  7. OK, I'm going to admit, I had an absolute blast watching this movie, laughing from start to finish. I agree with you about the training sequences feeling like they were shot by a different director. I thought they were surprisingly well done in relationship to the cheese of the rest of film.

    All of your points are well taken, but I simply chose to turn of the "filmmaker" part of my brain for a while so that I could enjoy the senselessness of it all.

    I also agree about the illumination of the fight scenes, with the exception of one of the first fights where they break into the INTERPOL (or whatever it was called) agent's house. She uses just a flashlight (with minimal ambient lighting) to see what is going on. Because it was early in the film, I thought it provided some intrigue into the shadowy lore of the ninja. So I liked the technique. However, as the movie progressed, it definitely could have avoided hiding the action in the shadows.

  8. Jack -- most of these movies rely on their audiences being relatively ignorant of their influences. Enjoy PEDICAB. Is it a decent DVD? I know there are rights problems that are preventing a legit release.


    BMB -- Yes, training sequences were exceptional and quite different from the rest.

    Points well made about the first break-in.

    Wish I could have enjoyed it. I just couldn't.

  9. Well, this is actually a legit release :D
    Only, it's on video! It's from the "Made in Hong Kong" label in the UK. Letterboxed, English subs, and uncut.

  10. Jack J -- a legit VHS, huh? Wow. I have the HK LD. One scene is cut, though, just before the big final battle starts. Sammo does a spinning kick and something goes awry. What is uncut on the VHS?

  11. Mark, since I only have this tape I can't really do a thorough comparison but according to Asian Dvd Guide the MIHK UK tape (from 1996) is uncut compared to the cut LD. This is what they say:

    The old laserdisc is slightly cut. Missing is the aftermath of Sammo Hung's spinning kick to a bodyguard as he enters the villains lair. Cut is the final part of the shot of the guard falling after the kick and almost all sight of his body on the ground (only a few frames of this are on the LD). The MIHK's tape is uncut.

    One more good thing about the VHS is that it actually has new, proper subtitles.

  12. I felt the same way, though I did have some fun with it, I recognized the problems with its editing and the lighting, which I mentioned on my review as well.

    I recommended people to go and watch 36 Chambers, Master of the Flying Guillotine and Duel to the Death, if they wanted to watch some real martial arts action! Hell, even The 7 Grand Masters was better then this one!

  13. Jack J -- yep, that seems to detail the cuts I'd imagined.

    I did see the movie at the Capitol on Swanston when it first opened, but I couldn't remember whether it was cut or not. I did see it thrice.

    Sounds like a great tape -- and subbed to boot.


    TFC -- Your recommendations are spot-on. So much Shaw and other material around to help erase the bad taste in your mouth.

    DUEL TO THE DEATH is amazing.