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).
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).
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.