(Review by Sherman Chin – POSSIBLE SPOILERS)
I have to state that I’m a movie buff and an Asian martial artist so my review might be a bit critical as evidenced by the lively teenagers who were gleefully shaking the cinema (“Ninja” is shown in Malaysian theaters instead of direct-to-dvd like in the US) seats as blood was splashing and heads were rolling. “Ninja” (2009) isn’t as hyped up as “Ninja Assassin” (2009), which came up as my first Google search when I had tried to ascertain what the movie was about after seeing its enigmatic cinema poster ad depicting a stereotypical ninja with the backdrop of New York city. So, I went into the cinema without much expectation.
The movie started out well enough with a quick historical overview of Ninjas in Japan followed by a beautiful take of a Japanese dojo showing martial artists performing their “kata” or set moves. As most of the actors were Japanese, it felt like a typical Japanese martial arts movie until the scene shifted to the hero of the series, played by Scott Adkins, who stuck out like a sore thumb (well, not if you think the Caucasian guy playing Goku in Dragonball Evolution fits the role). He was showing off his half naked sculptured body with lots of muscles. Nothing wrong here if you are a screaming fangirl (Like one of the group of teenagers beside me. Ahem!) but it definitely foretells the direction of the movie. It is one of those that glosses over the storyline in favor of shocking our visual senses. Indeed, it would be a fantastic treat of sights and sounds if only they didn’t make the heroine such a useless damsel in distress. She is the daughter of the grandmaster of the Ninja school and was depicted as being at almost the same skill-level as the hero at the beginning so it really gets super annoying after she has to be saved for the umpteen time.
If you are wondering why I am harping over the beginning of the movie so much, it is because the entire storyline and character development takes place during this relatively short period. Basically, the villain, a schoolmate, attacks the hero out of rage because they both like the heroine and they are both vying for the grandmaster title. In true martial arts philosophy (shameless plug to my philosophy website), the problem could have been solved if the current grandmaster was not so quick to kick the villain out of the school and if the hero would have just forgiven him (even if it is just out of selfishness to keep his enemies close). It is almost ridiculous that the villain then comes back to steal the Ninja heirloom that will certify him as the successor of the school when he seems to be doing well as an assassin. Criticizing the grandmaster in front of everyone before making an attempt at his life also makes us question whether he learned anything as a discreet Ninja. The rest of the movie is almost all action just to justify stealing the Ninja heirloom which is shipped to New York for protection.
Spoiler ahead – the ninja heirloom is a box containing an ancient ninja suit and weapons, which pales in comparison to the villain’s super high tech ninja suit that reminds me of Batman’s armor, even with the ability to glide and the added bonus of seeing in the dark! If that isn’t silly enough, the villain attacks his Ninja school and is warded off by students using melee weapons. I guess that’s just an excuse to show off the cool multiple-attacker combat with lots of gore. One last gripe I have is that the hero gets away with murder. Of course I am not expecting some Carebear morality but this is like Luke Skywalker being influenced by the the dark side (the villain actually mentions something to this effect at the ending) and winning because he lets anger control him.
In all fairness, the movie had some good points going for it, such as the well choreographed fight scenes and the use of actual martial artists (although they are certainly not Bujinkan ninjutsu practitioners). The high tech ninja suit is not in the same league as Batman’s armor but is really good for the film’s budget. The camera angles are good too and we can see the whole fight sequences and feel the action without feeling that something is left out like in the “Transformers” movie. And of course, the hero and heroine are both more than pleasant to look at plus the Japanese scenery is beautiful too. To top it off, I have a thing for happy endings and this one certainly takes the cake, considering how the heroic couple gets out of the entire mess in New York.
The entire movie feels like it was directed by Uwe Boll who is famous for buying video game rights and making movies out them (“BloodRayne”, “Dungeon Siege”, “Far Cry”, etc). At least Boll has a valid excuse to fit the game content in but there is no reason why “Ninja” should be cheesy (but thankfully, not over the top). It tries to cross action and story but is never quite there at both counts. If we are going for action, cut the crap and go all out like “Rambo” (2008) but if we are going for story, give it some twists like “Shooter” (2007) or better character development like “Batman Begins”. Still, I won’t consider this Ninja movie a total waste of my money. It was entertaining enough since I left my thinking cap at home. Now, if only they put me in the director’s seat!
Isaac Florentine (director) / Boaz Davidson, Michael Hurst, Zaki Rubenstein (screenplay)
CAST: Scott Adkins … Casey
Tsuyoshi Ihara … Masazuka
Mika Hijii … Namiko
Todd Jensen … Det. Traxler
Togo Igawa … Sensei
Garrick Hagon … Professor Garrison
Miles Anderson … Temple
Valentin Ganev … Klimitov