Ninja Assassin (2009) Movie Review

Twenty years after their heyday, ninja movies are all the rage again in Hollywood. As someone who grew up with movies pitting ninjas fighting Caucasian gangsters in broad daylight, I couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong: James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin” is definitely not a throwback to the ‘80s, back when Sho Kosugi ruled the ninja roost with honor. Despite the presence of fan favorite Kosugi in “Assassin” – surely a nod to the man’s many accomplishments and contributions to the genre – “Ninja Assassin” couldn’t have existed in the ‘80s. This is very much a 2009 ninja movie, the kind that relies almost as much on CGI blood as it does the amazingly acrobatic skills of its leading man and his enemies.

“Ninja Assassin” opens with a ninja from the Ozunu clan taking out a room full of Japanese gangsters (fronted by the always amusing Sung Kang, here playing the epitome of a 2009 Yakuza). Immediately, the film establishes itself as a hardcore, brutal ninja movie, and you can forget about daytime action. The ninjas are a wily bunch, able to blend into and emerge out of pools of shadows like bogeyman in some horror movie. They even have supernatural healing powers, though that doesn’t really come in all that handy when limbs are chopped, heads are decapitated, and body parts are cleaved in halves whenever the ninjas do battle. That is “Ninja Assassin” – a movie that, when it lands on DVD, probably won’t be advertising an “Unrated” version. How could it? The film, Rated R, is already a geyser of CGI blood and flopping limbs. Yes, folks, this is NOT a movie for the kiddies, and God bless it for being so bloody.

South Korean pop singer Rain (last seen in the epic fail that was the Wachowski Brothers’ “Speed Racer”) fronts “Ninja Assassin” as Raizo, an orphan “adopted” into the Ozunu clan and raise to be a heartless killer. Though he quickly adopts the skills taught mercilessly by Ozunu himself (Sho Kosugi), Raizo hasn’t completely lost his humanity, thanks to fellow assassin-in-training Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein), who longs for more, a goal that can only be reached by scaling the walls of the Ozunu Clan’s hidden mountain lair. When we first meet the adult Raizo, he has already broken free of the Ozunu Clan’s chains, and is now a fugitive from his brothers — including the brutal Takeshi (Rick Yune) — and “father”.

Through flashbacks, we come to learn why Raizo is currently on a quest to destroy Ozunu once and for all. Our hero gets assistance from Interpol researcher Mika (Naomie Harris, “28 Days Later”), who has found evidence of the Ozunu Clan’s existence. She enlists the aid of her superior Maslow (Ben Miles), and as their investigation deepens, they find themselves becoming targets by their own agency, as well as shadowy ninjas. Eventually, Raizo and Mika form an alliance, even as the Ozunu Clan closes in. Much blood-letting, awesome ninja battles, and slicing and dicing ensue.

It needs to be repeated that “Ninja Assassin” is not a movie for kids. That should become instantly clear when the first ninja victim’s head is cleaved in half from forehead to chin. James McTeigue, coming off his debut in “V for Vendetta” (produced by the Wachowskis, who also produces “Ninja Assassin”), has brought out the fake blood by the buckets to play, and oh my does he ever play. Much of the film takes place in darkness, since ninjas do not come out in daylight. The action is brutal, constant, and orchestrated for maximum coolness. This is not a movie that’s going to appeal to the New York Times set, and let’s face it, who cares, it wasn’t made for them anyway. If you didn’t snicker when you first heard the title of the movie, the film will live up to your expectations and, in my case, exceeded it. If he hasn’t become already, James McTeigue is most definitely an action movie director to keep watching.

As his first real introduction to an American/International audience, “Ninja Assassin” is the perfect launching pad for Rain. Raizo is a physical, deadly presence, and the pop singer-turned-actor easily embodies the character, thanks to months of martial arts and weapons training. Being the silent, deadly type, Raizo is a man of action, with a lot of his exposition kept to flashbacks with younger actors in the role. Rain will no doubt be able to parlay the film into more action roles in Hollywood films if he’s so inclined. I can’t say if he’s a good enough actor to stray from the genre at this point, since his Raizo lives and dies by his physical abilities, so how well he can handle himself in a movie without swords is still an open question. Then again, questionable acting chops have never kept Keanu Reeves from a superstar career.

“Ninja Assassin” is a pretty straight-forward action movie, albeit a very slick and stylish entry. What passes for story is mostly buried by the film’s abundant action, though the script does get brownie points for not relying on character clichés that usually burden such movies. For instance, Ben Miles is not your typical bone-headed bureaucrat, though at first he may seem like one. Likewise, the spunky Mika doesn’t become an Angelina Jolie-type action heroine overnight; she’s capable and smart, and knows her way around a gun, but there’s real fear as she quickly realizes what she’s up against. There are also some noticeable gaps in the plot, much of it involving Raizo’s life post-Ozunu Clan. We never really get a firm idea of what Raizo has been up to, or any explanations as to how he learns about the Ozunu Clan’s assassination targets before they attack.

In a lot of ways, the ninjas of “Ninja Assassin” are more like creatures in a horror movie than men in black pajamas stalking a martial arts film. Though the object is to present a gritty, possible real-world take on the ninja mythos, the film does indulge in some very fantastical elements. When the ninjas attack, their shuriken throwing stars are like bullets, their swords like invisible lasers. They can track victims from miles away by scent, and their healing abilities border on the supernatural. In that respect, the film does seem to want it both ways – real and gritty, but at the same time pure fantasy. Of course, that shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance to enjoying the film, which is, remember, about ninjas running around in the 21st century.

If you saw the previews and thought, “Wow, that looks like a good movie,” then you will be a pig in sloth. “Ninja Assassin” easily lived up to my expectations, and then some. Rain makes for a formidable action hero of the future, and it’s a real treat to see the great Sho Kosugi back in the saddle once again, in the genre that he single-handedly popularized in the first place. Plot-wise, “Ninja Assassin” isn’t going to blow you away, but then I’m sure you never expected it to, so that’s alright. The fact that it does make some sort of sense – in a “this is a movie with ninjas” sort of logic – means the script isn’t a complete throwaway. “Ninja Assassin” is probably the most fun I’ve had at the theaters in a while. It’s cartoonishly brutal in spots, and after a while the blood geysers get ridiculous, but the end result is that you probably won’t see a more badass ninja movie for a while.

James McTeigue (director) / Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski (screenplay)
CAST: Rain … Raizo
Shô Kosugi … Ozunu
Rick Yune … Takeshi
Sung Kang … Hollywood
Ben Miles … Maslow
Naomie Harris … Mika
Kylie Goldstein … Kiriko


Buy Ninja Assassin on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Jacob

    Gotta see this movie!

  • Jacob

    Gotta see this movie!

  • dan

    I was in no way hyped for this movie I just saw it for the hell of it knowing next to nothing about it and was blown away by the opening scene. I also had no idea the lead actor was Rain until I looked it up. I thought he did a great job both delivering cool lines and doing fight scenes.

  • dan

    I was in no way hyped for this movie I just saw it for the hell of it knowing next to nothing about it and was blown away by the opening scene. I also had no idea the lead actor was Rain until I looked it up. I thought he did a great job both delivering cool lines and doing fight scenes.

  • Peter Drecker

    Did somebody pay you all to watch this triteness of a movie ? LOL, it SUCKED.
    WASTE OF MONEY. BAD CINEMATOGRAPHY. STUPIDITY AT IT’S BEST.

    WACHOWSKI’S ARE FINISHED. WASHED UP. ONE HIT PONIES. Buwha hahahah HAHAHA

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool aka Jiinx

      Nope people just liked it for what it was. A throwaway action flick with Ninjas. NINJAS DAMNIT!!! My friend liked it too and I trust his judgment. Said it was a better rental than a theatre trip, but it was fun nonetheless. Now were you paid to put down the Wachowskis? LOL. Oh and as long as the movie does ok, they will keep producing films.

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool aka Jiinx

      Nope people just liked it for what it was. A throwaway action flick with Ninjas. NINJAS DAMNIT!!! My friend liked it too and I trust his judgment. Said it was a better rental than a theatre trip, but it was fun nonetheless. Now were you paid to put down the Wachowskis? LOL. Oh and as long as the movie does ok, they will keep producing films.

  • Peter Drecker

    Did somebody pay you all to watch this triteness of a movie ? LOL, it SUCKED.
    WASTE OF MONEY. BAD CINEMATOGRAPHY. STUPIDITY AT IT’S BEST.

    WACHOWSKI’S ARE FINISHED. WASHED UP. ONE HIT PONIES. Buwha hahahah HAHAHA

    • Dedpool

      Nope people just liked it for what it was. A throwaway action flick with Ninjas. NINJAS DAMNIT!!! My friend liked it too and I trust his judgment. Said it was a better rental than a theatre trip, but it was fun nonetheless. Now were you paid to put down the Wachowskis? LOL. Oh and as long as the movie does ok, they will keep producing films.

  • http://www.myspace.com/kurotsurugi The_Strongest_There_Is

    I have now seen this movie 3 times in theater and I AM just as happy now as I was when I commented above. There is nothing else out right now that is worth seeing compared to this movie. Twilight has its crowd, but its time for the kids and adults to grow up and go see a real movie with action and love. IN twilight you got many species trying to screw each other….FINE AND DANDY! But in Ninja Assassin, There are hearts F’ing in the silence of the NIGHT! –>need I say, Like ninjas! I hope it has a better second week, but like most people don’t understand, it will make its money. You can’t tell a draw by the theater anymore unless its one of these pop culture successes like twilight or batman. Most movies actually reach their success on dvd, so these first week numbers don’t bother me. How do you think they got any justification to keep the underworld series going. It gets better with each installment in my opinion but,
    Underworld 1 (featured in Jurassic park, played the part of Triceratops crap), 2. was absolute horse crap.
    3. was actually okay, but guess what, the character you learn to love is already dead in part 1 or 2, so 4 is not starting well.
    Ranting so I’m off….wait…
    Underworld in comparison to twilight may be a better set of movies…no I’m ranting>>> Bye~

  • http://www.myspace.com/kurotsurugi The_Strongest_There_Is

    I have now seen this movie 3 times in theater and I AM just as happy now as I was when I commented above. There is nothing else out right now that is worth seeing compared to this movie. Twilight has its crowd, but its time for the kids and adults to grow up and go see a real movie with action and love. IN twilight you got many species trying to screw each other….FINE AND DANDY! But in Ninja Assassin, There are hearts F’ing in the silence of the NIGHT! –>need I say, Like ninjas! I hope it has a better second week, but like most people don’t understand, it will make its money. You can’t tell a draw by the theater anymore unless its one of these pop culture successes like twilight or batman. Most movies actually reach their success on dvd, so these first week numbers don’t bother me. How do you think they got any justification to keep the underworld series going. It gets better with each installment in my opinion but,
    Underworld 1 (featured in Jurassic park, played the part of Triceratops crap), 2. was absolute horse crap.
    3. was actually okay, but guess what, the character you learn to love is already dead in part 1 or 2, so 4 is not starting well.
    Ranting so I’m off….wait…
    Underworld in comparison to twilight may be a better set of movies…no I’m ranting>>> Bye~

  • http://www.myspace.com/kurotsurugi The_Strongest_There_Is

    I have now seen this movie 3 times in theater and I AM just as happy now as I was when I commented above. There is nothing else out right now that is worth seeing compared to this movie. Twilight has its crowd, but its time for the kids and adults to grow up and go see a real movie with action and love. IN twilight you got many species trying to screw each other….FINE AND DANDY! But in Ninja Assassin, There are hearts F’ing in the silence of the NIGHT! –>need I say, Like ninjas! I hope it has a better second week, but like most people don’t understand, it will make its money. You can’t tell a draw by the theater anymore unless its one of these pop culture successes like twilight or batman. Most movies actually reach their success on dvd, so these first week numbers don’t bother me. How do you think they got any justification to keep the underworld series going. It gets better with each installment in my opinion but,
    Underworld 1 (featured in Jurassic park, played the part of Triceratops crap), 2. was absolute horse crap.
    3. was actually okay, but guess what, the character you learn to love is already dead in part 1 or 2, so 4 is not starting well.
    Ranting so I’m off….wait…
    Underworld in comparison to twilight may be a better set of movies…no I’m ranting>>> Bye~

  • http://www.myspace.com/kurotsurugi The_Strongest_There_Is

    Ya know, when I wrote my response above, I didn’t notice the ass-clown above Dedpool talking shit. First off good sir, If you didn’t like the film, don’t try to kill everyone’s buzz with your BS. Yes, this is a place to share your opinion, but you started off your opinion by degrading everyone else. My statements about twilight and underworld are all in fun and joking, while your grading of ninja assassin is amateur at best. If you think Ninja Assassin had Bad Cinematography, then you don’t know what cinematography is. And when you say the Wachowskis are one hit wonders, what do you mean? They didn’t direct dumbass. Peter Drecker, you seriously need to see more movies, or better yet, if action isn’t your thing…don’t watch movies made for real men that can be appreciated by wonderful ladies. You sir merely come off as an ignorant Punk.

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool aka Jiinx

      LMAO!! I’m jealous you’ve seen it three times already AND have “Ninja” on your PS3. I have to wait til March before I can get it. Ugh!!

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool aka Jiinx

      LMAO!! I’m jealous you’ve seen it three times already AND have “Ninja” on your PS3. I have to wait til March before I can get it. Ugh!!