Brought to you by the same team as V for Vendetta (produced by the Wachowski bros and directed by James McTiegue), the plot is simple with the opening delivering the best scene. The Yakuza gang delinquents suffer a collective blood-spewing, decapitation death at the hands of an invisible knife-wielding foe. Later, Interpol agents in Berlin learn that demon ninjas are to blame, and the biggest, baddest-ass of them all is Raizo (played by Korean pop star Rain).
There is a lot of origin story told via flashbacks about a ninja boot camp - think TV's Kung Fu grasshopper lessons, Lady Snowblood (the movie that influenced Tarantino's Kill Bill) and Rikki Oh, with Deerhunter's Vietnamese camp sensibility. Add a dash of blossoming ninja boy/girl love and the recipe is complete. The ninja's training camp is run by the strict and evil gruff-voiced super master Ozuno (Shô Kosugi). Due to the vile and intolerable conditions (like torture and murder), Raizo deserts the camp, causing the other ninjas to pursue him as he in turn pursues them. Yes, this is another moralistic revenge flick based upon good trumping evil.
For all of Raizo's sad backstory, he must be the biggest baddest ninja ever or else he's up against a huge array of weenie-armed ninjas because he dispatches hoards of combatants in every fight scene. There's massive blood letting, steel tipped bear claws, jabbed ribs, dismemberment, sword-plunging, magical wound healing, flying ninjas and a debilitating gut punch. Sadly, most of the fight scenes take place in pitch black leaving only dark blue-hued shadowy figures to pulsate as red sprays across the screen, but one cool effect is the hallucinatory trail left by the chain knife gizmo as it hurls through the air.
The acting is as cardboard and generic as it gets. Mika (Naomie Harris) is an Interpol agent who holds the key to unlock the details surrounding the secretive assassin clan. Her supervisor, Maslow (Ben Miles), is a two-faced twit, and then there's Rain, his sinewy body twisting through the air as he gets cut, stabbed, whipped, cattle prodded, chained like King Kong and does it all without a shirt - a possible audition piece for the next Twilight flick. Rain's command of the English language relegates him to catch phrases; he says "Let's go!" no less than four times.
My favorite parts were the times when evil ninjas would close in; the creepy yet funny whispers would come from everywhere in theater with the Dobly surround sound hissing: "traitor," "behead him," "shhh," "kill kill kill." It would make a great alarm system for your house.
A combination of Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Iron Monkey wire work, Jet Li's contemporary martial arts, early '70s samurai movies, Enter the Dragon and horrible overseas action flicks, Ninja Assassin falls short only when you think about how implausible every freaking scene is.
According to my sources, when ninjas aren't cutting off heads and flipping out, they spend their time flying. Oh, and sometimes they stab. Be careful what you say - for Ninja Assassin is listening... and preparing its sequel.
Ninja Assassin ★★✩✩✩
Starring Rain, Naomie Harris, Rick Yune, Ben Miles, Shô Kosugi. Directed by James McTiegue. Rated R.