When I was a kid, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answers ran the gamut from rock star to jet pilot, but, for a little while, there, I wanted to be one thing and one thing only. I wanted to be a ninja. Yeah, yeah, I know how stupid it sounds now, but, back then, while I was studying karate and whipping homemade shurikens (my friend, Freddy’s, dad was a metal worker and made us some kick ass ones out of rod iron) at trees whilst dressed in a black sweat suit with a t-shirt wrapped around my face, it seemed downright plausible. I had the books, I studied the moves, and I had every intention of one day moving to Japan to complete my training.
And then I hit puberty, and other things took precedence. Pretty soon, I was smoking, drinking, and chasing tail, and my ninja dreams evaporated like so much bongwater.
I never stopped loving the movies, though. To this day, I get all excited whenever I hear the word “ninja” in a movie title. In the case of Ninja Assassin, however, hearing the word mentioned in the same breath as the action overlords that are the Wachowski Siblings (Larry’s a chick, now, so I can’t really call them brothers anymore, right?), well, excited doesn’t even begin to cover it; I was in a full-blown state of ninjarousal!
Ninja Assassin opens with the bloodiest action sequence I’ve seen since Ichi the Killer. I’m talking a full-on CGI bloodbath, with heads sliced in half, bodies hacked in two, limbs torn asunder, and throwing stars blasting through flesh like bullets through Sonny Corleone at a toll booth. It’s wet, wet stuff, and we haven’t even seen the opening credits sequence yet.
We are next introduced to Europol officer, Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) and sexy researcher, Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris). Mika has uncovered some evidence in a series of political murders that all lead back to a mysterious gang of killers from Japan. As Mika digs deeper, she finds herself a target of a the gang – a clan of ninja overseen by the enigmatic Ozuno (the legendary Sho Kosugi) – and finds an unlikely savior in Raizo (Rain), a former member of Ozuno now bent on bringing the organization down.
And, uh, that’s about it, really. I mean, there’s more, but not that much more. Sure, we get the usual “origin” stuff, interspersed throughout as flashbacks, but Crouching Tiger this ain’t. Still, that’s not a bad thing as what Ninja Assassin lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in stylistic violence and visually stunning action sequences. It’s a non-stop barrage of bloody swordfights, high-flyin’ fisticuffs, and acrobatic eye candy that will have action fans foaming at the mouth.
Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), and produced by the Wachowskis and Joel Silver, Ninja Assassin is an amalgam of early 80’s grindhouse ninja flick and ultra-polished noughties techno-action eyeball-fuck. It’s cartoonishly violent, irredeemably superficial, and as dumb as a bucket of goat spleens, but damnit if I didn’t have a great fucking time watching it. Sure, I’ll probably forget half of the flick before I finish typing up this review, but, you know what? That’s just more reason for me to watch it again, and again, and again…
Warner Brothers brings Ninja Assassin to the medium with a near-pristine 2.35:1 1080p transfer that sports exceptional levels of depth and detail. This is a dark flick (as one would expect from a movie about ninjas!) and blacks are inky and true, with great contrast, and a well defined image throughout. Colors are vibrant and rich, with the blood (what else?) and golden hues of firelight proving especially vivid and appealing. Overall, this is a great looking movie, and the transfer more than does it justice.
The Dolby DTS HD 5.1 audio track is thunderous and immersive stuff, with rumbling bass and crystalline highs, and a nicely spread out surround mix that works all angles of the room. Personally, I’d have liked it if the dialogue were brought up a tick, as I found myself occasionally struggling to hear it during the film’s few quiet moments, but, strangely, I had no problem discerning what was being said during action sequences.
Extras include a nice selection of featurettes, all presented in HD, including:
The Myth and Legend of the Ninja: A really cool look at the history of the ninja, sporting lots of great clips and some surprisingly informative tidbits.
The Extreme Sport of a Ninja: This short featurette offers a look at the variety of stunt choreographers and coordinators recruited for the film. We’re introduced to a variety of professionals from all corners of the “extreme sports” world, including parkour practitioners, elite gymnasts, and one guy who specializes in flipping around in the air whilst kicking things. Bravo, good sir.
Training Rain: A look at the grueling training regimen undertaken by Korean pop star-turned-actor, Rain. The actor spent six months (and up to five hours a day) lifting weights, training with various weaponry, and, essentially, molding himself into a major badass for this role.
Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, and an “exclusive sneak peek” at Clash of the Titans, which I didn’t bother watching as I have absolutely no interest in seeing the film.
I had a fantastic time with Ninja Assassin. Some viewers may take umbrage with the fact that its paper-thin plot is little more than a means to tie together massive action sequences and maximum carnage, but, seriously, what do you expect from a film called NINJA ASSASSIN? The title says it all, folks. It’s about ninjas, assassins, and ninja assassins! If you go into this movie expecting anything more than that, you’re an idiot, and you deserve to be disappointed. Warner Brothers’ Blu-ray features a fantastic transfer, excellent sound quality, and a nice assortment of HD extras that, much like the film, itself, are as entertaining as they are easy on the brain.