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Ninja Assassin
Ninjas will give Vampires some competition.
Ninja Assassin
A Scene from "Ninja Assassin."
OPENING WEEKEND: $15,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $45,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 22nd, 2009: "Ninja Assassin" follows Raizo (Rain), one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them... and vanishes. Now he waits, preparing to exact his revenge.

What to Expect: If there's one thing you can't say about this movie, it's that it it's being coy about its subject matter. Now here's a title to rival "Snakes on a Plane" for sheer candor. See, there's this ninja. And he's an assassin. Full stop.

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Everything I read about this film was like "Ninjas are so hot right now!" To which I can only say, huh? Ninjas have always been hot. Because ninjas are awesome. Yes, I am a ninja fan. In the eternal pirates vs. ninjas debate, I am firmly in Team Ninja. How can you not be on Team Ninja? They're ninjas! Pirates just have rum and guns and stuff. Ninjas have super special secret ninja powers and knives and throwing stars. No contest.

It's true that ninjas haven't really been a major presence on the big screen since the heyday of kung fu films in the 1970s. No, these days it's all about those damn sparkly vampires, about whom the less said, the better. But that may be about to change. Aside from this film, Michael Bay has a ninja film on deck, and an adaptation of no less than four prominent anime titles (which may not actually involve ninjas but sort of share DNA with ninja films) are coming down the pike. Anime adaptations are poised to take over from the getting-stale comic-book adaptations, and there are plenty of ninjas in anime, I assure you.

This film isn't an adaptation of anything, though. And if you look at the credits you see James McTeigue, Joel Silver, John Gaeta...if those names seem familiar, they should. What is this movie, really? It's a Wachowski Brothers film.

They're not directing, no no no. They're producing. But don't be fooled. James McTeigue was their first assistant director on the entire Matrix trilogy as well as "Speed Racer." He's their prodigy. He's one of their stable. There are other crew members who hail from the Wachowskis films, such as visual effects supervisors Gian Ganziano and Dan Glass and editor Joseph Jett Sally. John Gaeta, the visual effects master who gave the Matrix films their look, is strangely not listed on IMDB as having worked on the film although he's given interviews stating that he has. Regardless, the Wachowski team is clearly in the driver's seat here. Undeterred by the spectacular fail of "Speed Racer" (of which I could only bear to watch about twenty minutes), the brothers have gone forward with this film, which has to be something they've spent long hours discussing since they were kids. I mean, come on. If you could pick two filmmakers who would be really into ninjas, who else? The Matrix films were love letters to kung fu films. This film has to be the stuff of late-night under-the-covers-with-flashlights pipe dreams over comic books and bootleg films from Hong Kong.

Soooooo what's it about? Well, see, there's this ninja...and he's an assassin. I joke, but that's really kind of it. A ninja assassin (hey, great title for a movie!) named Raizo, who was raised by a pack of ruthless killers (shades of "Hitman" there), turns against his clan when they kill his friend. He teams up with Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) and the cans of whoop-ass, they are opened. Hey, it ain't "The Usual Suspects." A straightforward plot upon which to hang what are reportedly some truly jaw-dropping fight and action scenes.

A great deal is riding upon who they've cast as Raizo. So who is he, this one-named unknown with the New Age-y moniker Rain? Well, he's a Korean pop star.

And, cue the needle-across-the-vinyl sound effect. Huh? A Korean pop star? You are correct. He's 26 with a lifelong passion for dance and music who's a sensation...in Korea. Okay. Rain's been making forays into films, and his most recent role was in...surprise, surprise, "Speed Racer." Now, I didn't make it far enough into the film to see his scenes, but I'm told by certain trusted film buff friends that he was probably the best thing in it. Others must have been impressed too, to have placed this film squarely upon his relatively inexperienced shoulders. It's hard to say how much he'll be doing on his own and how much will be stunt work, but some really amazing behind-the-scenes footage of Rain training to perform martial arts stunts for the film has been circulating around the Tubes. I mean, if the brothers got Laurence Fishburne to look like a badass kung fu master, this guy will probably be a breeze.

Other than Rain, this film has pretty much nobody you've ever heard of, except for venerable Korean character actor Randall Duk Kim, who I guarantee you'd recognize even if you don't know the name (he was the Keymaster in the Matrix films, among many other film and TV appearances). Star power is not what's going to drive people into theaters for this film, that's for sure. That may be a good thing. Star power may bring audiences but those audiences also bring expectations, and martial arts stars are more susceptible to this than most. When someone like, say, Edward Norton is in a film, it doesn't immediately become "an Edward Norton film." But when Jet Li makes a film, it's a Jet Li film regardless of who else is involved. And it's not as if martial-arts stars are terribly thick on the ground these days anyway. Jackie Chan has slowed down considerably, Steven Seagal is a joke and Jean Claude Van Damme is an even bigger joke. Oh, and before you get after me, Chow Yun Fat is not a martial arts actor in that he is not a practitioner outside of the films he's made. He isn't trained in martial arts. He's faked it every time he's had to do it. Now, give him a gun and he's an artist with it.

No, it's the ninjas. That's what'll bring people in, as well as buzz about what is being reported as a truly surprising level of gore. I've turned up reports from a few people who've seen the film, and they report that it's very gruesome, like Uma-vs-the-Crazy-88 gruesome except less cartoony and not in black and white. The violence is described as stylized, like in "300," but very visceral and unflinchingly portrayed. Okay. No clean deaths by ninja here. And if the fight scenes are as mind-boggling as is being trumpeted, people will flock to see it. What do you think drew people in to see "The Matrix?" Keanu's acting? Sorry, Keanu. You know I adore you.

On to the script...wait, hang on a second. Having a giggle fit. Okay, I'm back. Seriously, how much of a script can there be? No one's expecting Tarantinoesque dialogue in a film about a rampaging ninja out for revenge. But someone's got to write all that tiresome talking in between the fight scenes, and the original script came from newcomer Matthew Sand. Reportedly, McTeigue wasn't happy with it so he brought in J. Michael Straczynski to rewrite it, which he did in only 53 hours, according to an oft-repeated (and dubiously truthful) tidbit that's been circulating. Now, Straczynski, or JMS as he's known to geeks like me, wrote last year's "Changeling" (which I really liked), but he's most famous as the creator of "Babylon 5." He's known for his intricate plotting and commitment to consistent arcs, but how much of that can one have in a film like this? A stronger script can only help a film, but it'd be so easy to overthink things for a ninja film. I can just imagine him coming and deciding to needlessly complicate things and ending up with something overwritten. Less is more, and that's honestly not a quality I associate with this man. But this is pure speculation on my part, I have no idea how much he did with the script or what he did.

McTeigue's first film as director, "V for Vendetta," was a stylish, thoughtful film with a lot of interesting cinematic elements in it. I liked it a lot, and felt that it was not over-directed, something that can't be said about the second two Matrix films or "Speed Racer," for that matter. At the time I thought McTeigue had a real future and I'm surprised it's taken him this long (V was four years ago) to helm another project. His next project is the X-Men Origins film about Magneto, and rumor has it now that he'll be directing the new Conan the Barbarian remake, having taken over the reins after Brett Ratner stepped back. Hmm. If only Ratner would step back from all his films.

In Conclusion: Ninjas, baby. Ninjas. All this film has to do is put out a kick-ass trailer (already done, but a longer one would be better) and get it in front of the right eyes and it'll be golden. This worked for "300," and it can work for this film, too. The lack of big stars might lower expectations, which would only make it easier for the film to surpass them. I have a good feeling about this one. Bring on the ninjas!

Similar Titles: V for Vendetta, The Matrix
November 25th, 2009 (wide)
March 16th, 2010 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

James McTeigue

Ji Hoon Jung, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles, Sho Kosugi, Rick Yune

Total: 477 vote(s).

Action & Adventure

Click here to view site

Rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language.

99 min





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