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Monsters from the Id

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Monday, December 6, 2010 10:11 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), Cartoons (Not), Christmas (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Craft (Not), Disney (Not), Food (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Lovecraft (Not), Mashups (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Ninjas (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Shirts (Not), Star Wars (Not), Tolkien (Not), Toys (Not), Tron (Not), Tron Legacy (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not), Zelda (Not)
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009 10:41 AM
On the Viewer - Ninja Assassin
 by Fëanor

Despite the fact that ninjas are demonstrably awesome, there are very few good movies that feature ninjas prominently. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is You Only Live Twice (which is the James Bond movie that opens with him faking his death, and then he goes to Japan and fights Donald Pleasence, who was seriously born to play Ernst Stavro Blofeld). So the bar was set pretty low for Ninja Assassin, a film whose title is pleasantly self-explanatory. It was produced by the Wachowskis and directed by their protege, James McTeigue, who gave us the recent, slightly disappointing film adaptation of V for Vendetta. Ninja Assassin was written by relative unknown Matthew Sand in collaboration with comic book author and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski. Korean pop star Rain plays the main character, a ninja named Raizo. Ninja movie veteran Sho Kosugi plays the brutal, uncompromising head of Raizo's ninja clan, Ozunu.

The film wants to leave you with no illusions about how much you will have to suspend your disbelief, or about how much blood and violence you are about to see, so it opens with a ninja creeping up on a yakuza in a relatively crowded and well-lit room and cutting his head in half. This demonstration of the ninja clan's mystical expertise at killing continues with them gorily slaughtering the rest of the people in the room - including an entire yakuza gang, their girlfriends, and an old tattoo artist who happened to be there - despite the fact that the yakuza are all armed with guns and the ninja have only throwing stars and swords. The ninja are somehow able to disappear completely into the room's shadows and avoid every bullet fired at them. The old tattoo artist, it turns out, is an avatar of an old horror movie archetype: The Old Man Who Warns the Young People About the Evil That Is About to Destroy Them, Only to Be Laughed at And Ignored Until It Is Too Late. (I might have to come up with a shorter name for that.) If you're wondering what a horror movie archetype is doing in a ninja movie, well, that's an interesting thing about the movie: a large part of it is really more a monster movie than a ninja movie, with the ninjas as stand-ins for xenomorph-style aliens who can practically teleport between shadows and then leap out of them suddenly to tear people apart.

Another point about the old man: he happened to meet this very same clan of ninjas before years and years ago and survived that first encounter due to a very rare and random physical deformity. Why he explains this out loud before the ninjas have left the room, I don't know, as it practically gives them instructions on how to kill him. It's also utterly ridiculous that later on in the film someone else who is completely unrelated to the old man turns out to have exactly the same rare and random physical deformity which also saves her from death-by-ninjas. Come on now. The idea works the first time, but it's just laughable when they pull it out for a second go.

Anyway, after the opening slaughter, we are introduced to attractive young woman and Europol investigator Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris), who has dug up evidence that ninjas really do exist! In fact, ninja clans have been secretly kidnapping children, turning them into killing machines, and sending them out to assassinate people for money for hundreds of years. Oddly, most of the other characters in the film seem to think the existence of ninjas is about as likely as the existence of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and I'm not sure why. I mean, we know that ninjas did historically exist, and the idea that there might still be people out there killing for money under that name is not particularly far-fetched. It is a bit far-fetched that they would also have magical superpowers, as they do in this film, but whatever.

Very quickly, Mika's investigations are noticed by people in power, and we discover that the ninja conspiracy goes right to the top. She and her boss get shut down and Mika begins to (quite rightly) fear for her life. Luckily, there's a good ninja around to help her! Raizo, as we learn slowly from a series of flashbacks, was taken in when he was only a small child and for many years was tortured and trained and molded by the head of his ninja clan, a man named Ozunu. Ozunu speaks of his trainees as his children, and calls himself their father. But the clan is hardly a warm and happy family. In fact, the laws of the ninja are cruel and terrible. Raizo, after losing his girlfriend and being asked to kill an innocent, finally gets fed up with it all and defies and abandons his clan, even attacking and scarring Ozunu before he leaves. Now he's on the run from Ozunu and the clan and eager to help Mika destroy them.

And that's pretty much it for plot; the rest of the movie is just a whole lot of fight sequences. But hey, that's what we all came for, right? The problem is, ninja fight scenes are, almost by their very nature, really difficult to follow. After all, every ninja wears the same all-black uniform, they all move really quickly, and they always work in total darkness. So pretty much whenever they're fighting, you can't see what's going on! There's just the flash of blades and then a bunch of blood and limbs go flying by. It's a bit disappointing.

Also disappointing is the fact that the lead-up to the end of the movie doesn't make all that much sense. A bunch of well-armed military dudes are easily picked apart by the ninja as the assassins swarm into their base in an attempt to take down Raizo. It seems very clear that the ninjas mean to kill Raizo. They certainly injure him grievously. But in the very next scene, a character somehow correctly assumes that if Raizo is left defenseless, the ninjas will suddenly change their tactics and capture him alive instead. And then those well-armed military dudes succeed in killing a bunch of ninjas by... shooting at them, just like they tried to do unsuccessfully, over and over again, 15 minutes ago. Admittedly, this time the ninjas have been caught by surprise out in the light. But it's still a little odd that characters that have been built up throughout the film as nigh invincible superhuman killers would now suddenly be taken down by the same bullets that they'd successfully avoided so many times before.

All that being said, the ninjas are still pretty impressive and it's fun to see them at work. Plus, the fact that the epic final battle sequence takes place mostly in the light means you can finally actually see what's going on! In fact, the ending of the film is really quite excellent. The battle sequence climaxes with a fantastic, well-filmed, exciting, super-powered duel between Raizo and Ozunu - a duel that even includes some pretty awesome banter. Raizo tells Ozunu, "You are not my father. This is not my family. The breath I take after I kill you will be the first breath of my life." That is an awesome line right there. Raizo's character is actually reasonably well-developed - I mean, for a ninja movie - and the very last scene where he (spoiler alert! - but really, how did you think it was going to end?) climbs the wall out of the clan headquarters, finally following his girlfriend to freedom from his horrific childhood, is surprisingly emotionally effective.

Ninja Assassin is not going to win any Oscars. The acting isn't exactly stunning, and I wasn't moved to tears by the film's profundity. But the dialog is actually funny and clever sometimes, the action is fun, and the story is engaging. As far as ninja movies go, it's easily one of the best ever.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), Ninjas (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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