Previously, I had Buzzed about Rain’s recent film, ‘Ninja Assassin’. I did explicitly say that it wasn’t something that really caught my attention to begin with, though I did note that, with the Wachowski brothers and James McTeigue on board as producers and director respectively, “this project is made by well-regarded people.” There is also an appeal of the ninja elements within the film, mainly because there were elements that I myself had enjoyed playing on video games as a much, much younger person (I am still not that old, as it stands). As an aside, I will end up seeing a lot more of these elements, like the nunchucks, samurai swords and what not as the movie moved along.
In fact, I would get a lot more than I bargained for, given how extreme things turned out to be.
Raizo, an orphan not born but definitely bred by the Ozunu clan to be a deadly ninja assassin, was handpicked by Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi) to be his designated successor almost from day one. We see the young Raizo (Yoon Sungwoong/Joon Lee and later Rain) being whipped/cut/beat/bled/fist thrust through his stomach by his master (no joke) whenever he failed his training. Helping him to recover from all this was Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein, and later portrayed by a comely Anna Sawai), a girl who was in the same clan as his, appears to prick a hole in his conscience and runs the risk of turning him somewhat human. Though he refused to come with her, she tried to escape, but failed in doing so. Her punishment: death. It proved to be the starting point for his rebellion.
All of this is cut back and forth to the present day in Berlin. Mika Corretti (Naomie Harris), a EUROPOL agent, investigates a series of money laundering activities. Along with her superior Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles), she links them to murders perpetrated by the Ozunu clan. With Ozunu sensei sensing (see what I did there? 🙂 ) that she’s a little too close, he dispatches his assassins after her. That’s when Raizo rains (see what I did here too? 🙂 ) down on their parade and saves her, as they continued their journey together to kill the Ozunu clan.
I wrote in the above that the filmmakers pushed things to the extreme in this film. By that, I mean blood. Gore. Violence. People having their faces sliced up. Some have their legs chopped up, and their arms lobbed off. Even the children were not particularly spared; though I have (unfortunately) been somewhat desensitised in seeing grown men being beat up on screen, I admitted to wincing more than a few times when I Ozunu whipping the sole of Raizo’s feet. Of course, it’s not real, but in that regard at least, McTeigue has managed to achieve a sense of suspension of disbelief. At least, I kept telling myself it was not real.
But my God, the how the blood flowed almost from the very first scene. OK, I lied. Not almost…for sure, the screen was filled with crimson less than a few minutes after I plonked down my ass in my seat. A few seconds before that was the hip hop music that invaded the theater, and for some reason, it was at that moment that I realise something: ‘Ninja Assassin’ is a movie that is meant to capitalise on the current ‘cool’. By that, I mean as a film, it is made to be as ‘cool’ as possible in a conventional way, but not to necessarily break new grounds. That flashed through my mind, and the warning flags went up, but I kept it in check for that moment, and continued to watch…Sung Kang (who I’ll forever associate as Han in the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies) and his gang being sliced to pieces (literally). The nunchuks that I wanted to see so much did make their appearance, and by God they were fearsome weapons. In fact, the one thing that was definitely cool was the use of the classic Japanese/ninja/samurai weapons. You can never go wrong if you have a samurai sword or a kyoketsu shoge (a blade-chain) in your hands.
You can, however, go wrong if the spoken words does not have a lot of inspiration. A part of the problems lies with the script. The producers hired J. Michael Straczynski to write a new draft just six weeks before the production was supposed to begin. He himself proudly claimed that it was done in 53 hours. It made me wonder, then, what he was smoking during those hours when lines like “Weakness compels strength, betrayal demands blood” and “The breath I take after I kill you will be the first breath of my life.” In light of the circumstances, it seemed like a fine achievement (the final draft of a feature film script in less than three days). In the light of the cinema’s projectors, however, perhaps a little more time to work out the kinks of “Do you remember the sound she made when I stuck her?” would have been helpful. It’s not an easy job, though, to come up with a good script, let alone come up memorable lines remembered for the right reasons. I did expect a somewhat-deeper film, given that between them, the filmmakers did come up with classics like the ‘Matrix’ trilogy and ‘V for Vengeance’.
Having said that, given that this film is not made for the script but for the star, perhaps it should be retitled ‘R for Rain’. How did he do? In my humble opinion, he is quite easily the best thing in the film…but that is not necessarily to say that he is absolutely great. His voice sounded a bit weird to me, a lot more guttural than really necessary. As such, “Mika, I don’t want to sound critical…” ended up sounding more funny than urgent. Beyond that, all those months of training paid off; if you’ve come to the cinema only to see him, I don’t think you would be disappointed. I suspect the Wachowskis pushed him as hard as they did their ‘Matrix’ stars, but Rain’s athleticism makes the fight scenes quite cool to watch…if you can stomach the blood. In fact, the fight scenes are quite well worked out, if not as well edited (I couldn’t even see what was going on in some of the scenes). The parts that I did manage to see was well-done. The rest of the cast do not lack talent, but I feel they’re there without truly getting into their roles. I did, however, find it interesting that a fair number of them are Korean of some sort. Did Rain pull cables for these guys? Almost certainly for Joon Lee (a member of a band Rain manages), but I don’t think the likes of Rick Yune or Sung Kang needed pulling.
Ultimately, I feel that ‘Ninja Assassin’ is an extreme movie that played too safe and stay too much within conventional boundaries. Is this to ensure the best possible return on their investment? Perhaps, but as the movie cost a reported US$40 million to make (more than a quarter of which given by the German government), perhaps they could have made it deeper, given more time to some of the other characters not to further the plot, but to deepen their characters. With the exception of Rain and the action scenes, everything and everyone else, the music, the dialogue…seems…normal. The intent, almost certainly, is for this movie to be Rain’s breakout role in Hollywood (and, by extension, the whole world, even if he was already famous as a singer). I personally find it unfortunate that they did not appear to truly break out from the genres they’re playing in.
Could’ve been special.