Now, I recognize that not many of my regular readers are likely to be into martial arts films of any kind as much as I probably am, much less the somewhat specific sub-genre of ninja films. But, somehow, I did manage to talk one of my friends into going to see this one with me. And, you know what? When it was all over, he thanked me for it! Yeah, that’s how good a film this little sleeper was! I mean, really, this is the best ninja movie I’ve seen since Sho Kosugi did Enter The Ninja back in the early 80’s, practically launching the ninja craze in America. In fact, the Great Master himself was in this movie as the old master who teaches Raizo, the main heroic ninja assassin of the title, played by the Korean pop-star, Rain.
The plot is a ninja film classic; the hero suffers through a brutal and very thourough training as a child to become the ultimate silent assassin only to be betrayed by his clan, who hunt him even as he seeks to bring them to justice. No, really, this is a pretty common theme in these kinds of movies. Honest.
So, the hero, Raizo, has help in the form of an international police researcher and her partner, though, he ends up not being as much help as you’d think at first. She, however, gets in over her head by getting a file, of sorts, from a former Soviet intelligence agent who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, who had been researching the ninja. Mika, the researcher, played by Naomie Harris, had also been researching the connection between the ninja and several high-profile, virtually impossible assassinations. The only problem is, no one else believes her. No one, that is, except the ninja themselves and they come to kill her.
That’s where Raizo comes in. He intervenes and saves her, then takes Mika on the run. Not so much out of choice as neccessity. They run from both the clan and Mika’s organization, who both come after the pair. And, really, that’s pretty much the entire movie, right there. It is, in the truest sense of the word, an action movie, but it’s a bit more than that, too. It’s a kind of archetypal ninja action movie, with all the “required” elements, including honor, justice, a really good training sequence flash-back, a skilled master, a beautiful girl, and, of course, a love story. That, along with the most amazing martial arts action you’ve ever seen in your life, make this a winner.
Now, you may think I’m exaggerating on this, but consider for a moment who made this film. This bad boy was produced by the Wachowski’s of The Matrix fame and the script rewrites were done by J. Michael Straczynski, the guy who wrote Babylon 5. These folks are geniuses in their field and have done truly revolutionary things for science-fiction, movies and television. Really.
I mean, you’ve got the guys who reinvented action and, essentially, set an entirely new standard for action movies. Then, you combine them with the guy who changed the face of episodic television science-fiction. Mash them together with a ninja theme and think about where this might go. And, yes, it really goes there. Honest. It was a visually stunning film. Not in the same way that Avatar was, but, again, as an action movie, it took filmed martial arts to a whole new place. It was fantastic.
Also, while it was paying homage to the ninja films of the 80’s, it included the guy who started it all, in a kind of ultimate homage; Sho Kosugi. I’m pretty much convinced that any really great ninja film has got to include Kosugi or at least reference his work, so, you know, they score on that point.
So, yeah, this is kind of a special sub-genre of film, but if it’s your thing, you have got to rent this one. I’m sure it’s not in the theater any more, but this should absolutely be in your Netflix queue. If you love acttion, martial arts movies, or ninjas, you need to see this one. Really.
And, there you have it. Three movie reviews in three days. A pretty good start to the new year, I think, even if I am reviewing movies from last year!