Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Film Review: "Ninja Assassin"

The very title of this film is enough to send any anime-loving, geeky teenage boy into a frenzy, any macho, blood-lusting college guy to declare, “Dude, yessssssssssss,” or just about every other person of the male gender to at least take notice.

But what about the rest of us? I have to admit, being a female college student doesn’t exactly place me within the film’s target audience, but I’ve always been a fan of stylized films such as Quentin Tarentino and Frank Miller, so I thought, why not give this a shot. It could be fun.

The basic premise of this film is not complicated, which I think the film has going for it. One of its main strengths is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s an overused plot that we’ve seen a million times over, and in much better ways. But this film is not claiming to be Oscar-worthy. They just want to keep your attention for 99 minutes. “Dare you to” might actually be a more accurate description.

The intensity is pretty much non-stop from beginning to end. Right off the bat, the opening scene very quickly turns into a bloody ninja massacre. The gratuitous, extremely animated, and unrealistic violence is actually where a great deal of the cheese factor comes from. It’s nonstop, in-your-face, and unrelenting. The bright red corn-syrup gets more screen time than any two characters. This movie must be entered knowing that or you’ll never make it out alive.

Bloodiness aside, the choreography of the fight scenes are spectacular. The “Matrix” guys were definitely involved. The acrobatics alone were enough to keep me glued. They’re such a visual feast that you can’t take your eyes away. Or maybe you can’t keep your eyes opened. To their credit, my attention was kept from beginning to end. But that may not be to my credit.

A legitimate defense of this movie, however, is that it isn’t completely devoid of any kind of characterization. The title character, Raizo, was worth caring about. He wasn’t overly complicated nor did he have much depth, but he was likeable, so I cared, which is essential to any movie’s success.

Raizo’s story was familiar: the devoted pupil realizes the error of his brutal master’s ways and rebels, seeking revenge. Even the murdered love interest is hardly a new concept. But I didn’t really care because I liked him. For this kind of a movie, that was enough.

The movie made this killing machine a human being. Part of how this was accomplished was by dehumanizing his antagonists. His old master and “brother” from the Ninja training school were completely brutal, violent, unfeeling bastards with no regard for anyone other than their cult-like brotherhood. They’re greatest aspiration in life is to kill. It’s what they’ve been trained for their entire lives and what they live for now.

Also serving as a humanizing factor for Raizo is his relationship with Mika, a legal assistant who gets herself in over her head when she decides to pursue an investigation into the dark underworld of the Ninja culture. Raizo becomes her guardian and they establish a sweet friendship. His relationship with a girl within the Ninja school also gives him an endearing if not predictable attachment for the audience to connect with.

While it isn’t really explained why Raizo and not any of the others saw the brutality and inhumanity of their Ninja Father’s ways, it isn’t really relevant because this movie isn’t a character study or a thought-provoking drama. It’s a movie about ninjas, cool fight scenes, and a guy to cheer for. This then leads back to the question of the use and relevance of this genre, but obviously people keep coming back for it. Today’s morbid fascination with violence is only on fire because we continue to fuel it.

This is not great filmmaking. But it establishes its goal. The question of the dangerous level of desensitization our culture is undergoing is a different issue, but one that certainly shouldn’t be disregarded in relation to this movie.

But regardless, this film knows that that’s exactly what’s happening and they banked on it. Don’t expect to come out with a philosophical discussion on your tongue, but simply, in the words of Neo, “Whoa,”…and perhaps a horrific look in the mirror and question of why exactly we do keep coming back for more. And a deathly fear of shadows.

Or is it ok to say that sometimes you're just looking for a senseless good time?


Katie said...

You are a good sister to have watched that with your brothers. One part of this review jumped out at me: the phrase "cheesy ball of blood and..."

Teehee and gross.

Laurelin said...

HAHA. Thanks, Katie.

Anna said...

I totally agree with Katie. I would have just given my brothers a pat on the head and stayed at home or something.

Laurelin said...

Would I ruin any kind of reputation I held with you guys if I said a small part of me actually wanted to see it??