The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ninja Assassin (2009)

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Much of what this blog is based on comes from the great Golan-Globus ninja films of the 1980s and early 90s. Shô Kosugi and Michael Dudkioff kicking ass in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style action films really got me into the kinds of movies I write about here four times a week. As we all know, over time, the ninja fell off in popular culture, and in DTV films as well; but recently it has seen a resurgence. Now Ninja Assassin was not a DTV film, and it wasn't a bomb at the box office either. It makes our Wild Card post this week because a lot of readers dig the 1980s-90s ninja flick as much as I do, and we all want to know how this stood up.

Ninja Assassin is about ninjas who have trained and worked as secret assassins throughout the world for centuries. A woman working for Europol thinks she can link ninjas to a bunch of political assassinations, and when she does, she brings a lot of heat on herself. Luckily for her a ninja has turned his back on his clan after a falling out with his sensei, and he's come to her to protect her and use her help to get back at him. Now they've got to battle the world's major governments, and an army of angry ninjas. The odds don't look good.

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This is as much a ninja film for action fans as it is a ninja film for horror fans. Right away, we're treated to a slaughter fest of blood and dismemberment. The thing is, the film really can't maintain that level of intensity for 90 minutes, so it backs off for a while, inundating us with flashbacks and training sequences. When it jumps back in, it's pretty sweet, especially the end battle, which is a war zone of elite international law enforcement versus highly trained ninjas. That was amazing. Plus, our hero's fight with Kosugi made up for the lack of Kosugi fighting we had throughout the film, which I liked.

The thing is, for the people who think the Golan-Globus films are "cheesy", this wasn't any less cheesy-- I mean, ninjas were still omnipotent like they were back then-- and for the people like me who loved those flicks, this took a lot of the fun of those films out and replaced it with a slasher flick. Don't get me wrong, I dug that. I love half a head flying through the air as much as the next guy. It's just, if I have a choice between Michael Dudikoff catching an arrow in his teeth and a dude's hands chopped off with a throwing star, I'll take the former any day of the week.

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The female lead was played by the very attractive Naomie Harris. You probably don't recognize her from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, because she's so much hotter here. One thing that was interesting about her part was that, though she needed to be saved in a few situations from the hero, she spent more time rescuing him than he rescuing her. She also understood when she was over her head when the ninjas showed up. This is a much more organic strong women compared to the one we had in 12 Rounds, where pretty much a woman who spent the majority of the film as a helpless prisoner was sold to us as a strong woman through one scene of her working under a busted sink. Harris' character really was strong, and it really added to the film.

That's Shô Kosugi if you need him. There'd be no 80s ninja craze without him, and he let us know every moment he was on screen, even when he was losing to the hero (because he was the bad guy after all), that he was the man. I'd rather he be a good guy, but one can't have everything. He actually has a film called Pray for Death available on Hulu, which might be worth checking out. I think he's one of those guys, like Klaus Kinski, who doesn't have a large DTV oeuvre, but his influence on the DTV world is so strong he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame.

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This movie took place in Berlin. That's a very interesting place to set a ninja movie. Other interesting places to consider: Milan, Cairo, Lima, and Cincinnati. Ninjas seem like they can go anywhere, so I guess it doesn't matter where the movie's set, but Berlin just seems interesting. It added a cosmopolitan element to see a Japanese guy walking around a German city, knowing deep down he's a ninja and could kill all of them with his bare hands. I don't know why having him walk in New York or LA would be any less interesting, but as far as I know, those cities have higher Japanese populations, so maybe that's why.

This is worth checking out, but not for the faint of heart, and not for the easily bored either, because you have a big middle section to endure. Kosugi was awesome, though, and so was the action when it existed, especially the very end. Overall, if I have my druthers, I'll stick to the old classics, but this is an interesting addition, and hopefully a sign of things to come in the world of ninja movies. And for my horror readers, this action film was made for you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1186367/

5 comments:

  1. I saw it in the theater, cause I was also happy as hell to see the return of the Ninja film. I mean, these movies were done to deat during the 70s and 80s so they kind of died out after that, but this return to ninja films was a welcomed thing by me.

    I enjoyed this movie, but wasnt blow away by it. I liked the gore and the action, but hated the fact that they went with CGI blood every step of the way. Its so lazy! I hate cgi blood, I think its one of the worst things they could have invented.We even have CGI weapons on this one, something the old movies never did.

    Also, everything was so freaking dark all the time I could hardly see what was happening in some scenes. Specially those that take place inside of that factory building.

    But at the same time I had fun with it. I liked the whole rebellious angle, he going against what he was taught.

    My favorite scene is the one where they start running around the middle of traffic, and people see ninjas running about the city, that was pretty cool.

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  2. Pray For Death is actually my favorite ninja movie of Kosugi's. The perfect element of Ninja and Revenge. Indeed a lot of people like Revenge Of The Ninja more and I understand but Prat For Death was my fave. I even liked it more than American Ninja 1-2. Though I liked Five Element Ninjas best. (Reserve such for your HK binge)

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  3. Also I found this film more enjoyable on second viewings...Kosugi really brings it. The action was a lot of fun, I liked how the training montage was sort of in reverse. I would've preferred a better lead but for Ninja action, I had a good time. Also the opening was very good, the action and training montage was fantastic. I really don't see too many flaws aside from the lead. In fact it would've been perfect had they gotten rid of the government conspiracy angle and just concentrated on Ninja vs Clan.

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  4. Agree with the above post. I liked this movie the first time but loved it the second time. Really good fun and I particularly enjoyed the line direct at Rain "He looks like he's in a boyband" line and having him look at the camera. "He couldn't have heard that?!".

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  5. Yeah, I liked this too, I just felt like the beginning was great, but they couldn't keep that energy up-- I mean, where they had to go from there was the foot chase over speeding cars, the end battle, etc.-- and so the stagnant middle was my one complaint. That ending was so awesome, though, it made the film enjoyable overall.

    I agree completely that CGI blood, weapons, etc. are making for lazy film making. Funny that we were having the same conversation about Blood: The Last Vampire, but it's the truth. Things being dark all the time is another sign of lazy film making. It just makes me appreciate Donner's Superman that much more.

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