Ever since The Matrix, fans of the Wachowski’s Brothers have been eagerly awaiting the next big thing that will make their jaws drop as violently as they did when they first experience the genre re-writer in theaters in 1999. While they produced V for Vendetta, that film wasn’t nearly as successful as their previous works and their next turn as directors with Speed Racer stumbled and fell as well (although I personally enjoyed it). Finally with Ninja Assassin, they return once again to the producers seats and after much chit chat online about its production, the film finally debuted to screens in November of last year…and to lackluster results. With generally unfavorable reviews and a small box office intake, Ninja Assassin just wasn’t the all-out action fest a lot of people wanted.
The filmmakers behind The Matrix and V for Vendetta bring new blood to martial arts movies in this smashing adventure. Korean pop star Rain plays heroic, deadly Raizo. Trained from childhood in the way of the Ozunu Clan ninja, he is stalked by fellow warriors and their dojo patriarch (martial arts legend Sho Kosugi)…and is on the run with a Europol agent (Naomie Harris) who has proof the clan sells assassination services to governments.
I saw a trailer for Ninja Assassin within about a week of it originally hitting online sites. I only need to hear “Wachowski” and I’m there—as hit and miss as their works have been, on some level I’ve enjoyed all of them and as such I hold out hope to be wowed once again. Knowing full well they were only producers on this production, I knew not to expect something astonishing but I was excited nonetheless. Although I skipped it in theaters (sadly the reviews influenced my ultimate decision to pass on it), I eagerly awaited the eventual Blu-ray release, and now that it’s in my hands…I can see why it scored a mere 26% on Rotten Tomatoes.
While I did enjoy every action sequence that the film presented (especially that roadway fight), the character and plot building sequences were terribly disjointed and seemingly thrown in at random. I get the need to add back story to the whole thing, but the sporadic cutaways that were seemingly triggered by the most inane current-world events were both distracting and highly boring. Rain’s character showed almost no depth or emotion based on what he went through as a youth, so why we were shown all of the pain and suffering that he endured, I don’t know, since it had very little reflection on his current character. This isn’t a knock against Rain’s performance—it was quite good and all (and the martial arts he was able to pull off was equally good), but the direction the character took was rather deviated from the tormented, cold soul he was in his youth.
Then there was the whole Interpol set of circumstances which became quite dull and trite in their own way after you spent a little time with them. The problem again wasn’t the characters so much as the pacing and usage of them—whenever they showed up it was almost exclusively to further the plot along and Naomie Harris’s character made for a rather questionable love interest for Rain. At least I guess that’s where they were eventually taking her character—their flirting was minimal but the final sequence in the film seemed to imply that they were going to go all smoochy smooch with one another. But even as random as their relationship was, it still wasn’t the core issue of what was wrong with the film.
The action was great, the acting and actors were all fine, but it was really just the pacing that went wrong. It was billed as a non-stop action film and I expected something more along the lines of Ong Bak where it was 90% action and 10% plot…but it was probably a fifty/fifty split here on Ninja Assassin. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the way it was pieced together and structured meant it come out more like a cobble-stone street rather than a smooth asphalt driveway. The film definitely opened strong, but sadly the end result was something that was less than spectacular. It’s worth a Rental at least for action fans, but for a film that’s so loaded with blood and violence that borderlines on cartoonish at times, it just really takes itself far too seriously when it’s back in the “real world.”
Well there’s one thing you can expect from this film to appease you—and that is its Blu-ray presentation. The set arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with an embossed slipcover. Inside the two-disc case is the Blu-ray disc itself along with a copy that contains both a DVD and Digital Copy of the film as well. Extras are sadly quite limited, but overall it’s a tidy package and once you get into the technical specs, it gets a tad bit sweeter.
The VC-1 encoded transfer will undoubtedly put a giant smile on your face, even from the very start. The clarity is impeccable and while there is a heavy dosage of grain, the action scenes are so intense that you’re just thankful for a 1080p resolution so you can take it all in. The aforementioned street sequence with the ninjas falling, jumping, and running into cars is absolutely spectacular to watch, as everything from spurting red blood to glistening black streets jump off the screen with fantastic detail and depth. Being a movie about ninja’s there is of course a lot of shadow work too, so the vast majority of the film is shrouded in dark, inky blacks, but there are more than a few daytime sequences to brighten up the film (usually just the sequences back during Rain’s characters training though). Overall it’s a beautiful transfer and without it I doubt I would have enjoyed the action bits as much as I did.
Actually, without the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed them at all. This mix is absolutely incredible as right from the opening scene we get a ton of directional work as the Ninja darts around the room, tossing out throwing stars and slicing people up without hesitation. It’s brutal and violent and the sound presentation takes a good heft of the responsibility for selling it—and it truly doesn’t let you down. Whenever the films story would take a yawn-inducing turn, I was always kept alert because of the sound mix—even exterior sequences like a meeting in the park had surround effects that perked your ears up. It’s a very vivid mix to be sure and without a doubt it’s the best way to experience the film.
Extras? Well as mentioned previously, there are only a few:
The Myth and Legend of Ninjas (18:56, 1080p)
The Extreme Sport of a Ninja (10:07, 1080p)
Training Rain (9:52, 1080p)
Deleted Scenes (7:43, 1080p)
Exclusive Look at Clash of the Titans (5:07, 1080p)
Thankfully they’re all in 1080p, but as far as actual talk on how the film itself was made you have only the short “Rain” piece to look at. The other two featurettes focus more on the Ninja lore itself, which, while interesting, doesn’t really pertain much to this film as it’s more about the slicing and dicing than it is about the actual history of Ninja’s. There are a handful of deleted scenes as well, six total, that don’t really add much more to the film but they’re worth checking out if you enjoyed the film.
Overall Ninja Assassin is pretty much the embodiment of the word “disappointing,” but the action is good and the Blu-ray presentation is pretty stellar so at the very least it is worth a Rental.
Ninja Assassin arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 16th.