Ninja Assassin
Fire and Rain? James Taylor’s lawyers are preparing some papers.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/25/2009
Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Rain, Naomie Harris, Shô Kosugi, Ben Miles, Rick Yune, Anna Sawai, Randall Duk Kim, Sung Kang, Joon Lee

Amidst all the family films and early Oscar contenders, there’s one bit of counter programming hitting theaters this Thanksgiving weekend, “Ninja Assassin”.

The film is about an ancient ninja clan, who commit assassinations around the world – for a hefty fee of course. A forensic researcher (Naomie Harris) stumbles onto their existence using the help of a European federal agent of sorts (Ben Miles) and their inquiries attract the kind of attention that gets you dead.

Luckily for them, there’s one ninja going against the grain. Raizo (played by Rain, Korea’s version of Justin Timberlake) has committed himself to taking the clan down for predictable, but for the purposes of the film plausible, reasons. From there, it’s an all out bloodbath as each side attempts to claim victory.

Look, you probably aren’t going to see this film because you’re looking for Shakespeare. And don’t worry, you’re not going to get it. “Ninja Assassin” is a fast paced series of quick edit, ramped film speed, amputation filled fights with more digital blood than your average home computer and quad-core processor can handle.

I’ll get to my issues regarding these fights in a second but the bottom line is that this is one fun ride of a film and well worth it for action junkies and those of us just looking for a palette cleanser before the onslaught of serious dramas looking to win golden statuettes.

Helping this work so well is that the film is a bonifide R-rated picture. From the opening scene, you realize that director James McTeigue is going for the jugular and that this isn’t just a bunch of people flailing backwards when a sword slices their mid-section. Here, all of the weapons are sharp and cut deep (or through) and it’s made quite clear that if you weren’t raised as a ninja, you’re not going to be able to fight a ninja – you will die.

One of the most enjoyable elements is the weapon that Raizo favors – a sharp, curved blade on the end of a long chain that he swings around, much like Kratos’ chain blades in the video game God of War and to much the same effect. Sure, so much of the action and use of this weapon is digital but it works … and works well.

Another great aspect of ninja mythos that kept the film exciting is the ability for these deadly warriors to vanish into and appear out of shadows. This allowed fights to pop out of anywhere a light wasn’t shining and looked fantastic, like ghosts appearing out of thin air … only these ghosts have swords and shuriken.

Now, with all this blustering about how much bloody fun the action is, there are some major drawbacks – namely the quick editing cuts and shaky camera work. Whether it’s due to Rain’s martial arts ability or just a choice that McTeigue made, most fights are composed of numerous short movements all cut together to make a complete scene.

Often enough, that’s okay because you’re so busy marveling at someone’s limb being severed or looking for another ninja to appear out of nowhere that it’s best to just strap in, sit back and feel the G’s. However, and this is most glaringly obvious when a set of ninjas chase Raizo down a busy street and everyone’s dodging cars while throwing shuriken and swinging swords, there are times when you just wish they’d use a steadicam and use a few long takes to really soak in all that’s going on. This scene in particular brought out the shaky camera work and almost frustrated me right out of enjoying all the carnage … almost.

Even with those negatives, and the expected thin and/or cliché character development, I still had a tremendously good time letting all of the ass kicking pass before my eyes and give “Ninja Assassin” a 3.5 out of 5. If you like action films full of blood, this is the Thanksgiving movie to choose.