Ninja Assassin should have been better than it was. I'm not sure why Jackie Chan or Jet Li or, going back a bit further, Sonny Chiba or Bruce Lee could make significantly better martial arts movies for a fraction of the budget this one had. I was excited to see Ninja Assassin too when I saw one of the writers was Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski. For some reason, I just assumed this would set the movie a cut above other mindless action flicks. I forgot that Hollywood has a century long tradition of shoving the work of good writers into its mouth, digesting it and filming what comes out of the other end, a tradition proudly upheld by Ninja Assassin.
If you couldn't tell by the title, Ninja Assassin is not a Jane Austen adaptation, a Pixar film or a romantic comedy about jaded New Yorkers in their 30s trying to find love. I'm not sure why they had to hire a writer like Straczynski when what ended up on screen looks like it was written by a computer. The plot is Martial Arts Movie Plot #3. A man trained from childhood as a ninja betrays his evil ninja master and goes on a one man crusade against his former ninja comrades.
Raizo (Korean pop star Rain whom I only know from a running gag on The Colbert Report) fell in love with a girl who was also being raised at some sort of ninja orphanage run by the cruel and malevolent master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi, star of some ninja movies much better than this). Raizo and Ozunu have a falling out after Ozunu kills the girl for trying to run away. Okay, if this scenario is any way accurate and there happen to be actual ninjas reading this, I don't want to tell you your business or anything but it seems like raising boys and girls together and expecting them to not develop an attraction to each other is really kind of dumb. For all I know, coed ninja dorms are the norm and no problems at all result from that situation but it still seems unrealistic. Moving on.
After the cute girl ninja died, Raizo for some reason went to Berlin. Why? I don't know. One thing I managed to learn was no one in Japan or Germany speaks Japanese or German since the default language for both countries seems to be English so that's good to know. Raizo and the ninja cult come under the notice of a law enforcement organization called Europol. One of the agents gets marked for death when she finds out that Europol seems to be under the corrupt influence of the ninjas. Why she didn't just go and tell Interpol at this point is a mystery. Still, she does manage to get Raizo to protect her which means she get to scream a lot while she watches ninjas beat each other up.
The plot isn't really important, of course. The important part of the movie is the action which wasn't that great. It earns its R rating by showing loads of guys literally getting chopped in half by Raizo's knife-on-a-chain thing that's been prominently shown in the movie's trailer so it wasn't because they were going for some PG-13 compromise. The problem is that the makers of this movie, up to and including famous action film producer Joel Silver* simply lack the imagination of the folks who make the movies of Jackie Chan or Steven Seagal or even the minds behind The Matrix that managed to make Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne look like black belts.
Who would have thought the people who came up with an original title like Ninja Assassin would suffer from a failure of imagination?
*Who hilariously claimed that "the martial arts movie has never really had its day" until this movie was made.