Ninja Assassin (UK - BD)
Our Marcus was driving through Berlin, and handbrake turned and hit a Ninja...
No longer seeing eye to eye with his own clan, gifted ninja Raizo (played by Korean pop star Rain) turns his back on his brothers and master, Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi), deciding to stop their international assassinations as opposed to taking part in them.
With Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) trying to uncover the truth behind a recent assassination in Berlin, she soon crosses paths with Raizo and working together they bring about a battle between the Europol Special Forces and the mythical ninjas.
After James McTeigue’s other outing with the Wachowski brother's, V for Vendetta rated very highly on my list of greats, I was pretty keen to see Ninja Assassin. The Wachowskis obviously have a love for the skilled dudes in black pyjamas and somehow with these guys you can really feel their connection to the material when showing off their passion projects. For me, this has delivered marvellous results what with the aforementioned V for Vendetta and I personally think Speed Racer is great. Anyway, I missed the cinematic run, so here I am jumping into at the Blu-ray release.
From the opening scene, Ninja Assassin delivered precisely what I was after from the movie—showing off the coolness of a ninja. The first kill is an absolute doozy (which I won’t ruin) and the scene continues to unravel with numerous swooshes of blades, sprays of blood and an immediately cool ninja coming out of the shadows moment. I was happy. It didn’t last long though.
The introduction of the two Europol agents is a mess. The details of their involvement is sketchy, almost like we’d missed an important scene to get us to the point they are investigating and Ben Miles and Naomie Harris do little to draw you in to the conversations they are having or its importance. What doesn’t help is that we get another short (but still cool) fight that really just feels tacked on and then it’s a continual back and forth between lousy Europol agents talking boring plot and what I signed up for—ninja backstory and training.
The movie then just continues to descend into watchable guff which luckily amps up the ninja numbers, but somehow still misses the mark. I mean, we’ve just spent half an hour seeing how skilled a ninja is. Should a whole gang get taken out by a single, injured rogue clan member? Should any of the Europol agents been able to survive their attack? Can’t ninjas, who are seemingly able to track their targets by scent, sense cars hand break turning into them—I mean really? I’m all for seeing ninjas appear from the shadows and even more so fight within moving traffic (is there anything cooler than a ninja on a car?), but somehow since Raizo left the clan training standards seem to have slipped.
As we reach the last act, where we're presented with a full on Europol vs. ninja battle, in which, once again the ninjas didn’t sense the humvees parked outside their mountain fortress and are getting picked off by guns, just because the lights are on. Come on ninjas—throw those awesome ninja stars again! Thankfully running alongside that nonsense (that’s only there to give the insignificant characters something to do) is Raizo’s rematch with his clan. Now this is what I wanted out of the movie and visually, it’s nicely reminiscent of the great anime Ninja Scroll. Having Raizo spin his chain knife around, taking out ninjas left right and centre and all this amongst the falling embers of the flaming fortress was the business and his face off with Lord Ozunu was a visual treat that really put the rest of the movie to shame.
As with all things Wachowski, the visuals look amazing (even if a little heavy on the fake as all hell CG blood). The deep black levels are solid and the contrast of skin tones and bright colours look fantastic in this HD presentation.
Detail is also a thing the disc does well. Raizo’s scars really look great against his glowing skin tone and any new cut or slice he gets looks realistically fresh. Also the deep ridges and the scar on Lord Ozunu‘s face are the sort of things HD transfers are made for. Every pore of his skin is visible and really adds to his character's presence.
The show piece here is the closing fight scene. The glow of the flames, the falling embers, the blackness of the ninja costumes against that backdrop all make for reference quality stuff. Add to this the sheer layers of blood, soot, dirt and sweat to Raizo and the transfer just oozes quality. The film might not be up to scratch but the last ten minutes or so just about make it worth it.
Once again Ninja Assassin is a technical triumph. The overall power of this track makes for exciting times, especially when there’s a mixture of machine gun fire, spinning ninja stars, blades clanging together, punches being thrown and general mayhem. Sound elements are well placed in the speakers and the oomph coming from the bass adds a lot of weight to the experience.
Small atmospherics, like falling shards of glass, rain drops, and ninja whispers all play a nice part in the track (though I've gotta say, the ninja whispers are ridiculous really) and the dialogue is also placed well (though it has to be said most of it is pretty hammy).
For the most part Ninja Assassin’s DTS-HD track is a powerhouse, it has moments of being a little overbearing but generally this is just the sort in your face track the fight scenes needed.
‘The Myth and Legend of Ninjas’ (18:56 HD) is a pretty good mini history of the ninja. It’s a lot like a lot of the Warner Bros. superhero featurettes with experts giving their bits all intercut with ninja history and clips from the movie.
‘The Extreme Sport of a Ninja’ (10:07 HD) is pretty much a stunt featurette but when these stunt men are doing things this awesome, it’s a whole lot more welcome. We get to see the training and rehearsals for many of the key scenes and see just how gruelling the construction of these scenes was. This is pretty great stuff.
‘Training Rain’ (09:52 HD) focuses more on our lead, his history, his training for the movie and how it went.
Lastly there’s a batch of deleted scenes (07:43 HD). I’d assumed they’d lost a whole scene at the start of the movie with the Europol guys (mainly due to the fact it felt so clumsy) but if they did, it’s not here, only a few small nuggets of extra information to make the almost pointless western side of the story make a little more sense.
Ninja Assassin isn’t the ninja movie I’d hope the Wachowskis would make, mainly due to the weak Europol nonsense but it does achieve what all great ninja movies have in the past and that’s make ninjas come off as some of the coolest movie icons there’s ever likely to be.
With the great video and audio presentation, ninjas at work have probably never looked as good on screen, so for those elements it’s definitely worth a look but for me, Ninja Assassin winds up a bit of a disappointment overall (even though the temptation to order some ninja stars hasn’t been this strong since I was a teenager).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 17th May 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English (HoH), Italian, Korean, Norwegian, German, Cantonese, Spanish, Danish, Finnish
Extras: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, DVD/Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles, Rick Yune, Shô Kosugi
Length: 98 minutes
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