The Way of the Word

6. August 2010

Review: Ninja

USA 2009. Directed by Isaac Florentine. Starring Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hiji. Runtime 86 minutes

Casey (Scott Adkins) is a Westerner who studies ninjutsu in Japan. When his sensei (Togo Igawa) has reason to fear that his former student Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara) plans to steal the mythic Yoroi Bitsu, which contains the equipment of the last ninja, sensei sends Casey and his own daughter Namiko to take the trunk to a safe place in New York. Unfortunately, Masazuka not only finds out about it, he is also connected to a cult-like organisation that has enough manpower to try to steal the trunk. Of course things deteriorate to a point where a showdown between Casey and Masazuka becomes inevitable.

Ninja is not an ambitious movie. The sets actually look like studio backlot, the actors are so wooden that trees would be ashamed to be associated with the same adjective. The dialog is clichéd, the script has plenty of plotholes. The movie does not have a single original idea, and the movies that “inspired” certain scenes are obvious. Then again, how many action movies have by now “borrowed” the “Terminator attacks police station” scene from Terminator 1?

Where the movie excels, however, is when it comes to its prime directive: the martial arts action sequences. They don’t go too far over the top, but instead appear quite realistic and yet stunning. There are a few digital effects which are used to enhance some moments (Masazuka’s hypnotic swordwork comes to mind), the fights however are stunts and wire-fu rather than computer effects.

Adkins’s physical presence in this film is most impressive, and his past as a martial artist and stuntman makes his work here convincing. Ihara’s acting is extremely uneven, as if he’s not quite sure what kind of character he’s supposed to portray. Almost from one scene to the next, he switches from being a swaggering thug to someone who just wants to be accepted by his father figure. Which would be fine, if it were made to appear as two facets of the same character. Instead, it seems like two different characters. Mika Hiji’s role suffers from bad writing. Her character is supposed to be the daughter of the ninjutsu dojo’s sensei, and she was supposedly trained in this art since birth. So how does it happen that she has to be rescued by Casey all the time? She shouldn’t have any more problems with the waves of attacking henchmen than he does.

Despite its flaws, however, Ninja delivers what it is supposed to: stunning and amazing martial arts action. As any b-movie connoisseur knows, story and acting are secondary in b-grade martial arts movies. Action is everything, and Ninja delivers it in spades, making this movie a very enjoyable and entertaining way to spend an evening.

Verdict: recommended

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