Although the film actually doesn't make any direct reference to the events of the first Ninja, allowing newcomers to view it as its own beast, Adkins again plays Casey, an American who traveled to Japan to learn Ninjutsu, but ended up tied up in an assassination plot, and on the run with Namiko (Mika Hiji), the daughter of the man he hoped to meet. Although they survived their last predicament, Namiko isn't so lucky, killed at home while Casey is out picking up a late-night snack to satisfy her pregnant hunger pains. Wracked with guilt and sorrow, Casey goes to stay with his friend Nakabara (Kane Kosugi) at his dojo, only to pick up the trail of Namiko's murderers.
Viewers' expectations are probably pretty low, but as a movie, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear falls pretty short. Many of the performances (including Adkins) drift between "unconvincing" to "genuinely awful", most of the characters are completely underdeveloped or not interesting, and the story is all over the map. Early reviews out of "cool" film festivals have been almost reverent in their praise, but there's a sense that a supercharged audience might simply drown out any dead air. Now, before anyone writes me an angry email about how the sequel to Ninja "isn't meant to be Oscar-caliber", believe me, this isn't about unrealistic expectations. There are simply sections of Shadow of a Tear that are straight-up boring. Anything between major fight scenes (and there's more than one would expect) is likely to leave the average viewer checking their watch. These things only need a clothesline plot, but this is so thin that one of the bad guys isn't even up to anything, other than doodling in a sketchbook and playing chess with his assistant.
That said, there's absolutely no question that Shadow of a Tear improves on the original in the action category. Although I'm personally a fan of longer sparring sequences and more cleverness, ala Jackie Chan (something like, say, one of Adkins' feet being chained to the floor, or an unconventional item as a weapon -- something to make the fight unique), Florentine's straightforward combat sequences are fast and brutal. He and Adkins pack in almost 10 major fight sequences in under 100 minutes, with highlights including a friendly sparring match where emotions get the best of the opponents, a surprisingly brutal drunken brawl in a bar, a showdown with one of the bad guy's right-hand men with Adkins in full ninja garb, and the film's finale, matching Adkins with an opponent worthy of his time. In all of the fights, Florentine shoots the action with as much clarity and steadiness as he can muster, and Adkins moves so fast that one wonders if Florentine sped up the film.
The intended pleasures of a film like this are simple, but that doesn't mean the movie automatically earns a pass. Obviously, I know that this is a modern B-movie, from the cheesy title to the implausible ending. Still, when I say that Tear could use a more compelling story or better acting, it's a complaint in the spirit of the film Florentine and Adkins want to make, not misplaced expectations. The film's positives and negatives split the movie right down the middle: there's plenty of really phenomenal martial arts action that fans of the genre ought to see, yet also a ton of weaknesses that can't just be chalked up to the fact that most movies in the same genre or style are mediocre at best. The action may be more than worthy of your Redbox dollar, but labels like "greatest DTV action film of all time" will have to wait for a moment when Florentine and Adkins' storytelling and performances land a little closer to the mark.
The Video and Audio
Trailers for Parkland, As I Lay Dying, Charlie Countryman, and Hell Baby play before the main menu. An original trailer for Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is also included (not in the special features, but under the "Previews" menu).