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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ninja Assassin (Blu-ray)
Ninja Assassin (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // March 16, 2010 // Region Free
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 12, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Yeah, so Ninja Assassin is pretty violent...y'know, on account of all those ninjas. It's almost as demented and batshit psychotic as the Rambo redux and Punisher: War Zone, swapping out the heavy artillery for katanas, shoge hooks, and a few hundred thousand shuriken. Each slash spews a geyser of computer-generated blood, sopping every square inch of the screen in the red stuff. Limbs are lopped off, swordsmen lose their fingers, guys in black pajamas are skewered or tumble backwards with a big-ass sword plowed through their heads, ninjas are split clean down the middle, and heads very literally roll. You're reading that and are probably thinking that just about everything you need to know about Ninja Assassin is right there in the title, and...okay, you're not far off.

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire...ninja assassins. Their secret mountain hideaway doesn't look to be part of Sprint's 3G network or anything, but someone's calling up these guys somehow and shelling out a hundred pounds of gold a pop to keep them in business. Europol analyst Mika (Naomie Harris) is starting a spot a trend, launching her own covert investigation into these ninja assassins. Raizo (Korean pop star Rain) was raised from childhood into the ninja lifestyle, sure, but he's not here to carve Mika apart limb from limb...nope! He wants to help. See, turns out these ninja assassins aren't the
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sweetest, most kindly folks, and Raizo has a helluva score to settle. The shorter version of that whole thing goes stab-stab-AAGH!-head-falls-off-slash-slash-throw-a-chain-around-that-slices-off-some-poor-bastard-at-the-knees-stab-stab-lather-rinse-repeat.

It's pretty much what you'd keep your fingers crossed hoping for out of a flick called "Ninja Assassin", really. The blood-soaked hyperviolence first kicks in right around the four minute mark, and the battle royales that follow are every bit as cacklingly and cartoonishly over-the-top. I mean, this is a movie that seems so annoyed with having to lob out some exposition that it follows that up with a ninja chick's bloody innards being tumble-dried in a laundromat. A far cry from just being a bunch of brawlers in black tights, these ninjas have superpowers too: they can turn invisible, scream along at super-speed, and whip out a healing factor that'd make Wolverine jealous. You even get to catch a peek at little kids in the Secret Ninja Academy beating the holy hell out of each other.

This is the big, dumb, deliriously bloody movie that Cannon wished they could've churned out in the '80s. The legendary Shô Kosugi even turns up as the master villain, exuding a classic sort of menace that the talky, suave badniks we usually see on these shores never do. The guy may be well into his sixties by now, but Kosugi still whoops no shortage of ass here. Rain makes for a pretty great action hero himself. I never would've guessed that this was his first lead role, but it doesn't exactly hurt that he's surrounded by such an inhuman amount of talent. The fight choreography is dazzlingly acrobatic, and although the geysers of blood and some of the weaponry are definitely computer-generated, the leaps and bounces usually don't have that wire-fu cartooniness to them. It's mentioned in the extras what a point of pride it is that Ninja Assassin hired a small army of hardcore and extreme sports guys to field a lot of the stuntwork, and that really does come through. As impressive as it looks on-screen, the fights are grounded just enough in
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the real world to give the ridiculously over-the-top violence a solid springboard to leap off of...otherwise, it'd all come across as an Xbox 360 game or something.

What doesn't work so much? These are ninjas, so it kinda follows that they lurk in the shadows...that they do most of their fighting in the dead of night. There's one dueling ninja scene that's so dark that it's kinda tough to tell what's going on, exactly, especially with the semi-frantic quick-cutting that's going on at the same time. Ninja Assassin could've stood to lob out at least one more colossal brawl in the middle when it gets too caught up in long, long Ninja Hidden Fortress flashbacks and Mika's thumb-twiddling investigation. The flashbacks serve up a decent amount of action and intensity, but to go from severed limbs and barrel drums of blood flying across to screen to talk-talk-talk-flogged-foot-talk-talk-talk-put-your-head-on-my-boob-and-listen-to-my-heart-talk-talk-talk, it's kind of a letdown. Ninja Assassin never gives me much of a reason to care what happens to Mika, and the whole "feel my heart!" love story from Raizo's past slogs along somewhere between an eyeroll and an extended yawn.

...but, hey, this is Blu-ray, and you have a remote in your hand if you wanna just fast-forward through all that anyway. Chances are if you're shelling out a few bucks to watch a flick called Ninja Assassin, you're in it for the fights, and they're all pretty spectacular. Even when they don't make all that much sense, like a half-battalion of ninjas squaring off against Raizo in the middle of traffic -- aren't ninjas supposed to be...y'know, covert? -- the brawls are still amazing to watch, goofy CG splatter and all. ...and sure, maybe a lot of the dialogue is dim and most of the story points are paint-by-numbers, but Ninja Assassin is clever enough to veer away from a lot of the usual expectations. There are several key moments where the movie seems like it's steamrolling in a really obvious direction, and at the last possible minute, it pulls the E-brake and veers off some place completely different.

I'll admit that I'm kind of an easy mark here. I mean: Ninja Assassin...two great tastes that taste great together! I wouldn't rank it ahead of Punisher: War Zone or Rambo, but as far as the class of 2009 goes, this might be the most deliriously violent, ridiculously entertaining B-flick of the year. Recommended.

Kneejerk reaction...? Ninja Assassin is one of the best-looking Blu-ray discs that Warner's ever hammered out. The scope image is almost absurdly sharp and detailed, and the very fine and wholly unintrusive sheen of film grain doesn't show any signs of being smeared away through overzealous filtering. Black levels pack a wallop too, reinforcing the impressive sense of depth and dimensionality that Ninja Assassin dishes out. As expected for a newly-minted theatrical release, there's no trace of wear or speckling, and the VC-1 encode never once sputters or stutters. I can't muster any gripes or complaints at all.

Ninja Assassin gobbles up most of the capacity of this BD-25 disc, and the movie is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

Warner's swapped out their standard issue 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack for 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio this time around. Ninja Assassin sounds pretty damned spectacular with a sound design that's about as spastic and hypercaffeinated as the action splattered across the screen. It kind of goes without saying that ninjas leap, slash, and attack from every direction. Lower-key sequences are still fleshed out with a reasonably strong sense of atmosphere, such as a baby bawling as Mika slowly steps up a stairwell or shadowy ninjas quietly chant "kill! vengeance!" in the background. The low-end is rather hefty as well. Some of the cracks of gunfire don't pack the absurdly meaty bang that they do in most action flicks, but they're still backed nicely by the subwoofer. The throwing stars embed themselves in wood and in flesh unnervingly well, and the low notes in the score are so thunderous that they rattle just about everything in the room. The movie's dialogue doesn't shimmer or sparkle but still comes through well enough. This is a really solid track, making for a movie that definitely screams out to be experienced in surround sound.

Also piled on here are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Spanish and Quebecois-French. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Not much.
  • Deleted Scenes (8 min.; HD): Ninja Assassin might be the first action
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    flick I've caught with a clothes-washing flashback in its reel of deleted scenes. There are also two really talky sequences about Mika nosing around some evidence stamped "DNP!" along with Ninja Car Theft and a jaunt to Ninja Hospital. Maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention, but was Naomie Harris' accent remotely as heavy in Ninja Assassin as it is in these deleted scenes?

  • The Myth and Legend of the Ninja (19 min.; HD): Kinda like the movie itself, just about everything you need to know about "The Myth and Legend of the Ninja" is right there in the title. This featurette chats up a few historians and ninja masters to chart the many-centuries-old lineage of the ninja, moving from there into the many varied techniques in their arsenals, their need for speed and flexibility, and very detailed comments about their choices of weaponry. "The Myth and Legend..." closes by touching on how deeply the ninja has found itself embedded in pop culture and that the common misperceptions of what a ninja is may work in his favor, he types with an unspoken mwah-hah-hah.

  • The Extreme Sport of a Ninja (10 min.; HD): This is the closest Ninja Assassin comes to a making-of featurette, and naturally, just about every last second of it focuses on the action. Most of it swirls around recruiting hardcore and acrobatic extreme atheletes as well as what their naturally-honed skills brought to the flick rather than leaning on the usual wire-fu-chop-socky crowd. There's a lot of rehearsal and training footage in here, naturally, along with a peek at some of the previsualization work that was done. "The Extreme Sport..." also takes a look at how deliberately sloppy Raizo's first kill in the movie is presented as and how the 300-style whip-panning was pulled off.

  • Training Rain (10 min.; HD): The last of the featurettes delves into a Korean pop star's transformation into a balls-out ninja. It's pretty thorough, speaking at length about the specifics of his grueling regime and noting how pop star choreography proved to be an invaluable asset for a ninja-in-training. The drastically different before and after shots are pretty startling too.

There's also a five minute high-def plug for the Clash of the Titans remake. Ninja Assassin can hop online too, but I didn't spot anything other than the usual promotional stuff on there. The second disc in the set is a DVD version of the flick, and it also piles on digital copies for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.

The Final Word
Okay, maybe Ninja Assassin isn't as ambitious as you might expect from the producers of The Matrix, the creator of Babylon 5, and the director behind V for Vendetta, but...c'mon. It's Ninja Assassin, if you need me to spell it out again, and it's even more dementedly violent and sopping with blood than whatever that title has you picturing in your head. Recommended.
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