Directed by: Isaac Florentine
Starring: Scott Atkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii
I’ve said this before; there probably isn’t a better person than me to review a ninja movie. In the 80’s The Canon Group released such classics as Ninja II: The Domination, American Ninja, and two great ones, Revenge of the Ninja and Prey for Death. There were many others but these are the ones that most affected my youth from that particular company. There were still many more imported ninja films too. Ninja films for me were the first true super hero films. These guys had the best gadgets, they were incredible fighters, and in some films they even had magic! Thos Canon Group films were a ton of fun though and for a long time I’ve felt that the ninja film has been getting ignored in the sudden return to mainstream film of all of the 80’s style films. That has all changed with a couple of new films, the Wachawski Brother produced Ninja Assassin and the even more B movie release of this film simply titled Ninja.
So while I’m a soft touch when it comes to ninja films I’ve also seen a ton of them so certain formulas in storytelling are extremely familiar to me, perhaps more so than to a lesser fan. This film features a white student at an all Asian martial arts school. You see he came to the school as an orphan and was taken in by the school’s sensei. It turns out that the kid named Casey is a fantastic martial artist and he takes to the ninjitsu training very well moving to the top of the class throughout his years of training. The sensei is getting old though and he has announced that he must step down and pick a successor to continue his work protecting the school, teaching the near lost art of ninjitsu, and guarding an ancient box of ninja weapons.
Masazuka is Casey’s rival in the school. He is a great fighter but he believes that since Casey is an orphan and well, not Asian, that he doesn’t deserve the role of sensei and the weapons. Of course Masazuka has an angry streak that skews his decision making. Eventually he disgraces himself and is asked to leave the school. Eventually circumstances find Casey out in the world and he ends up dealing with Masazuka who has become a corporate assassin. There’s this build up of a secondary plot involving Casey hoping to learn about his birth mother that just falls flat by the third act of the film. That whole secondary story feels like filler and a desperate attempt to give Casey some dramatic element. Not only is that story poorly executed but actor (using the term loosely) Scott Atkins can barely handle “acting” tough let alone having to be dramatic.
This plot is so tired that you could watch the film with the sound off and never have any problem keeping up with the story. Ninja movies were always B movies and that’s a fine space for them as long as they’re well executed within that space. The story here has no originality and when you add to that some horrible CG work during the fight scenes making the film ultimately feel like a “C” movie. Sho Kosugi (Revenge of the Ninja, Prey for Death, Ninja Assassin) is a charismatic guy and a great martial arts fighter and choreographer so no matter how bad the movie might be (he had one really poor one called Nine Death’s of the Ninja) he’d give you some fantastic ninja action. Ninja ahs a few solid scenes of action but often they are tweaked with the awful CG that takes you right out of the fight. Why not just do the fights practical and scale them back until they fit in the budget? Even if it meant cutting the number of fights back at least the ones that were left would have been fantastic.
With all of that said there are a few really good martial arts scenes and some nice use of ninja gadgets which took me back to my youth. If you’re a hardcore fan of the subgenre of film then this one’s worth a rent but everyone else should really skip this one.
I swear I remember seeing a trailer for this film in the theater last year but now it seems that the film just went direct to video. With that said the video presentation here looks really good. Contrast and colors are very clean with the exception of one action sequence in the early part of the film that looks oddly washed out. Black levels are inky and detail levels don’t seem to drop much in the darker scenes that make up the majority of the film.
The Dolby 5.1 presentation feels extremely basic. Unfortunately the mix lacks balance with some dialogue scenes being much louder than the rest of the film. Surround use is minimal and definitely not memorable. There’s not much in the way of dynamic range or sub woofer use either. This audio presentation comes off like a low budget TV series box set. It gets the job done but not much more than that.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc presentation comes packaged in a standard slim blue amaray case with absolutely no extras and mediocre art.
This movie rehashes an old formula and plot that has been done better than it was done here many times over. Action scenes here are OK muddied by bad CG. The actual camera work and editing of said scenes is actually pretty good but the choreography and CG just don’t work together. There are one or two cool ninja scenes that make this film worth a rent for hardcore fans only.
Overall (Not an average) 5/10
The Movie 4/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 1/10
Overall (Not an average) 4.5/10