Thursday, 14 December 2017

Ninja Assassin (4½ Stars)

My guest writer Kaylena praised this as one of her favourite films six years ago. Normally that would have prompted me to watch it as soon as possible. I didn't, because I thought it was a Korean film. I don't know how I got this idea. The film's main actor, Jung Ji-hoon, is Korean, but it's an American film.

There are very few martial arts films made in America. There are lots of films where a character is a martial arts fighter, such as "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan or "Unleashed" with Jet Li, but for me a martial arts film is a film in which the fighting is as important as the plot itself. Many films like that are made in China and Japan. Let's make my own personal definition of a "martial arts" film, which deviates from Wikipedia's definition, to explain what I'm talking about.

1. Both the good guys and the bad guys use a fighting style which originates in the far East.
2. The fighting scenes (including training and talking about fighting) make up at least 50% of the film's running time.

Using this definition I can only think of three American martial arts films.

1. "Enter the Dragon" (arguable, since it was co-produced by Golden Harvest)
2. "Kill Bill"
3. "Ninja Assassin"

If you can think of any others that qualify as American martial arts films, please let me know. The comments box is below my post. If you don't see it, click on the word "comments" below the post. It's not difficult to find, but I get so few comments that I sometimes wonder if it's because my readers don't know how to comment.

The film is about a secret group of assassins based in Japan. The group is made up of nine clans, but we only see one clan in the film, the Ozuna clan. Orphans, male and female, are taken into the clan and trained to be killers. It's not about honour or philosophy, it's a purely mercenary operation. The clan will kill anyone, anywhere in the world, for 100 pounds of gold, or whatever the current market value is. At the time the film was made it was $1,556,000. This price has remained constant for over one thousand years. Naturally, there are cheaper assassins for hire, but the nine clans are the most efficient. If you want to kill a head of state who's surrounded by a hundred soldiers a typical contract killer wouldn't be able to do the job. The clans guarantee success after receiving payment.

The training in the Ozuna clan is severe. The students frequently kill or seriously wound one another. Anyone who is too weak to continue is killed. Anyone who attempts to leave is killed.

After completing his training Raizo (Jung Ji-hoon) is sent on his first mission. He has to kill the head of the Russian mafia in Berlin. He succeeds, but before returning to Japan he's asked to kill a young girl who has attempted to leave the clan. He refuses, which makes him an outcast. He tries to hide, but assassins from his clan keep coming to kill him.

Involved in the story is Mika Coretti -- an Italian? -- a Europol agent based in Berlin, played by the beautiful Naomie Harris. She has been investigating the Ozuna clan as responsible for the assassination of the Russian prime minister. What she doesn't know is that the CIA hired the Ozuna clan to kill him. Her superiors try to persuade her to stop the investigation, but when she continues the Ozuna clan is hired to kill her as well. Raizo considers it his duty to protect her.

"Ninja Assassin" has dazzling but bloody fight scenes from beginning to end. There's also a touching story of redemption, as Raizo tries to make up for his past. The plot can be criticised in a few points. For instance, I can understand why the Ozuna clan were hired to kill a prime minister, but were they really needed to kill Mika? A man posing as a CIA agent could have done the job for $5000.

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