I went to see Ninja Assassin today because I have awful taste and my friend got me cheap tickets.
My excuse for writing about it here is that although technically the movie is live-action, the fight scenes are so stylized that they might as well be anime (and the dialogue is so hackneyed it could be straight out of a shounen). Obviously there’s not much that can be said about the movie itself; the title is fucking Ninja Assassin after all. Go see it for the violence, try to get some texting done when the actors are flapping their lips. The romance subplot is the worst, all that shit about the female lead’s “special heart” is straight out of a third grader’s Valentine’s card.
The film is a little more interesting in the context of Asian characters in American movies. Their history is pretty embarrassing to begin with, but while black characters have come a long way in the media, Asian characters just seem to get worse and worse. The men are all sidekicks or exotic villains and the women are all sexy trophy girlfriends or shrill harpies, anything beyond that and you’ve got to have crazy kung-fu skills. I double-dog dare you to name more than a handful of characters that don’t fall into one of those categories and are actually played by Asian actors.
So despite the deep, deep, stupidity of the script (and title), Ninja Assassin gets a few points for casting Korean megahunk Rain (a.k.a. Jeong Ji Hoon) as the titular ninja assassin. He doesn’t get as many snappy one-liners as the white good guy character, but he does save the most girls and has vastly more screentime shirtless than anyone else, which qualifies him for American movie hero status.
That said, it’s worth examing exactly how Rain breaks the barrier between exotic beast of kung-fu burden and actual hero. Throughout the movie he struggles to escape the control of his evil ninja clan leader, who constantly natters on about honor and betrayal. The ultra-ninja daddy figure is very much representative of stereotypical Asian values; he’s all about family and discipline and how Rain not getting a good (ninja) education will bring shame upon him. The movie’s climax comes, of course, when Rain righteously eviscerates this guy for stabbing his new (black!) girlfriend. Rain then completely frees himself from his roots by snipping the wires on a bonsai tree and hopping the wall of the secret ninja castle. To be a sympathetic Asian character to an American audience you can’t just be a ninja. You have to be a ninja assassin, and be willing to slice your heritage into itty bitty bits.