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.
The movie has lots of action scenes but I feel that the action/choreography is a bit too repetitive and unimaginative. It’s just trowing things, swinging katana and repeat the same thing again. Nevertheless, I love the blood, look tasty ;)
I enjoyed Ninja Assassin as a throwback to those 80’s made-for-cable ninja movies like American Ninja. I’m sure there’s a good dose of nostalgia in my love for this kind of crap, since I grew up watching that stuff on HBO and Showtime, but I still enjoy seeing this sort of movie. I miss straight-forward, “dumb” action movies, and seeing something like Ninja Assassin was a breath of fresh air compared to all of the special effects and super hero movies we get nowadays. But yeah, I don’t expect most people to have the same sort of affection for this kind of movie. Far from one of my favorites of this year, but it amused me.
The bit about asian actors in american-made movies reminds me of what’s happened to Jackie Chan. Here’s a guy that can easily carry a movie. He has screen charisma, a flair for action and comedy, and is a pretty decent actor for the sorts of movies he does, but when he tried to “make it” in Hollywood he got cast as the sidekick for a bunch of crappy comedians in embarrasing action-comedy movies. On the off-chance he got a leading role, like in The Tuxedo, it was some gimmicky schlock that didn’t play to any of his strengths.
So yeah, while Rain’s playing a stereotypical asian role (ninja), he got to do stuff that’d work regardless of the main character’s nationality. You could easily have Jason Stratham or some other “B” action star in the role and the movie wouldn’t be that much different (slightly different subtext due to the chage in nationality, but the movie didn’t give a damn about that sort of stuff to begin with). Compared to most roles of this type that’s downright progressive, which is pretty sad when you get down to it.
Anyway, the best part of the movie was when they drove up to the hotel in a car riddled with shuriken, and they just parked the car like it was no big deal. Yeah, no one’ll see the car with the ninja stars. Blends in with all of the other sedans. That was a beautifully absurd moment.
Jackie Chan is usually exhibit A when I hear about Asian actors in American movies. Audiences here just can’t think of Asian men as being anything but freakish, inhuman monsters or goofy side characters (which is a shame because yeah Chan was pretty good really).
Did Rain really get to do much outside his nationality? It seemed like most of the time he was just being a ninja, all quiet and violent. He did get a crack in about the love interest’s (already forgot her name) size I guess. So maybe Asian men have at least climbed up the Hollywood discrimination ladder above women? In any case you’re absolutely right that this being the most progressive portrayal of Asians in American cinema recently is pretty sad.
And yeah, everyone at the showing I went to chuckled when they showed the torn up car in the parking lot. Not really a memorable movie experience in its own right but it killed a couple hours.
Rain isn’t even Japanese. Wtf does a Bonsai tree do for him?
But yeah, Ninja…Assassin….It’s like calling a porno Blowjobber Cocksucker.
aaah Rain, yes, Rain… I went to see the movie last month.. I am not a person who love bloody gore. I was hiding my face on my fiance’s shoulder most of the time. I did it for the shirtless scenes!!!