My passion for action flicks led me to Isaac Florentine’s Ninja this week.
Scott Adkins stars as Casey Bowman, a young American who has grown up in a Japanese Ninjitsu dojo. Tsuyoshi Ihara plays Masazuka, son of Sensei Takeda. The film is mostly about the conflict between them, the two main rivals to inherit the dojo, a set of legendary Ninja armor from the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the beautiful Namiko Takeda (played by Miak Hijii).
This is a genuine action flick, and that means that the leads are fighters first and foremost. Watching Scott Adkins fight was a wonder, since he learned the same styles as I did, but in reverse order (Judo first and then Tae Kwon Do) so much of his fight choreography made perfect sense to me. Ihara Tsuyoshi-san trained under martial arts legend Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba whose Street Fighter films helped redefine the term action flick for a generation. Both are veteran actors and exquisite athletes, and Ihara’s film credits include one of the more bad-ass roles I have ever seen in the 2010 remake of 13 Assassins.
The plot is worthy of Ninja Scroll fame, simultaneously over the top and deeply rooted in actual myths. The jilted Japanese student kills his master and goes on a quest to get the sacred armor, and the noble and loyal (but not obvious) heir must defend it and his lady love at the same time.
Cheeze abounds in fun and ridiculous ways. I really enjoyed a ridiculous Western secret society to counter the Ninja, though it would have been nice if the Circle (I guess Illuminati is overused) had dipped a little bit into Western martial arts (of which there are many) but no movie is perfect. Safety and technology merge as the ninja to swords are re-animated in slightly glow-in-the-dark version that borders on a Lucasfilm copyright infringement. Impossible leaps must be done with an obligatory back flip, and every police precinct must have at least one system ventilation shafts large enough for a solidly muscled grown man to sneak around in. But the best cheesy moment of all came before the subway fight when the Circle sends its hit men after our heroes wearing matching red-and-black evil overlord hoodies, because nothing says secret society like matching hoodies and homages to the costume sets from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
The supporting actors in America are embarrassing, but no more so than early Chuck Norris or Sonny Chiba films. Serious film critics, by which I mean those people who have a decent education in media and have gotten stuck on themselves, will not enjoy this film. But if you can embrace the genre, appreciate a gratuitous flip here and there, and enjoy the fact that we live in an age where actors are fighters, then this is a great film worth renting at least once.
The biggest thing that I see in this film is potential. Chuck Norris was over forty years old when he started making films that I really love, and this film has just enough potential under the low-budget and cheese sauce to make me hope to see Tsuyoshi Ihara and Scott Adkins in many action films to come.