Home » Ninja Assassin Retrospective – A Visceral Action Film

Ninja Assassin Retrospective – A Visceral Action Film

Poster art for James McTeigue's Ninja Assassin.
Poster art for Ninja Assassin.

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Ninja Assassin stars Korean pop star Rain as Raizo. Raizo is on the lam. The clan of ninjas that raised him is pursuing him with intent to do him harm. He has separated himself from the organization and now has a bounty on his head. With the help of a government agent, he works to evade his former peers and stay alive in spite of repeated attempts on his life.

Ninja Assassin is not a straight up horror film. It is a neo-grindhouse, martial arts action film infused with horror elements. The stylized violence is amongst the most brutal I’ve ever seen from an action film in recent years. Buckets of stage blood are spilled throughout the course of the feature and copious amounts of CG blood were added in postproduction for good measure. The CGI is obviously CGI and looks a little out of place but the viewer eventually grows accustomed to it. There are too many death scenes to count but each of them is sufficiently brutal and laden with an exceptional amount of gore.

James McTeigue directs Ninja Assassin. It is co-written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (World War Z).  McTeigue worked on the Matrix films and that is evident in his directorial aesthetic. The plentiful action scenes are highly stylized and reminiscent of those in The Matrix without being derivative. McTeigue masterfully paints a dark aesthetic that is fitting to the film’s serious tone without being depressing.

The screenplay is based around a conspiracy theory regarding ninjas on the government’s payroll. The seemingly farfetched theory ends up being quite correct. The underlying storyline about a clan of ninjas manages to be more entertaining than I would have predicted. It allows for copious amounts of violence and ample battle scenes. The relationship between Raizo and the government agent also makes for an interesting subplot.

The performances take a backseat to the action in Ninja Assassin. The fight scenes and the brutal violence are the primary focus here. However, that’s not to say that the acting is poor. In fact, it is quite good for the type of film it is. Rain proves to be surprisingly capable. He turns in a much better performance than I expected from a pop star turned actor. And Naomie Harris (28 Days Later) is quite capable in her turn as the female lead.

The biggest problem I have with Ninja Assassin is that some of the exposition is a bit clunky. It is delivered by way of flashbacks throughout the feature. And the flashbacks are not always integrated in the most eloquent way. It would have better served the picture to group the retrospective sequences into one segment, rather than scattering them throughout the film in an almost random order. The clumsy exposition proves to be a distraction at times. But it’s ultimately more of a minor nuisance than a major issue.

One of the best things about Ninja Assassin is the raw, visceral, and unrestrained approach it takes to violence. The body count is innumerable. And each death scene is expertly choreographed. Every death offers ample bloodshed. The high level of violence harkens back to the martial arts exploitation films of the ‘70s. But thanks to advancements in technology, Ninja Assassin is able to up the ante even further than its predecessors.

Ninja Assassin was a moderate box office success. But didn’t gross what it was projected. As a result, there is very little hope for a sequel to this violent and highly entertaining feature.

If you have not yet seen Ninja Assassin, it is a ferocious, action packed, good time. The fight scenes are skillfully choreographed and the film as a whole is quite entertaining. It is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray release features several informative featurettes as well as deleted scenes.

WICKED RATING: 6.5/10  [usr 6.5]

Director(s): James McTeigue
Writer(s): Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles
Year: 2009
Studio/ Production Co: Warner Brothers
Budget: $40 Million
Language: English
Length: 98 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Action/Neo-Grindhouse


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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dogs, and cat hat(s).
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