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Raizo is one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them...and vanishes. Now he waits, preparing to exact his revenge. In Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti has stumbled upon a money trail linking several political murders to an underground network of untraceable assassins from the Far East. Defying the orders of her superior, Ryan Maslow, Mika digs into top secret agency files to learn the truth behind the murders. Her investigation makes her a target, and the Ozunu Clan sends a team of killers, led by the lethal Takeshi, to silence her forever. Raizo saves Mika from her attackers, but he knows that the Clan will not rest until they are both eliminated. Now, entangled in a deadly game of cat and mouse through the streets of Europe, Raizo and Mika must trust one another if they hope to survive and finally bring down the elusive Ozunu Clan!
For more about Ninja Assassin and the Ninja Assassin Blu-ray release, see Ninja Assassin Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 10, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Rain, Rick Yune, Naomie Harris, Shô Kosugi
Director: James McTeigue
» See full cast & crew
Ninja Assassin Blu-ray Review
Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. I'm just surprised I enjoyed this one as much as I did...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 10, 2010
Operating Surgeon. Salty Seadog. Investigating Detective. Dishonest Politician. Wordy Writer. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, without further ado, Ninja Assassin: a brazen, bloody ode to all things ninja from producers Andy and Larry Wachowski, screenwriters Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, and upstart director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta). It isn't a film that will appeal to everyone. It isn't a subtle, thinking man's actioner. It isn't even a throwback to genre gems or martial arts classics of old. It's a gritty bit of modern grindhouse cinema caked with blood, slathered in gore, and sprinkled with grizzled love; a breakneck gut-punch in which superhuman killers materialize from the shadows, hailstorms of shurikens take out dozens of heavily armed gunmen, and katanas glide through any unfortunate meat or gristle that cross their path. But, most surprisingly, it's a mesmerizing, dare I say enthralling, thrillride that grants cinephiles like myself a brief respite from the weighty Oscar nominees that have consumed our lives for the past three months. It's far from perfect, mind you, and many will scoff at my affection for its divisive, over-the-top action, but its star's unexpectedly simmering performance, its converging storylines, and its pulse-pounding fight scenes are more than enough to earn it some well-deserved praise.
Korean pop star Rain (transformed into a believable killing machine after enduring six months of grueling martial arts training) sinks into the sinewy skin of Raizo, a deadly ninja raised by a secret organization of Japanese assassins who turn young children into lethal shadow warriors. Years ago, Raizo, still reeling from the execution of his kunoichi lover, Kiriko (Anna Sawai), defied his self-proclaimed father, clan leader Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi), and was summarily dispatched by his murderous brethren. Having survived their rather overzealous rooftop attack, Raizo goes into hiding and begins searching for a way to exact his revenge. An opportunity presents itself in the guise of a damsel in distress of sorts named Mika Coretti (28 Days Later femme fighter, Naomie Harris), an inquisitive Europol agent who stumbles upon the existence of the hot-blooded ninja clan over the course of a seemingly unrelated investigation. Without warning, Raizo leaps into her life from the shadows, handily carving a Ozunu specialist tasked with putting an end to her inquiries. Now, as Mika learns more about her mysterious protector's sinister family and his tumultuous past, Raizo must escape a Europol holding facility (under attack by countless ninja of course), storm his former stomping grounds, take the fight directly to Lord Ozunu, and kill the heartless monster responsible for all his pain and suffering.
And I must say, dear readers, Raizo and Rain climb McTeigue's mounting pile of bodies in style. Decapitations are commonplace, but so are impalements, severed limbs, whirling blades of death and dismemberment, red-spattered swords, and devastating shuriken hits, all of which assault the screen with equal parts grace and abandon. McTeigue and his team aggressively refine the visual whirlwind he first employed in V for Vendetta (a slick-n-snazzy adaptation of notoriously cantankerous comicbook author Alan Moore's graphic novel; an adaptation I loved and others loathed), calling upon slow motion, artful framing, and pulpy CG at all the right times. But his action scenes, though similar to Zack Snyder's visceral snail-crawl sequences, are less indulgent and more natural; he only slows time so his audience can see the grim and grisly particulars of a particularly gruesome kill, or examine the weight of Raizo's emotional turmoil. He also knows when to pull back his cameras and let Chad Stahelski's amazing martial arts choreography speak for itself. As more and more ninja fall, as Raizo leaps from assailant to assailant, the chaos takes on a life of its own, making Ninja Assassin more than a rote exercise in spilling carnage (as some have so affectionately accused it of being). Best of all, Rain deftly rises to the challenges set before him, both physical and emotional, and readily surpassed my meager expectations within minutes. His performance and commitment, each fueled by a thoughtful intensity, is impressive to say the least, but his willingness to shed his prim pop star roots is even more so.
Although I'm sure many will continue to slap Ninja Assassin with a go-to style-over-substance label, it isn't an aimless actioner in the vein of Crank and its ilk. That's right, its story is fairly absorbing as well. Yes, it's a simple two-pronged revenge tale genre fans have seen countless times before, but talented comicbook scribe J. Michael Straczynski's rewrite of Matthew Sand's shelved script revels in the simplicity, brining otherwise one-note characters to life with nuanced resolve and careful development. It only falters when Mika and her smarmy superior Maslow (Ben Miles) swipe screentime from Rain, Kosugi, and Sawai. Their Europol agents are a momentum-crushing blow to an impassioned martial arts extravaganza, and their characters are as much of a distraction as their at-times wooden performances. Don't get me wrong, their presence doesn't cripple the film, but they're little more than agents of exposition, and poorly conceived ones at that. They exist to push the plot along and give Sand's modern setting context, rather than as a necessary or cohesive component of a more measured story. Still, whenever McTeigue's cameras return to Raizo and his accursed brethren, even while merging two intertwining timelines, Ninja Assassin soars. Will it enchant every action junkie or martial arts diehard who approaches its savage shadow fantasy? A quick visit to Rotten Tomatoes provides a definitive answer to that one. But for those willing to sit back and accept it on its own terms, McTeigue's genre pic emerges as a bold bit of bloody fun. Besides, with a title like Ninja Assassin, it's next to impossible to set your expectations too high.
Ninja Assassin Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ninja Assassin storms Blu-ray with a strong (albeit imperfect) 1080p/VC-1 transfer that allows McTeigue's furious action scenes to spill into your home theater. Karl Walter Lindenlaub's searing reds, earthy hues, beautiful skintones, and inky blacks are absolutely gorgeous in high definition. Whether lit by raging firelight or bathed in shadow, his photography is one of the film's greatest assets, making Warner's presentation a striking one regardless of how stark or somber his palette becomes. Bold contrast and convincing dimensionality manage to enhance his efforts even farther, preserving every fine detail and revealing texture as he and McTeigue intended. Naturally, darkness overtakes the action scenes -- we are dealing with shadow-hopping ninja here -- and occasionally reduces visibility to a punchline. But it's all within the director's control, and rarely, if ever, hinders the impact of the image. Artifacting, banding, aliasing, and ringing are nowhere to be found, and DNR hasn't been employed. If anything, brief bursts of noise assault a handful of nighttime shots, and spurts of CG blood frequently showcase their computer-generated seams, but both issues are a product of the film's original source, not Warner's technical transfer. All things considered, Ninja Assassin looks great and should easily satisfy fans hoping for a sharp and stunning presentation.
Ninja Assassin Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's head-snapping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is even better, celebrating every errant shuriken that hurtles across the battlefield, every chained blade that encircles a doomed ninja, and every blood geyser that erupts from a fallen foe. Where to begin? Rear speaker activity is both nimble and unrelenting, effortlessly distributing sound effects across the film's eerily immersive soundfield and lending their full support to the on-screen action. Likewise, LFE output is brisk and booming, laying its hands round the throat of any sound effect heartier than a whisper. Splintering wood, gunfire, explosions, thundering punches and kicks, the meaty thunk of blade on bone, the rum-tum-ta-tum of the film's score... McTeigue's sound design may be heightened to the Nth degree, but the overall experience makes quite an impression. Through it all, dialogue remains crisp and intelligible (albeit a bit too bright on occasion), dynamics are confident, directionality is exceedingly precise, and pans are as invisible as the shinobi striking from the shadows. It may not be the most realistic sonic powerhouse I've had the pleasure of sampling, but it tackles Ninja Assassin's chaotic battles with fury and fervor, and matches the tone and tenor of its action-packed madness at every turn.
Ninja Assassin Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
What is it about the Wachowskis and their anointed disciples that make them run for the hills whenever a behind-the-scenes crew attempts to document one of their film's productions? Ah well, while the Blu-ray edition of Ninja Assassin doesn't include an audio commentary or a meaty documentary featuring the filmmakers, it still gives its star, action coordinators, and second-tier team members a chance to shine. It's just too bad the entire package can be exhausted in less than an hour.
Ninja Assassin Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
From its rather redundant title to its fire-born action sequences, Ninja Assassin makes its blood-soaked intentions known from the outset. However, I wasn't prepared to actually sink into its story. I know I'm in the minority, but McTeigue's commanding presence behind the camera, Straczynski's sharp genre script, and Rain's unexpectedly potent performance gave me plenty of reasons to enjoy most everything the film had to offer (pesky Europol agents notwithstanding). Warner's Blu-ray release is just as effective. It's even easy to overlook the disc's short, somewhat disappointing supplemental package when its razor-sharp video transfer and deadly DTS-HD Master Audio track combine forces. While I would suggest renting Ninja Assassin before taking a full-priced plunge -- as I've mentioned several times already, it isn't the sort of flick that will appeal to everyone -- those who buy in will be pleased with the results.
Ninja Assassin: Other Editions
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• Today on Blu-ray - March 16th - March 16, 2010
When Disney purchased Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, one of the most influential factors behind the acquisition, besides acquiring the top computer animation studios in the world, was that John Lasseter, one of the powerhouses behind the rise of Pixar, would ...
• Ninja Assassin Blu-ray Announced - January 28, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced 'Ninja Assassin' for release on Blu-ray on March 16 on a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. As has now become the norm for Warner BDs, audio will be presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. This R-rated martial-arts movie is co-produced by ...
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