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    PCR #508  (Vol. 10, No. 51)  This edition is for the week of December 14--20, 2009.

"Up In the Air"  by Mike Smith
Time Warp Toy Box ’09 – Part 3  by ED Tucker
Ninja Assassin  by Jason Fetters
Intro 2 Lampin' .... My Letter To Tiger Woods  by John Miller
Chad Ochocinco: Nfl’s Black Sheep? .... Steelers Out? .... Holmgren Returns .... Cowboys Vs Saints .... Bob Greise Says Lose One .... Tiger Woods: Athlete Of The Decade?? .... .... by Chris Munger
Guess Who Died? .... The Year That Was Part I .... .... .... .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2 by Mike Smith
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Ninja Assassin

I went out to see Ninja Assassin, at a time when action movies seem to be at an all time low, and with zero expectations, and actually enjoyed it.

Ninja Assassin took me back to the 80’s when HBO and Cinemax would run movies like Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Pray for Death, and Rage of Honor. All those films starred Sho Kosugi as a ninja master in a hero role. Ninja Assassin stars Sho as the bad guy, and Sho does a great job making that work. Kosugi can be a ruthless sensei when the need arises.

The film’s hero is Rain, a Korean K-pop idol singer and actor who has starred in several Korean TV series, movies, and has several CDs out. Rain is in excellent shape and fits the video game/comic book image of a ninja, lean, smaller structured, definite muscle tone, and the ability to both withstand suffering and dish out emotionally driven fight scenes. I’m not sure of Rain’s martial arts background but he probably learned a few tricks from Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do, both Korean arts. Rain does perform some jaw-breaking aerial kicks that look believable.

Rain plays, Raizo Yamaguchi, a young orphan, who is taught the ways of the ninja by the strict and abusive Lord Ozunu, (Sho Kosugi) of the Ozunu Clan. The Ozunu Clan carries out deadly assassin missions all over the world. Raizo is encouraged by Lord Ozunu to beat down his fellow ninja for any show of failure. The only real love that Raizo receives is from Kiriko, (Anna Sawai) who shapes his future goals to eventually break away from the Ozunu Clan and to escape to Berlin where the majority of the film is set.

This is not a love story, and the real focus is action. Raizo uses a Kyoketsu Shoge, which is a long chain with a double-edged blade at the end. He also employs dual katakana (a la Miymoto Musashi, the famous Japanese swordsman who never lost a single duel in over 60 confrontations,) and the most popular ninja weapon, the shuriken. Lot of cool scenes with several shuriken being thrown at moving cars, adversaries, and embedded in walls that are sure to please the most hardened action fan.

There is an interesting bloody opening sequence and I noticed that a couple got up and left, which I snickered at. If you are going to see an action movie expect to see blood, people in pain, violence, and everything that goes with the genre. The man looked very disappointed when he was forced to leave by his girlfriend/wife/etc.

The action scenes are cleverly done with people talking and then boom, the lights go out and then all hell breaks loose. This is how a ninja movie should be done. It shouldn’t show a bright-lit room and then a guy in a black ninja outfit suddenly popping into the frame. I was glad to see the element of stealth that is missing from other ninja films. Usually in these comic-book movies, ninja are portrayed as super heroes in black pajamas hiding in strange locations and springing out in an unrealistic fashion.

The fight scenes were all fast-paced and well-done with amazing martial arts skills combined with gymnastics. Sometimes the best action shots weren’t even shown to the viewer such as the scene where Raizo meets a woman at the Laundromat and he asks her which clan is she from. This is followed by a white sheet covering the two actors and then the woman’s bloody head and other remains spinning around in a washing machine. It would be easy to show the viewer everything but little scenes that force you to imagine can work well if tastefully done as in Ninja Assassin.

While the actions scenes, Berlin location, and stealth shots work in Ninja Assassin, some things you just have to take for granted when viewing this type of action film.

One is the annoying long flashback scenes used to pad the film. This has been done in Jean Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport and Steven Seagal’s Above the Law and is generally viewed as necessary back-story. Sometimes these scenes happen one right after another until you can time when the next big flashback is going to happen. This type of technique is used a lot to show the hero reflecting back on training, or a good or bad sensei teaching moment, or a brief love interest in the dojo. One cliché I have noticed is the love interest never really gets far in these films because the woman either gets killed, raped, or shies away from the male hero. The male hero doesn’t really pursue women so it becomes platonic. This has been done in numerous Bruce Lee films and Sho Kosugi 80’s ninja movies. It would be an interesting twist if the hero did get the girl in a martial arts movie. Raizo and Kiriko develop a small interest that is cut short. Also Raizo and Mika Coretti, an agent who is researching ninja-related deaths in Berlin, never really develop either. There is a hint at some type of romantic involved but the film never explores this angle and just drops it out along the way. However, this lack of showing real love doesn’t really take anything away from Ninja Assassin because it is action-driven.

The other trend I have noticed is lots of blood being sprayed out of victims that no human body could possibly squirt out. I started seeing this after both Kill Bill movies came out. Also the CGI blood does not look as good as the old days when a special efforts artist like Tom Savini would fill fake blood into condoms and then detonate it. Those effects still look better to me then the CGI blood. Ninja Assassin does have scenes of excessive blood-spraying that I liked but would have loved it if the CGI was replaced by the old school Savini method.

Third, when anyone can be made to look like a martial artist in today’s movies by using wires and camera tricks, the real martial artists aren’t out there. Some day someone will come up with a solid real martial arts background, and start making interesting action movies again. For now, I have to try to learn to like what is out there.

Overall, Ninja Assassin does work as a good ninja/comic book/action movie that you won’t feel cheated after seeing. I wasn’t as angry as when I left the theater after Paranormal Activities and wished I had never sat through that.

Ninja Assassin is currently in the top ten at the box office and I hope that the action movie will make a much-needed comeback in 2010 and beyond. If people start going out to see this type of martial arts action movie maybe directors will take notice and produce quality results in the years ahead.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2009 by Jason Fetters.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.