Ten years ago, the Wachowski brothers, little known at the time, released their second movie as directors, The Matrix. A product of their love of Hong Kong action movies and Manga, it became huge. The mix of stylish action and spiritual introspection struck a chord, particularly with teenage boys searching for an identity. Two inferior sequels followed, but they did’nt diminish the cultural impact the first movie made, and the Wachowskis were set – they could write their own cheques.

 Their follow up movie, Speed Racer, got very mixed reviews. They did, however, unearth a very talented young martial arts actor, Rain. Another young man, by the name of James McTeigue, had worked as a second unit director on all three Matrix movies. Having learnt his trade from the talented brothers, McTeigue made his directorial debut with 2006’s V for Vendetta. The Wachowski, along with their Matrix producer Joel Silver, brought these two talented men together for a project, Ninja Assassin.

 Rain plays Raizo, one of the world’s deadliest assassins. He learnt his trade from the shadowy Ozunu Clan, having been abducted by them as a small boy. Rain, from South Korea, is better known as a singer than an actor. Also a talented dancer and designer, his only movie credit before Speed Racer was 2006 Korean film I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. A friend of Raizo is executed by his clan, causing him to question his loyalty to them. He decides he can no longer work for them, and disappears. In hiding, he awaits the right time to wreak revenge on his former ‘family’.

 Actress Naomie Harris plays Mika Coretti, a Europol agent. She is following a money trail picked up during an investigation into a chain of political assassinations. Harris is probably best known for the part of Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and is something of an up and coming star. Coretti’s investigation leads her too close to the Ozunu Clan, and she becomes a mark.

 The clan’s team of killers is led by Takeshi, played by Rick Yune. Yune is an actor and writer. He featured in 2002’s Tomorrow Never Dies, and more recently in 2008’s The Fifth Commandment, which he also wrote, and Alone in the Dark II. Inevitably, Raizo and Coretti join forces after the former assassin saves the agent’s life, and together they hatch a plan to shut down the Clan’s operations for good.

Ninja Assassin

 Australian director James McTeigue is well positioned to helm this action thriller, having learnt the art of stylistic martial arts and gun play from the two brothers, working alongside them during filming of their revolutionary trilogy. In the past he also worked as second assistant director on the Street Fighter movie. Like the Wachowskis, McTeigue too has an interest in manga and anime. His debut V for Vendetta, also produced by the Wachowskis, featured just a little of their favoured martial arts action. Though containing some good ideas, the story unfortunately was a bit of a mess. V had been called ‘unfilmable’ in the past, and that assertion was proven correct. To hear what McTeigue has to say about Ninja Assassin go here.

 The script for Ninja Assassin however should be good, despite the cliched synopsis. Legendary screenwriter J Michael Straczynski re-drafted the script at the producers’ request, as they were not completely happy with it. Stracynski is best known for his ground breaking TV series Babylon 5, highly regarded as one of the best space-set television series of all time by science fiction fans. He worked as show runner on that series. He is also responsible for writing the adaptation of the Max Brooks novel World War Z for Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B, along with a screenplay for a potential Silver Surfer movie.

 Based on the trailer (which you can see here), the fight scenes in Ninja Assassin are awesome. The kung fu is fast, the gun play well choreographed. With the influence of The Matrix looming large, the movie is bound to be stylish, possibly to the detriment of it’s substance. Unlike The Matrix, the scenes on show are very darkly lit. Partly a product of it’s shadowy subject matter, but also presumably indicative of it’s lower budget.

 With 2012 still at the beginning of it’s run, and Twilight: New Moon having just opened yesterday, Ninja Assassin may struggle at the box office. An unknown star and director mean there is little name value attached, other than the Wachowskis as producers. This movie’s audience is going to be young men, teens and early twenties, searching for a remedy to Twilight fever. Nevertheless, with some great, talented people involved, Ninja Assassin could be one of the best kung fu action movies produced in the west.

 Ninja Assassin opens in the US next Friday 27th November. It does not reach the UK until 8th January.


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