Violent martial-arts movies are one thing; “Ninja Assassin” is something else again. This blood-soaked epic combines the gore of a “Saw” picture with the old-school plotting of a 1980s kung fu movie.
The film bears the fingerprints of the Wachowski brothers, those “Matrix” dudes, although it was directed by their “V for Vendetta” sidekick, James McTeigue. Thus the production values are slick and flashy.
The star of the movie is better known for his song stylings than his karate chops: He’s the South Korean pop star Rain, who not only sells tons of records in Asia but also had a memorable “dance-off” with Stephen Colbert.
He appeared in the Wachowskis’ “Speed Racer,” but takes the lead role here. Perhaps the fact that he’s a dancer, not a martial artist, explains why many of the big fight scenes are conducted in darkness.
Rain plays Raizo, a (you guessed it) ninja assassin, although we must wade through much of the movie to get the full picture of his connection to the other secret society of killer ninjas.
That stuff we learn in a series of long flashbacks, which effectively kill any momentum this movie wants to build. In any case, the present-day story has something to do with a Berlin investigator (Naomie Harris, from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) looking into the lethal ninja activities.
The ninjas have been hired killers for a thousand years. We get a taste of their style in a crackerjack opening sequence — a scene so startling the movie is never able to top it.
But oh, those flashbacks. They take us back to Raizo’s training, and his charged relationship with his martial-arts master (Sho Kosugi, a veteran from the legendary 1984 “Ninja III: The Domination,” which is legendary to me, at least).
The master is a sadist who tortures his followers. But nobody said being a ninja assassin would be easy.
Rain endures so much bodily mortification, you begin to suspect Mel Gibson directed this movie. Rain tends to pose more than act, and he doesn’t have much dialogue, which is probably good. Far too many of his lines are 007-style quips, a tendency that breaks the mood on a few occasions.
The gore is motivated by wires slicing bodies in half, and a multitude of throwing stars finding their targets. Not to worry: Plenty of good old-fashioned guns are used as well. This movie—released just in time for Thanksgiving—never forgets the audience and its needs.
“Ninja Assassin” * ½
Exceptionally violent martial-arts opus from the Wachowski brothers, a straightforward revenge story slowed down badly by a series of flashbacks. Korean pop star Rain plays a man trained in the 1,000-year-old art of ninja assassinry.
Rated: R for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Oak Tree, Varsity, Woodinville