When I first saw the trailer for director Isaac Florentine's NINJA (2009), I was pleasantly reminded of the Cannon Films ninja movies of my youth like ENTER THE NINJA, REVENGE OF THE NINJA and AMERICAN NINJA - low budget cinematic martial arts comic books, usually filmed in the Philippines, starring white guys as heroic ninjas pitted against their evil counterparts. Silly stuff, but almost always guaranteed to deliver a rolicking good time at the drive-in. From the trailer, I was very much hoping that NINJA was going to deliver the same kind of entertainment.
I wasn't disappointed.
NINJA opens in Japan, where a young Caucasian named Casey (Scott Adkins) is studying ninjitsu at a dojo. Of course, being the only white guy there - as well as the teacher's pet and the obvious object of affection for the lone cute female ninja, Namiko (Mika Hijii) - makes him the target of the school's #2 student, the ill-tempered Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara). When Masazuka is kicked out of the school for behavior unbecoming a Japansese assassin, he swears his revenge and intention to claim the Yoroi Bitsu, a wooden box that contains the weapons of a legendary ninja warrior. To protect it, the sensei has it sent to a college professor in New York, and has Casey and pretty Namiko sent along to protect it.
Shot in Bulgaria (the new Philippines), NINJA is an almost-perfect updating of those old Golan-Globus ninja movies, with a simplistic, straight-forward plot, bad acting, and almost unrelenting action. British martial artist Adkins isn't given much dialogue (or really, much of a character to play), but that's fine, as he has the advantage of actually being an accomplished fighter, and he shows it with some very impressive martial arts moves. In fact, he's got all the qualities generally required of an action star - he's good looking, muscular, athletic and doesn't talk too much.
The fight scenes in NINJA are generally great; there's a little too much computer-enhanced zooming, slo-mo and MATRIX-y crap in some of the fights, but for the most part, the action scenes are well-staged and shot. Being a 2009 production rather than 1985 movie means that there's a lot of CGI blood and sword and throwing star action, as well as a computer-generated New York City skyline, but it all works. And to top it off, evil ninja Masazuka has even been equipped with some cool, 21st Century, BATMAN-esque ninja gear. It's ludicrous, but in a good way.
First Look Studios has brought NINJA to DVD and Blu-Ray with a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (in 1080 p HD on Blu-Ray) that is flawless. Audio is a robust 5.1 digital Surround. There are no extras beyond a few trailers for other First Look titles.
It's very simple: if you like old 80's ninja movies, you'll almost certainly enjoy NINJA. If those kinds of flicks aren't your cup of saki, this one isn't going to change your mind. But for viewers like me, who grew up enjoying those chop-socky sagas, NINJA delivers the same kind of action-packed entertainment, just a little bit slicker. Recommended.
BUY: Ninja [Blu-ray]