In the grand tradition of such films as Zombie Strippers and Snakes on a Plane, Ninja Assassin has both its concept and its chief selling point encapsulated in its blunt, one-dimensional title. If you like ninjas who assassinate people, then, well, you’ll probably find something to like in this movie.
And you better, because there isn’t anything else going on. Korean pop star Rain plays the title character—trained from childhood to be an unstoppable killing machine—who breaks from his mercenary clan to become a sort of ninja assassin for justice. He finds himself in Berlin protecting a Europol agent (Harris) who’s gotten too close to the truth about the ancient ninja-assassin clans, and has been targeted for death.
Despite the plot’s being essentially irrelevant, director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and screenwriters Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski pile on the tedious flashbacks, and Harris plays Agent Exposition to Rain’s stoic ninja. The dialogue is pure cheese, the plotting is sloppy, and Harris is total dead weight as a trumped-up damsel in distress. So the ninja-assassinating is all that’s left, and even that is a little mediocre. The movie opens with a fun, ultra-gory sequence introducing the near-omnipotent ninja clan, but the excitement over McTeigue’s fascination with one particular effect—blades slicing body parts clean off—soon turns to boredom as he deploys it over and over again.
The fight sequences here aren’t about finely choreographed grace—they’re crude bloodbaths, many shot in near-total darkness, making them hard to follow. You certainly can’t accuse Ninja Assassin of not living up to its title, but the filmmakers clearly never thought beyond that point.