Good ninja movies are hard to find these days. They seem to have disappeared in the popular consciousness with a big smokebomb. They used to be everywhere in the eighties. Hell I remember they were even in the soap opera Falcon Crest back in the day , but don´t quote me on that one. My memory is pretty hazy. Like mist in the past clouding my ninja memories.
Ninja directed by Isaac Florentine is a beautiful breeze of fresh air in Ninja-cinema. An actual solid Ninja movie for the 2000´s using a lot of the mythical tropes we associate with the pop art version of Ninja. I am not sure if what we associate with the word Ninja has any historical validity. But history is sketchy anyway.
Scott Adkins stars as American Ninja Scott Bowman, adopted as an orphan into a japanese dojo by Sensei Takeda played by Togo Igawa (Street Fighter:Assassins Fist). But he has a rival on the school, Mazasuka who don´t care for gaijin or outsiders. Like Sho Kosugis character in Enter The Ninja never cared of Franco Nero in Enter The Ninja. So already we have established a conventional conflict in Ninja cinema, in which Ninja adhers to. Mazasuka wants to become the next sensei of Ninja-school so he can get the family treasure ( a bunch of awesome ninja shit), but he gets his ass banished from said Ninja-school during a friendly matchup against Casey, but ends up not-so-friendly. He vows revenge..blablabla and soforth. Casey is on route to become the next sensei instead, while Mazasuka finds a new career path as an assassin for a ridiculous cult of white priviledged men out to kill its business competitors and strikes a deal with them.
Later he kills Sensei Takeda and comes after Casey and the treasure. That is the plot. And it is pretty basic compared to the convoluted affairs of the sequel.
Florentine and Adkins has gone on record saying they were never really pleased with this first Ninja outing, that it was too reliant on wirework and CGI. I can see that. But the more I watch this the more it feels like a true ninja-film of yore with shurikens, katana-blades and a vast array of different Ninja weaponry. And there are a lot of excellent fight scenes in this as well. Scott Adkins goes up against a whole room of scumbags and dispatches them in a most beautiful way. There is also a very impressive subway fight that, according to Florentine, was one of the few scenes he was proud of in the making of Ninja.
I think the more heightened impact the wirework and CG actually gives this film the type of flavour it needs. The silliness of ninjas and their almost supernatural skills is something that eighties nnja-cinema exploited in intriguing ways and the exoticism of japanese culture was at a highpoint so it would not be completely out of place of having this exaggurated look at a pop culture phomenon that has not been relevant in decades. As such I think the film works as a film belonging to a tradition of Ninja-filmmaking long gone.A tradition that has vanished in thin air to suddenly re-appear in 2009 to ambush the audience with its silly but awesome sets of trickery.
The seuqel Ninja-Shadow of a Tear takes the fight scenes to a more grounded level to accommodate Adkins abiliteis better , because apparently Ninjas more japanese style of fighting that the fight choreography was built on suited Scott Adkins poorly. I don´t know, he looks pretty great in this, and that is probably a testament to his physical skills. because of that this a damn fun film to watch.