AUSTIN, Texas — Ninja Assassin generally received negative reviews and poor ratings mainly due to its numerous amateurish-like gore scenes, which critics’ argue didn’t include a convincing storyline. Focusing only on the entertainment value of the film, reviewers failed to see the kind of depth that underlay the movie when examining its connection to our cultural world today. Looking at the surrounding events that happened in our society prior to the film’s production, we will see how the larger world has shaped why director James McTeigue incorporated such a blood bath in this multi-million dollar Hollywood movie.
Comparing McTeigue’s V for Vendetta with Ninja Assassin, we find that both films contain echoing themes and ideology in which a single individual rejects the system he is forced into. A mysterious revolutionary who calls himself “V” inV for Vendetta, plots to destroy a totalitarian government in Great Britain during modern periods. V breaks free from a government-funded death camp and emerges as the only survivor after he involuntarily becomes part of a medical experiment where scientists inject him with hormonal drugs. He then begins an elaborate but violent campaign to murder his former captors while bringing down a corrupt government and convinces the people to rule themselves.
Likewise in Ninja Assassin, a mystifying ninja named Raizo seeks to destroy his oppressors. The ruthless Ozunu Clan took Raizo in as an orphan and brutally trained him to become a deadly assassin. He eventually breaks free from the gang after facing years of extreme violence. He then goes on the run, preparing to exact his revenge on the Ozunu Clan for the murder of his clan sister by their hands.
McTeigue is playing with a theme our society has for a long time identified against in both films, which is this “system” we have created and must live under. We call many things in our culture a “system”–the education system, the law system and the government system just to name a few. Most of these “systems” are not working for some people, and this is where McTeigue begins to explore the ideology that if the individuals or an individual in our society gets stuck in a system that is mistreating them. They will defy the status quo and rebel against the system to create their own.
“Individuals against the world, I guess that’s the common thing at the moment right?” McTeigue said in an interview comparing his two films. V lives alone in a hideout while trying to take down a government system that no other dares to disobey. Raizo lives on the run while trying to break down a family system that no outsider can understand. It is V and Raizo against the world.
V for Vendetta shows that people will fight to break free from a system they are stuck in at the larger level where a whole nation is affected. Ninja Assassin portrays this at an individual level where a single person is affected. Both V and Raizo fight their violent systems they are stuck in to create their own, one in which they can live freely.
In The Washington Post movie review “Ninjas undone by slickness,” Dan Kios begins the article by analyzing Ninja Assassin’s climatic ending rather than focusing on how Raizo is a hero who can’t keep his shirt on, or that the audience will only remember the blood bath and flying body parts when they leave the theater. He instead describes the final battle scene between the clan of Asian ninjas and an European police force as “an example of Western might attacking an Eastern tradition with advanced technology and gobs of money.”
This bloody battle between ninja weapons versus automatic weapons is symbolic of the West’s continued dominance in the world today through power and money. It is McTeigue’s manifestation of an intruding Western will not just in the East but on other countries throughout history.
A police force is shown invading the once lucrative Ozunu Clan’s hideout. The gate explodes as armored hummer vehicles speed in and bullets start to fly carelessly at whatever and whoever was on the other side. An agent shoots a flare into the air, and the audience gets a sky view of the clan’s hideout while military choppers hover in. The ninjas try to flee but many of them eat bullets. Another agent uses a bazooka to blow up a section of the hideout and more policemen force their way through the exposed entrance into the hideout. Again they start to shoot at anything that moves without question.
The authorities’ invasion and intrusion into the hideout happened after just months or weeks of investigation. The article is hinting at an epideictic argument of proposal about Western colonialism in a modern context that I argued for in my first paper. The film was produced in recent years following the Bush-era, which we can argue that this could be McTeigue’s interpretation of what modern-day Western Colonialism looks like. Through creating this hard-to-believe war between the two sides with tones of violence is McTeigue’s adaptation to introduce this surreal idea that Western colonialism still exists and that the West continues to impose its will on the world today.
In NPR’s “A ‘Ninja Assassin’ Out for Blood (And Revenge),” Mark Jenkins explains how ninjas are supposed to be “silent and shadowy killers,” yet when the audience gets a firework of special effects at the beginning of the film where one ninja is slaughtering a group of gangsters all at once. It is reasonable to argue then that they are being introduced to a new genre of ninjas.
McTeigue updated the traditional ninja to create an upgraded version essentially to market to our popular culture today. We prefer things that are bigger, stronger, faster and more durable, which is why McTeigue created a deadlier, more super hero-like ninja. Hence, just take a look at Raizo. Does he look like he can kick the traditional ninja’s Ass(assin)? Doesn’t he look cooler and fits better in our popular culture than the traditional ninja? Maybe. Since our ninja is a superhero now, this means he is going to do more damage and more damage means more blood. Thus the exaggerated gore scenes with obvious fake blood is not bad production, rather it is McTeigue’s attempt at entertaining viewers and appealing to our popular culture.
McTiegue has roughly put forth several social concerns he views exist in our world but are not necessarily easily visible for the audience to grasps. The events happening in the world prior to the movie’s release were a driving influence in the making of the film. McTiegue addressed the systematic law that governs our life, the existence of Western colonialism in our world today and finally what we define as our popular culture now. From examining the film and its function in our culture, we see that these arguments show us our society and what we call our way of life. All this is just presented through a martial arts action film so that McTiegue can also market his movie as well. These are the underlying of Ninja Assassin that the critics failed to see and therefore give it a bad review.
Here is a link to the first part I wrote. Enjoy! Ninja Assassin Rhetorical Analysis