If like me you know about DTV action films and know of Scott Adkins the British martial artist (formerly of British television fame) then like most of the DTV fans out, then the chances are that you have been waiting with bated breath for his latest collaboration with DTV action auteur Isaac Florentine. Finally “Ninja” has arrived in Blighty but is it worth it……happily the answer is that it I found it a high kicking, ninja slicing piece of mindless entertainment, exactly what I was hoping for.
The story (or what is probably considered a bit of 80’s action cliché) concerns two warring students American born Casey and Japanese Masazuka. When their differences cause Masazuka to defy his master and attempts to kill Casey he is expelled from the Dojo. Three years later he re-enters the Dojo with a mass samurai slaughter to gain the yoroi bitsu, a box containing the weapons of the ninja secretly passed down through generations
They then need to hide the yoroi bitsu from Masazuka who then kidnaps Namiko forcing Casey to deliver the ancient weaponry in exchange for his beloved. So commences a flashy ass-kicking throwback to the 80’s Ninja films. You know the ones which either stared Michael Dudikoff or Steve James (the majority of which where financed by Menahem Golan & Yorman Globus) and had little in the way of a structured story and even worse acting, while the martial arts verges on a Power Rangers like quality.
But like all 80’s throwbacks it’s not the story you are too interested in, but the kick-ass action set pieces. Even at 83 slim minutes the action comes thick and fast and very rarely lets but from the beginning of its running time till the end. Florentine should be commended as should be his editor for keeping things simple and fast flowing, this guy really does know how to frame a good fight (just check out Undisputed 2: Last man standing for the evidence of this) on top of which he seems to have found his muse with Adkins. As a leading man Adkins is a touch boring but like all good martial artists he has that secret ingredient, brooding adrenaline charged aggression. You can see why he was picked as Deadpool’s stunt double in Wolverine. The physicality that Adkins imbues is utterly engrossing, he is fast, powerful and athletic you can feel the energy pour (or rather spin-kicked) out of the television, this guy needs more leading roles and in Adkins, Florentine has found his high kicking muse (and to be honest he was the best thing about “The Shepherd: Border Patrol). The fight choreography by Akihiro Noguchi (a veteran of the alpha stunt team) maximises Adkins dextrous physicality, the mass take down of a gang of cult members is just one of the films high octane highlights. My jaw literally dropped at Adkins prowess and screen present as an action actor (another fine example is the aforementioned Undisputed 2) and from what I have seen of the teasers for Undisputed 3, it shows he is a growing talent to watch, even if big budget blockbusters waste his talent the DTV action genre seems to be medium that maximises him the most.
For a low budget direct-to-dvd film this looks absolutely fantastic, it is vibrant yet dark almost in the vain of a comic adaptation (Blade 2’s colour palette by cinematographer Guillmero Navero sprung to mind several times, particularly during the high street climax). Again the look is helped by the use of editing which produces its comic book like appeal, for a DTV action film this is technically the best I have possibly seen, it feels as though it has twice the budget at times. Whereas at other points it unfortunately does not, which brings me to one of the films minor down points the CGI, this is where you can tell its low budget. Besides a few establishing shots and possible archive footage of New York this was all filmed with in Bulgaria and it is evident, but these are minor flaws. And was always going to be evident within a low budget action film, no matter how good the talent.
One other minor flaw concerns a roof top battle between Casey and Masazuka, the martial arts on display are top notch, but some poor green screen hampers it slightly. Bring back a bad taste of The Spirit, which does not gel with the rest of the films aesthetic. But like I said these are minor points to an otherwise fast and furious piece of action entertainment, and it has been a very long time since I have been excited by an action film (including recent big budget attempts). So ignore the appalling acting the sometimes shoddy CGI and the annoyingly short running time, this is how DTV action films should be. Fast and fun truly what more could you ask for from a hack slashing, throwing star and martial arts filled ninja film. It seems as though to get a decent action fix nowadays the action stars reign supreme (and I am excluding Seagal from this equation) on DTV, I have tasted the high kicking goodness and I want more.