Director: Isaac Florentine
Screenplay: David N. White
Starring: Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi, Mika Hijii, Shun Sugata
Producers: Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini, Tom Waller
Running Time: 95 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
There were two movies I was really looking forward to going into 2014. I’ve given up getting all that excited about summer blockbusters (even if they are occasionally very good) and independent fare doesn’t usually come under my radar until it’s played the festivals or done the rounds with the critics. No, the two most anticipated titles of the year for me were both action movies – The Raid 2 and this, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. The former needs no explanation, but the latter is less obvious. Low budget straight to DVD/Blu-Ray action movies don’t usually get film lovers rushing to the cinema (or DVD shop), but a fair amount of web hype for this hit my sweet spot, dead centre. It’s a sequel to Ninja, also directed by Isaac Florentine (Undisputed II & III) and starring Scott Adkins (Undisputed II & The Expendables 2), which I enjoyed quite a bit, but wouldn’t say I loved. It was the trailer that got me really excited (see below). Being the action junkie that I am, it looked exactly like my kind of film, so I’ve been stoked to see it for months.
Adkins plays Casey, a highly skilled fighter trained in the art of the ninja. He’s living happily with his pregnant wife Namiko (Mika Hijii) in Japan, teaching karate. One night however, everything comes crashing down as Namiko is brutally murdered. At first Casey thinks it’s a random revenge attack after taking down some wannabe thieves earlier in the day, but after matching the neck wounds his wife suffered with those of a student killed performing a task he should have been doing himself, he goes on a mission to track down the killer. This takes him to Mayanmar, home of a notorious drug baron named Goro (Shun Sugata). Casey must channel the full potential of his ninja skills to topple him.
I actually reviewed Ninja in my first ever Weekend of Trash write-up on my old blog and to be honest, reading my thoughts on it, I could pretty much replicate the review for its sequel. However, being more prepared for what to expect I’m going to give this a better rating than I did before.
What anyone should expect when watching Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (and you don’t need to see the first film) is a throwback to the great cheesy action movies of the 80’s and early 90’s. I don’t mean biggies like Predator or Rambo: First Blood Part 2. Think Shô Kosugi (father of Kane Kosugi who shows his skills here) or Michael Dudikoff. Don’t go in expecting a particularly original or involving story or powerful central performances. This is an action film through and through and is most concerned with being loaded with fights and not too much of anything else. It would be easy to slag off the film’s textbook narrative, bland cinematography or ropey co-stars (Adkins himself does fairly well even if he’s not the most charismatic of stars), but that would be pointless. I was excited to watch this for the fight scenes alone and they did not disappoint.
Florentine is a martial arts expert himself so makes sure his film is packed with authentic and hard hitting displays of karate and other fight styles (I’m not knowledgable enough to point them out). He also knows how to shoot action. Rather than throwing his camera around or editing the living hell out of the scenes, he pulls off some very impressive long take fights, cutting only when he knows it’s going to add impact. The fighting cast members are all trained martial artists too, so there’s nothing to hide with film making trickery. Adkins in particular really knows his stuff and is allowed to show it here. Plus he gets a couple of cool tooling up montages and a classic line – Nakabara: “remember, the man who seeks revenge should dig two graves”, Casey: “They’re going to need a lot more than that”.
The only genuine issue that bothered me (I couldn’t have cared less about the surface flaws mentioned previously) was in the rhythm of the film (for want of a less wanky word). Without wanting to spoil anything, there’s a false ending. Everything feels over at about 75 minutes with what seems like a rushed finale. A twist adds the actual finale soon after, which didn’t work for me. For one it’s pretty ridiculous, but, more importantly, it spoils the flow of the film, which otherwise motors along without fault.
Nonetheless this is fast paced fun with some incredible fight scenes. Unlike the two Raid films, it never rises above its B-movie roots in terms of overall quality, but if you’re willing to enjoy it as such you’re in for a treat.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is out on 12th May in the UK on Blu-Ray and DVD, released by Lionsgate. I watched the Blu-Ray version, which had a few problems with light flat colours, but otherwise looked and sounded sharp.
There’s only one special feature unfortunately, a short featurette on the making of the film. It’s OK, but it would have been nice to see something a bit more substantial or hear a commentary from Florentine or Adkins.
The film is available from Amazon UK here:
RowThree's UK correspondent.