Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: NINJA, SHADOW OF A TEAR Kicks Ass. Then Face. Then Ass Again.
The story here is quite simple. Adkins returns as Casey - his American ninjitsu trained character from Florentine's earlier Ninja. Casey is living a simple, happy life in Japan with his beautiful wife Namiko. He's teaching at a dojo. She's expecting their first child. And there's no sign anything could possibly go wrong until a pair of well trained thugs assault Casey in an alley. It's a targeted attack, clearly, and the pair's skill level is far too high to brush it off as a random occurrence but Casey refuses to consider the dark possibilities until it is far too late and Namiko is left dead.
And here's where a very simple rule comes into play. If you know a ninja, don't make him angry. Making him angry is a very bad idea.
Casey seeks refuge with his old friend Nakabara (Kane Kosugi) who spins the American a tale of an old rivalry spun out of control, of a deadly conflict involving Nakabara's own father, Namiko's father and the elder brother of a drug lord named Goro which left Goro's brother dead and Goro himself swearing revenge upon both Nakabara and Namiko's families even if it took generations to carry out. This, says Nakabara, is clearly what has happened. And so Casey sets off to Myanmar to track Goro down on a bloody minded mission of revenge.
Make no mistake a bout it. The script for Ninja 2 is simple, verging on primitive even. Don't come in expecting great art on the printed page. But also make no mistake in overlooking the fact that this is very much by design. With both Florentine and Adkins expressing a certain unhappiness with the first Ninja - both feel it plays too much like a fantasy - when given the opportunity to create a sequel they've opted for a much more grounded, much more lean and efficient approach. And efficient it certainly is, cutting through all the extraneous bit and getting to what fans really want - which is Adkins kicking enormous ass - as quickly as possible. And on that front, hot damn ...
Shot with a single unit over thirty six days - an absolutely tiny time frame for an action film this ambitious - Ninja 2 proves once again that Florentine, himself a well trained martial artist, shoots hand to hand combat better than anybody else working today while Adkins again makes the case that he is one of the absolute best screen fighters in the world, period. Adkins possesses a compelling blend of technical ability, natural charisma and sheer, raw power that makes him a delight to watch on the screen while Florentine knows exactly which buttons to press to get the best out of his star.
With choreography provided by Tim Man - who also appears in one very, very solid fight sequence - Ninja 2 lays on a variety of scenarios for Adkins to work through, from single opponents to multiples, stealthy infiltration to straight forward confrontation, bare hand combat to a variety of weapons. There's a steady escalation to the fight work, the tension and stakes constantly rising, with Florentine and his team taking full advantage of their star's ability to work in long takes to show off his impressive skills. Wires? CGI? None of that here, just pure skill captured with a near perfect blend of real world efficiency and 'Holy crap, did you see what he just did?' style.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is a B film to be sure, the stylistic demands that Millennium imposes on their writers with these projects guarantees that, but it's one hell of a fun B film - the sort of film that knows exactly what it is, sets out to be the best damn version of that film that it can possibly be, and succeeds on all levels. Adkins and Florentine should both be well past the point of needing any more calling cards on their resume at this point, but seriously, what the hell is wrong with all you studio people? Every day you fail to give these guys a bigger canvas to play on is a day you make a major mistake. It's time.