Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: NINJA, SHADOW OF A TEAR Kicks Ass. Then Face. Then Ass Again.

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: NINJA, SHADOW OF A TEAR Kicks Ass. Then Face. Then Ass Again.
Though the script may not be the most sterling work of literature you've ever come across and the production was forced to work within a strictly limited budget Isaac Florentine's Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear stands as one of the most exciting and engaging American action films in recent years for one very simple reason. Florentine and his star of choice, Scott Adkins, are simply the most potent pairing of director and star working within American action film today. It's the worst kept secret of the film world, really, as the pair have done this now a handful of times with the Undisputed films, in particular, winning a vocal and loyal underground fanbase, but it bears repeating over and over again until the day comes that the mainstream industry takes notice. These guys are really, really good and it's well past time that a major studio took notice and gave them a shot at the big time. But until that happens we'll still have their Millennium Films backed offerings to keep us happy.

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.

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Around the Internet

Goldie_Hawn_Golden_ShowerSeptember 21, 2013 11:28 AM

mark this down as one of the films that needs required viewing. Todd, please tell me Special ID is part of the secret Screening?? Or Tom Yung Goonie 2???

telastSeptember 21, 2013 11:03 PM

36 days is unheard of LONG these days. This is the era of 15 day pics. What on earth motivated the money to indulge a film starring a genre only star?

rage72September 21, 2013 11:22 PM

I can't wait to see this! I wish Florentine and Adkins would do their own short Batman movie and put it online so everybody can watch would blow WB's mind!

Joerg NezmeskalSeptember 22, 2013 10:41 AM

Batman is not (just) about spinning back kicks. Just sayin.

Todd BrownSeptember 22, 2013 11:37 AM

Not for an action movie, it's not. You can shoot an indie drama (i.e. a whole lot of people sitting around talking) on that sort of time frame but not action. It's one of the fundamental reasons there is so very, very little decent low budget action out there.

Geeky Danny in HKSeptember 22, 2013 1:21 PM

Can't wait to see this. Looks like a massive improvement on Ninja. Scott Adkins is an awesome talent. Shame he's wasted in such small roles in bigger budget movies. I'm still wondering if maybe he will be the man under the mask in action sequences for Batman

rage72September 23, 2013 5:07 PM

Of course not! Don't be a smartass! I was going by the fact so many people wanted Adkins for Batman, now go back to your mother's basement fanboy!

Joerg NezmeskalSeptember 26, 2013 4:44 PM

You got this halfaway right. I´m smart, but seemingly you´re the ass in this judging from your low brow replie.

rage72September 27, 2013 12:19 PM

Just go away dude...