Monday, September 14, 2009

Ninja Movies - 'nuff said

Over two nights last week I watched two "Ninja Movies". The first was a very little-known flick called "Ninja Vengeance". The second was a much more mainstream Sho Kosugi movie called "Rage of Honor". Neither was a "good" movie (is there such a thing as a "good" ninja movie?), but they were both entertaining in their own way. A few thoughts come to mind.

1. Ninja Vengeance isn't really a ninja movie. It's half a martial arts movie, half a promotional vehicle for Stephen K. Hayes, the pater familius of American Ninjutsu. Hayes shows up in this film in flashbacks as the protagonist's trainer and mentor, although I don't think his 'character' is actually named in the film. There's a lot of that spoon / no spoon martial arts talk, way of the warrior, yadda yadda yadda. But the protagonist doesn't fight other ninjas (only one other bad guy is a martial artist, and he was supposedly trained in unarmed combat by the Marines), and he's never in his ninja get-up, nor does he actually use any ninja paraphanalia, although at one point you know he has it with him.

2. Rage of Honor, on the other hand, has not only ninja-on-ninja fighting, but the ninjas are packing flamethrowers, rocket launchers, assault rifles, and a whole host of ninja weapons, including some really insane looking polearms and some really badass "fighting claws" which are like nekode on crack. There's only one cadre of ninjas that Kosugi fights, and it is late in the movie, but they are worth it. Oh, and they arrive in a Huey helicopter, and they are wearing camouflage ninja outfits like some sort of G.I. Joe action figure. Beyond this, Kosugi uses a bajillion (that's right, a BAJILLION) shuriken in this movie, and every time they hit someone, they kill instantly. Some of them even explode. That's right, exploding ninja stars. My day has come. He also uses guns, crossbows, ninja-to, and a whole host of other kickass weapons.

3. Ninja Vengeance has an extraordinarily low body count. Not only that, almost everyone in the movie who DOES die is killed, if not accidently, at least regretably. The protagonist mostly just beats up the bad guys until they are incapacitated - I don't believe he actually kills a SINGLE bad guy in the whole movie. Rage of Honor, on the other hand, has a monumental body count. I can't say for sure that Kosugi's character kills over a hundred bad guys, but he does kill scores of people - the body count is in the many multiples of dozens killed or at least badly wounded.

4. After watching both films, I came to the suprising conclusion that while Rage of Honor was the better "typical ninja movie", Ninja Vengeance, while a poor "ninja flick" and not a very good movie, was actually a far better story overall. Unsuspecting "American Ninja" (he's so ninja, he rides - you guessed it - a Kawasaki Ninja) has his motorcycle break down in a small southern town and becomes framed for the murder of a young black man (killed by local Klan members who count among their number several local law enforcement types) when he tries to intervene. The protagonist winds up joining forces with the deceased man's girlfriend, a white girl whose father (as well as most of the town) is against her dating outside her ethnicity (even though the young man in question seems to be the only open-minded, intelligent, and forward-thinking person in the entire town; guess that's why he had to die...). It's of course terribly hackneyed and very stereotypical, but shockingly enough, it's far more of an engaging plot than Rage of Honor, which is pretty much "Drug dealers are bad and killed ninja cop's partner, now they all have to die".

5. Tying it all back to gaming (somehow...). Even though Rage of Honor is more of what you'd think you'd want to see in an "action" movie, the volume and ridiculousness of the action was really the only thing holding it up. Ninja Vengeance might appear on the surface to be the weaker film, but it actually - amazingly - had more going for it. And thus it is with gaming; sometimes giving players what they THINK they want is less rewarding than giving them something they will appreciate more after the fact. A gaming session of instantly entertaining but immediately forgettable mindless violence is fun now and then, but without some pathos and a little character development to keep things rolling, sooner or later the bloom is going to come off the rose and the players (and especially the GM) are going to lose their interest.

Of course, this isn't going to prevent me from popping in my DVD of Revenge of the Ninja and enjoying Sho Kosugi kicking some more heads in.

Edit: I found the trailer for "Rage of Honor" and some non-official 'trailer' of "Ninja Vengeance" online. Note the camouflaged ninjas with the heavy weapons in RoH, and the ninja's sweet ride in NV.



Timeshadows said...

Remember: Ninjas are more afraid of you than you are of them.

Word Verification-
* Invulses: What you'll be twitching and jerking to when Chuck Norris reads this blog entry. See ya'! ;)

Atom Kid said...

I watched Ninja Vengeance with my dad, this Saturday. It was hilarious! I like how the "ninja" had a book on ninjitsu in his pack! Also the female lead in the movie was the clumsiest runner I've ever seen in a movie before. She looked like a gorilla, the way she moved her arms.

Badelaire said...

Atom: It is kinda sad, isn't it? She's never been in another movie other than NV, apparently. As for the books, I do believe those are Hayes' own works - after all, this movie IS at least 1/2 a Stephen K. Hayes promotional video. I like to think of our feather-haired protagonist as less a Ninja but rather a "student of Ninjitsu"...