Tuesday, August 17, 2010

NINJA'S CREED (2009) - finally, a modern "hi-tech" version of those Godfrey Ho cut-and-paste ninja movies

Here is a mass of footage from the film, in case you think I ate a peyote sandwich and just starting making shit up.

The film opens with a beefy Asian woman (I mean that as a compliment mind you, I’m just no good at making women feel good about themselves) posing and flexing, intercut with Pat Morita stock footage (who died in 2005, mind you). Through the magic of computer graphics (thank you iMac!), Pat shoots lightning out of his fingertips and straight into her sweaty frame. This apparently imbues her with super powers of extreme ass kickery, although I’m unaware of how lightning achieves this (I’m no meteorologist, after all). I’m sure Pat had already taught her the crane kick and the sweep kick, but I guess those just weren’t cutting the mustard.

A title card informs us that we are now in the present day, in the “Kingdom of Samarza”. Boy am I confused, and we’re about two minutes in. I have never heard of a place called “Samarza”, nor am I aware of any real “kingdoms” still existing. Of course, there’s the United Kingdom, but that’s a kingdom in name only, with a “queen” whose sole job is to eat crumpets and wave. Boy that sounds like a sweet gig. So, I guess they just made up this “Samarza” place, which sounds like a combination of the words “samurai” and “RZA”. Maybe it’s an obtuse Wu Tang Clan reference. As a honky goofball, I feel unqualified to comment any further.

So, presumably, the preceding scene took place sometime in the past, yet was constructed from two separate pieces of footage that show up later in the movie, and therefore, later along the timeline. Using stock footage from another film is one thing, but using scenes from the film you are making as stock footage for the very same fucking movie will just confuse people (and reality, for that matter). I guess we’re supposed to believe that Pat was standing around delivering dialogue to someone off screen, and then, after an undisclosed amount of time (I would imagine it to be at least several years, otherwise why even make that distinction), he repeats this scene exactly, wearing the same clothes even, with the same lighting, and not having aged a day. I’m all for “suspension of disbelief”, but at least CGI his jacket a different color or something.

So, this mysterious kingdom is located in the Himalayan mountains, and this is established with one of those Lord of the Rings helicopter shots. You know, where our heroes are riding horses through the mountains while the camera does a helicopter assisted 360. It’s one of those “production value” things, and a hacky short hand for “epicness”. I see it as a waste of resources and time. Also, nobody ever talks about those poor horses who are forced to race through treacherous terrain while some assholes wearing tunics are riding their backs, complaining that they aren’t going fast enough. If you don’t like the way I gallop, how about you take a cab…jackass. Not only that, but the poor camera man has to hang out of a helicopter while it’s spinning around in circles, trying to keep the camera in focus. Here are multiple lives put in potentially grave danger just so the peons in the audience can go “WOW! That looks expensive and epic-y!”. Ordinary fucking people.

Well, our “hero” Adam walks around wearing armor, sad that planes are dropping bombs on his “kingdom”, conveyed in another expensive “production value” shot. He attempts to explain in voice over what the fuck is going on, sounding like Borat’s mumbling cousin. Apparently, this female Asian assassin has been sent to kill a “princess”, a young girl who lives in the D.C. area, and Adam has to stop her. Somehow, if she lives, his homeland will be saved from being bombed any further. Over the opening credits, we get more production value shots establishing D.C., as both hero and villain descend on the area. On a ride over, the assassin sits in the backseat, playing with some origami, as Asians need hobbies too, even ones that kill people for a living.

This “princess” leads the life of a typical teenage girl, school and sports and cute boys and stuff. There is one notable exception though, in that her father consists of stock footage of Eric Roberts. My father was pretty distant, but Eric goes one step further, shooting all of his scenes separate from his own daughter, and the two are very awkwardly cut together. I guess the director just assumes that if you edit shots of two people speaking, even if they are clearly in different places and speaking in mismatched directions, the audience will buy that they are actually having a conversation. Well...I guess he's right. Whatta ya know.

There is a lot more bullshit dialogue while Adam tries to track down the “princess”. All of this is handled seemingly as an homage to famed director Doris Wishman, as people stand around and stare off into space while we hear dialogue on the soundtrack. Apparently, everybody is speaking off screen to one another, and to make it even more confusing, there may be some interior monologues thrown in there, but who can say exactly. Doris pioneered the technique of shooting films without spoken dialogue, and dubbing dialogue in later, but only during a reaction shot of another character listening. We hear an entire conversation while not a single mouth moves on screen. It almost makes it feel as if everyone is communicating telepathically. You know, maybe that was Doris’ aim all along, which makes a film like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist one of the first films to honestly deal with telepathy. Holy Shit.

Well, Adam and the assassin descend upon the Roberts household at the same time, but she heads in and quickly kills Eric with a fire poker (you can finally pick up your paycheck buddy), and then goes after the girl while Adam stands outside staring into space. He finally rushes in to save her, and explains all of the plot bullshit to her. They flee to some building, where we finally get to see some action. The assassin takes care of some security guards, including scissoring her legs around a guy’s head and taking him down (quite impressively so), as well as the shittiest Matrix bullet time effect since, well, The Matrix. I don’t quite understand the need to see the path of a bullet in close up and slo-mo before it penetrates some poor bastard. I think the concept is pretty clear. When someone points a gun at another and pulls the trigger, and they fall over, blood seeping from a bullet hole, it stands to reason that a bullet was somehow involved in this transaction. I guess not everybody is as imaginative as I am. Well, the hero and assassin go toe to toe a little bit, including another one of those leg scissor moves. I guess this scene is supposed to be the equivalent of the police station scene in The Terminator, except without funding of any sort. Well, they escape, and a bomb blows up the building. This seems to be another expensive production value shot, but theoretically they could have just pointed a hidden camera at a building being brought down by a controlled demolition. Either way, I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that somebody actually gave this director guy some sizable coin to make this film. Maybe it’s one of those tax shelter deals.

The teenage girl complains to Adam that “I’m not your princess!”, and he retorts by repeating that he will find her “American father”. I guess her “non-American father" is the king of that bullshit empire he was babbling about earlier. Of course, he finds Eric Roberts dead, and we get to see a bunch of Eric Roberts home movie padding, where he plays with the “princess” as a young girl. This footage repeats throughout the film, as any time you pay the star of Eric Roberts’ caliber the type of paycheck he demands, you gotta get some bang for your buck.

They soon find themselves in a church, where a portrait of Morita and a young girl hangs on the wall, with two samurai swords covering up the picture. Adam has a nonsensical exchange with the Pat Morita stock footage, before “dueling” with the assassin in the church, using those conveniently placed samurai swords. As she is the resident Asian badass, she immediately overpowers him, her sword pressed against his throat. She says something about the line between good and evil being so thin you can’t even see it, but I thought that was supposed to apply to the line between love and hate. Oh well. Instead of easily killing him, she pokes him with a poisoned needle, and he starts tensing up, but recovers and gets up, impaling her with his sword. I don’t know why she went to plan B when plan A was already taking care of beeswax.

Well, the camera starts spinning around Adam, as he is intercut with flashes of stock footage, including reused Eric Roberts footage played in reverse. The unclear result of this hyperactive collision of frames is that Adam and the assassin are in fact one in the same. Well, holy shit. I don’t understand how this logistically works within the framework of what came before, but then again, neither does the director, so at least I’m in pretty bad company. This is followed by an apparent “homage” to the liquid terminator scene in T2, presented as a dream sequence, I suppose. Then again, I guess almost everything in the film must have been a dream. Christ. I guess the only “real” action in the film is what happened to the “princess” (although I guess she isn’t a princess after all). I’m surprised she didn’t find it curious that she was accosted by a strange man of vague ethnicity, only to escape into the arms of the very same man, who explains to her that she was actually just accosted by a female terminator of sorts, and that she is a princess of a country that doesn’t exist, and that he was sent to save her from certain harm. I know teenagers can be gullible, but that should’ve raised a couple of red flags right there.

The remaining twenty minutes or so is a further explanation of the twist ending, including the Pat Morita footage replayed yet again, this time partially in reverse (Twin Peaks style). I guess I wasn’t exactly expecting logic and clarity considering what came before, but attempting to assemble and recap this insane jumble of footage is a task for which my brain lies helpless and wounded. I guess this Adam character works security at an art gallery in D.C., and Pat Morita is his mild mannered boss. He killed poor Eric Roberts, and also strangled his teenage daughter back at the church, and her body is now lying in his apartment. The rest of this shit was all made up in his head. He comes to the realization that he was in fact responsible for the two murders (and the exploding building), yet stalks a mother and daughter at the very end to begin this cycle anew; that of the vaguely middle eastern dude that thinks he is living inside of a nonsensical ripoff of The Terminator. Then again, I could be completely wrong. At least I escaped with my sanity intact, or what was left of it going in.

I guess the best way to describe the film is to pose a question, namely: “what if Donald Kaufman wrote a ripoff of The Terminator, and Doris Wishman was hired to direct at 1/20th of the necessary budget?” Of course, Donald is the brother of brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and he appears in the film Adaptation, where he talks about his script for his film “The 3”. It’s a thriller about a cop that tries to save a girl from a serial killer, but they all end up being three characters within the same mind. Quite curiously, there was a book called Thr3e published a year or so after the release of Adaptation, with a film version of the book to come along later. Thr3e used pretty much the same premise as Mr. Kaufman’s opus, only adding in some Christian overtones. As both a Jew and an American, I think Donald has no choice but to sue some pants off. If you’re gonna steal an entire premise for your script or novel, at least remember to give it a different title.
Fucking snakes.

The rambling, nonsensical dialogue, the constant barrage of manipulated stock footage and flashbacks, and the plot that is completely divorced from both reality and sanity initially felt like an orgy of incompetence and disregard. However, in light of the mindblowing twist ending, I guess the whole thing sorta makes sense. We were not watching a “real” action movie, but were actually stuck inside the head of some bland foreigner, a hotbed of rambling incoherency, nonsensical editing, and recycled Pat Morita stock footage. So, I take everything back that may have painted the film as shitty and/or nonsensical and/or incompetent. At the very least, Doris Wishman’s legacy lives on, even managing to share some shelf space over at Blockbuster. Oh, and by the way, there aren’t any actual ninjas in the film. I know, I’m nitpicking. I guess I just need to stop asking questions and learn to enjoy myself.


  1. Excellent. I am impressed by and envious of the fact that your posts are so consistently well-written. Thorougly enjoyable.

  2. @John
    TANX! I thought this one needed an edit, but the movie turned my brain into mush, so I left it as is. Oh well.