“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” At face value, this appears to be the moral of Ninja’s Creed. And if it were, this film would have been a rather straightforward, predictable “accept your destiny” story. As is, this movie is much more—at least, it tries to be—and whether or not it reaches that level depends on your reaction to the last third of the movie. Me? I appreciate the effort, but it doesn’t excuse the shoddy execution. After all, a finger painting that aspires to be on the level of a Van Gogh work doesn’t get full credit just for the attempt.
The Uncle Ben-esque quote listed above is largely meant to motivate and possibly foreshadow the journey of the young girl at the center of this movie. This girl is Jan, played by the singularly-named LaLaine, who you might recognize as Miranda from Lizzie McGuire (don’t deny it, you definitely recognize her). Jan is the last remaining heir to a Himalayan empire, unbeknownst to her, of course. The evil Skanji Empire looks to take control by killing the princess, sending an assassin (Gail Kim) to do the job.
Now, the juxtaposition of the modern day and the ancient Asian empire is jarring at first, not helped by the shoddy editing at the very beginning of the film. The flashing visuals and cheesy voiceovers are meant to serve the massive amounts of exposition, and end up making the film look like a History Channel reenactment. The editing gets a bit better later on, and the effects are as laughable as you would expect from a film as low budget as this one. The thing that stands out the most, though, is the sound editing. Often, bits of exposition are cryptically whispered over and over, as if to pound an idea into the viewer’s head. Even worse, the male lead, a soldier named Adam sent to protect the princess, speaks almost exclusively in audio that’s obviously been recorded in the ADR stage (automated dialogue replacement) of post-production. It gives the film the feel of a dubbed-over kung fu movie, which is something I have the feeling the filmmakers weren’t going for.
Gail Kim is likely the only reason for any wrestling fan to have an interest in seeing the movie. If you were hoping to see her show acting abilities not seen in the confines of the WWE, you’ll be disappointed. She largely stands around being silent but deadly, which fits her assassin character, even if it’s horribly cliché. When she does speak, her lines are recited in a forced whisper, which doesn’t sound serene and chilling as much as it sounds like she has a nasty case of laryngitis. The highlight of her involvement is, of course, the action, and she pulls off her part of it as we would expect, being effectively quick and agile. Unfortunately, the film seems to want to disguise the action as much as possible, hiding it with close, quick cuts and dark lighting. It’s a shame, too, because we know she can pull off convincing fake fights, having seen her exciting work in the WWE.
Her first real fight, taking place in a hallway, is reminiscent of a fight in Iron Man 2 in which the SHIELD agent Black Widow fights numerous guards single-handed, busting out lucha libre moves to take them out in quick, flashy ways. Here Gail, like Black Widow, also hits a hurricanrana and goes hand-to-hand a bit, but the fight never reaches its potential, stopping just as it gets good and resorting to a plain old gunfight. In this fight I also saw shades of Lita’s combat from her guest stint on Dark Angel, where they seemed to toss in wrestling moves just for the hell of it. In fact Gail, at one point, takes out an opponent with a DDT. A DDT! If there’s anything that doesn’t belong in this fight, it’s a DDT, especially when her character is supposed to be a fast-as-lightning assassin. The blame for that lameness would go to fight choreographer, I suppose.
A swordfight later in the film is much more entertaining and less frantic, almost bearing shades of Bruce Wayne’s League of Shadows training in Batman Begins, much of the fight taking place in stealth, Gail moving in and out of the shadows. Of course, it’s nowhere near that level, but this fight redeems a lot of her performance in the film which, overall, is lacking. Still, this is only a few moments out of a 90 minute film, and that’s not nearly enough to make her involvement worthwhile.
In defense of her subpar performance, though, there isn’t much acting for her to do anyways. She’s meant to be a menacing presence, dangerous because she can’t be detected, and there’s only a few select moments in the film in which those attributes are actually used, including this fight and an exchange early on between her and Eric Roberts, who plays the princess’s American guardian/foster father. Speaking of Roberts, I can’t help but wonder why he’s in this film at all, as his role is relatively small and thankless. I know Roberts’s career is a shadow of what it once was, but dear Lord, this is a far cry from The Pope of Greenwich Village. His unremarkable performance doesn’t give it any more worth, either, and Pat Morita, in his final role, pretty much just stands around, half-draped in shadows and speaking hackneyed lines in both English and what sounds suspiciously like Chinese played in reverse. LaLaine acts confused and frantic the whole film, never getting to showcase any shade of the bravery you might expect from a “unknowing heir accepts their destiny” story—Percy Jackson, she is not. In fact, her journey is pretty much yanked away part way through the movie, disappearing into thin air. Alexander Wraith, the soldier protector, in his robotic ADR speak, doesn’t get remotely interesting until the end twist, after which his acting is almost entertaining in its ridiculousness.
But back to Gail. At the end of her swordfight a big, story-halting twist takes place, which you can tell is meant to jar the viewer and give the film an actual purpose. It’s a bait-and-switch, because you think the film is telling one (cliché, overused) story, when it’s actually something else entirely. This twist, in my opinion, makes the film much more interesting, but they don’t take it to a level where it redeems the movie itself from its own lousiness. I’m not going to spoil the twist, but it’s very much an “I know this, because Tyler knows this” deal, if you get my drift. Let me just say that, with the twist, it makes much more sense that Gail is featured prominently on all the promotional material since, pre-twist, she appeared to be only a peripheral character.
Overall, the film is ham-fisted from beginning to end, with ideas and information jammed into our skulls via sloppy exposition delivery from such silly plot devices as bedside radios (American radio stations apparently cover urgent news about Asian empires.. who knew?) and voiceovers where the characters whisper to each other and sometimes to themselves in order to get a point across. There’s very little subtlety, and I think that is what ruins the film’s twist. It’s meant to shake the viewer psychologically and make them question what they’ve seen in the earlier parts of the film, but it soon degenerates into a frantic mess of editing and grimacing as they strive to bring the film to a cryptic ending. In the end, the film is not an enjoyable camp-fest, as some may be hoping. Instead, it’s an incredibly mediocre film that strived to be part action film, part psychological thriller and failed on both counts. It’s certainly not the worst thing ever recorded on celluloid, but it frustratingly missed an opportunity to take an intriguing idea to interesting places. Instead, much like the aforementioned fight scenes, the film stops itself before it can go anywhere interesting.
That’s not to say I’m waiting with baited breath for a sequel where they can do just that. I just wish they did more with what they had which, admittedly, was a far more interesting concept than I was expecting.