In Hollywood, the ninja has either been a joke — think mutated turtles, Chris Farley, suburban adolescent wannabes — or strictly the stuff of narrowly focused genre flicks. In the last few years, though, ninjas have begun to get some mainstream respect, with appearances in movies like 2005's "Batman Begins" and this summer's "G.I. Joe." Can they once again carry their own mainstream movie? With "Ninja Assassin," director James McTeigue is not only sharpening his sword to slice and dice moviegoers' opinion of the stealthy, acrobatic fighters once and for all — he's planning on doing so with a cast of relative unknowns in the U.S.
But McTeigue's got skills molding genre material for the big screen — he was a key player in "The Matrix" trilogy and the director of "V for Vendetta" — and his lead actor happens to be one of the biggest pop stars in Asia. If you've never heard of Rain, you're about to, as the director explained to MTV News.
"Rain is an incredible athlete," McTeigue said. "An incredible personality too. You just have to spend a little time around him to know what dedication he has and what kind of star charisma he has, which is why he's so popular there."
McTeigue also pointed out that Rain is simply very talented. "We trained a lot of the actors for ['The Matrix']," the director said. "But Rain, through his dance ability, he trained harder than anyone I've ever seen. He also got the choreography down incredibly well, more so that you could just show it to him two or three times and then he'd do it perfect, pretty much. He was incredible to watch."
"I learned a lot of techniques and expressions, martial arts," the South Korean singer told MTV News shortly after the movie wrapped production. "I've been training for six months nonstop, everyday. From the moment, I've been controlling my mind and my menu, with chicken breasts and vegetables — almost killed me. I'll never work out again!"
So, you've got an international celebrity and a director with serious fanboy cred. What else does it take to bring the honorable ninja out from the depths of B-moviedom? McTeigue assembled a cast of strong supporting actors, secured a Hollywood-size budget and made sure the script emphasized character as much as it did action.
The story focuses on Rain's Raizo, who is picked up off the streets as a child and trained to be — what else? — a wickedly skilled ninja assassin. All grown up, Raizo ends up turning against the folks who taught him to be a killing machine and makes it his life's mission to end all this assassination business. Unsurprisingly, the others ninjas don't take kindly to this sort of career advice, and a cross-European battle royal ensues.
"You have to keep the essence of the ninja movie," McTeigue explained. "But if you want to take it above the usual kind of ninja movie, you need to give it a decent story. But make no mistake — it's a ninja movie."
In addition to the character-driven elements in "Ninja," when the movie hits theaters on November 25, expect loads of funky weapons (swords, throwing stars, chain-blade combos called kusarigama ) and wild fight choreography (incorporating elements of parkour, kung fu and sword combat). In other words, there's a little something for everyone.
"For me, the film is a cross between anime, video games and film noir," McTeigue said.
From the sexy Megan Fox in "Jennifer's Body" to the black-clad warriors of "Ninja Assassin," the MTV Movies team is delving into the hottest flicks of Fall 2009. Check back daily for exclusive clips, photos and interviews with the films' biggest stars.
Check out everything we've got on "Ninja Assassin."
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