Directed by Isaac Florentine.
The sensei of a Japanese dojo is on the verge of picking a replacement to take over training, and the frontrunners are his two top students: Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara) and Casey (Scott Adkins) - the latter being a token white guy who sticks out like a sore thumb amongst a bunch of Japanese folks. Without going into too much detail, Masazuka turns bad and eventually assumes the role of a rogue ninja who works as an assassin for a criminal organization. Masazuka later makes his presence known to the sensei, vowing to get revenge for his banishment from the school. The story moves to New York City, which is where Casey and a few other students are instructed by the sensei to transport a chest of sacred weapons for safe-keeping. Masazuka hunts Casey down, the hooded footsoldiers of the criminal organization get involved, and it's not long before the film explodes with action set-pieces, ninja shenanigans, and insane fight sequences that spill into subways, back alleys, and even a police station.
I'm not too familiar with Scott Adkins, but I understand he's becoming somewhat of a star in the straight-to-DVD action market. I saw him in a horror movie called STAG NIGHT a while back but didn't think much of him because of his limited screen time. Now after seeing NINJA, I still don't think much of him... not as an actor anyway. Adkins could probably give Jason Statham a run for his money if he had charisma, but at least he's got everything else down: dude can fight (or at least pretend to fight) and he's built like a brick shit-house.
One thing of note is the criminal organization I mentioned earlier. When you first see them, they look like a Satanic cult in the midst of an initiation ceremony, which is being conducted by the group's leader. Everyone in the room is wearing robes and hoods, and there are symbols of unknown meaning on the walls. In a perfect world there would have been a supernatural twist to the proceedings, but it wasn't the case. Still though, it at least provides an interesting aesthetic when we do see these guys pop in the film. The group's leader seems to be some sort of small-scale wannabe Illuminati figure, and the uniform look of his henchmen provide a subtle but cool gang aesthetic that wouldn't feel too out of place in a modern-day version of THE WARRIORS.
I was initially a little disappointed by the somewhat low-budget look of the film and especially the cheesy logo that pops up during the opening credits (and again when the movie's over), but NINJA ultimately proves to be a surprisingly stylish affair with interesting camera work. Whoever shot the fight scenes (which are all extremely well-choreographed and performed) and later edited them really did a great job of capturing and pacing the action, respectively. A female character assumes the damsel in distress role at a certain point, with, of course, Scott Adkins playing the knight in shining armor and following a familiar path when it comes to action/adventure cinema, but even that aspect of the film is well done. It should be noted that the damsel in distress character holds her own for the most part, even participating in one of the film's better fight sequences (see: Make or Break Scene) and creatively using a crutch as a weapon.
It's been said plenty of times before, but every good hero needs a villain. While Masazuka isn't the most despicable or memorable antagonist I've ever seen, he's still a great contrast to Casey's character. Masazuka is sort of like the wrestling heel who gets "cheap heat"; he may not necessarily seem like a bad guy, but some of his actions automatically make him a villain by default. In Japanese culture, however, some of his actions would undoubtedly make him an undesirable person because of the amount of disrespect he shows and how he spits in the face of honor and tradition, whereas in American culture he could easily be seen as an anti-hero. However you wanna look at Masazuka, one thing can not be denied: he's a bad-ass. Like an ideal ninja, he's stealth and kills without much effort.
Make or Break Scene: The train sequence. It's the first full-blown, over the top fight sequence in the film. There are a few moments of bad-assery leading up to it, but we only get them in bits and pieces, whereas it felt like the train sequence really kicked everything into gear and set the momentum for the rest of the film.
MVT: The fight choreographer, Akihiro Noguchi.
True story: As soon as this movie was over, I added a ludicrous amount of ninja movies to my Netflix queue. I had enough fun watching NINJA that I developed a sudden interest in ninja films that will most likely be short-lived due to my lackluster attention span. The key word with this film is "fun". If you lower your standards and avoid going into this with a critical mindset, I can't see any reason why you wouldn't at least be impressed with the great stunts and the relentless pacing of the fight sequences.