Thursday, June 14, 2007

[VOD] Shinobi (2005)

Romeo and Juliet, Japanese Kung Fu Style

If you notice that this post is prefixed with [VOD], yup, had watched this in an express coach from KL back to Singapore, with a personalized 10"2 inch LCD screen affixed to every seat. With more than 80 movies to select from, I had to choose this because it's something I have yet to watch, and also one that I would like to. Didn't reach or exceed my expectations, but the kungfu is stylishly executed.

There are many Romeo and Juliet type stories out there, and this happens to be one of them, set in Japanese medieval times, with fantastical martial arts moves that will probably wow action fans with their pace and brutality. It reminds me of the time when I was watching Hong Kong's Stormriders which somewhat raised the bar for such movies, and in terms of action set pieces, Shinobi doesn't disappoint.

The story however, given its romantic element, somehow misses the mark. Yes, we know that it's written in the stars that the star crossed lovers are doomed to begin with when they fall for each other, having their only love sprung from their only hate, and it's actually quite a critical plot point in terms of character motivation when they become the appointed heads of their respective clans, but I guess romantic tangles get tossed aside when more room for action is required to satisfy genre fans.

Shinobi is set during the time of feuding clans in the Tokugawa era. The Iga and the Kouga clans reside in hidden villages, and the Lord of Lords have just decreed that the clans can go on an all out war against each other. This naturally spells trouble for both Oboru (Yukie Nakama) and Kouga Gennosuke (Jo Odagiri), who have recently professed their love for each other in secret. The decree dictates that each clan selects 5 of their best warriors to duke it out, and no prizes if you guess that both Oboru and Kouga Gennosuke are amongst the warriors selected. There's more political intrigue up the movie's sleeves, but these plots and schemes are secondary to the action that unfolds.

Each of the 5 warriors have unique skills, and when they're exhibited, it's edge of your seat stuff excitement. However, the major flaw is that most of them are one skill wonders, meaning they're masters of that skill, and you see little more. It's akin to X-Men's mutants, and some powers though will ring familiar, like the blatant claws from fists, and healing prowess. But the best bits of powers though belong to our leads, because it's only natural for the most powerful to be leading their respective clans, but again, they suffer from limited fighting scenes. Most are quite violent and enhanced with some really nice special effects, but for those who are squeamish, you probably would wince at the stabbing, decapitations, etc.

What started off quite promisingly, gets dragged into cliche-land. Shinobi though boasts some stunning landscape visuals, that will make you wonder if they really exist, or are spruced up with a computer. Strictly for those who enjoy Romeo and Juliet interpreted in various retellings and adaptations, and fantastical kungfu junkies.

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