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Featured DVD Review: Ninja's Creed

July 6th, 2010

Ninja's Creed - Buy from Amazon

Ninja's Creed, a.k.a., Royal Kill is notable for being Pat Morita's last film. Pat Morita died in 2005, but this film only managed a short engagement in an handful of theaters in 2009, while it is now coming out on DVD under a different name. It's hard to look at those facts and come away with high hopes for the movie. Perhaps lowered expectations are justified, or perhaps it will be a pleasant surprise.

We are told in an opening narration about two warring nations in south east Asia: Skanji and Samarza. The Skanji Empire recently attacked the peaceful Samarza killing off all six heirs to the throne before an assassin kills the king. However, before the king dies, he tells his most trusted warrior, Adam Arthavan, that's his youngest child, a daughter, was hidden away from birth to avoid the fate of his siblings. He must go find the last heir to the Samarza thrown, otherwise the people of Samarza will have no choice but to accept the rule of the evil Skanji empire.

So far, so good, except this takes place in modern day and it is not a fantasy and / or historical epic, so the setup doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

So Adam Arthavan is off to Washington, D.C. to find the last heir so that he can protect her. The only person who would know where she is is the Royal Maid, but when he contacts her, she refuses to admit who she is, so he has no choice but to follow her and hope she makes contact with the princess's American guardian, Eric Roberts, who is posing as her father. By following this man, he finds the princess, Jan, played by Lalaine. However, while he was following the Royal Maid and the American Guardian, the assassin (Gail Kim of WWE fame) was following him. Now they are about to have an epic showdown with the life of the princess, and the fate of their two nations, hanging in the balance. But it is not as simple as that, as the protector and the assassin have a connection that will complicate their confrontation.

When this film was first released as Royal Kill, it earned really negative reviews. So negative that it is being re-branded as Ninja's Creed on DVD. I don't know if I would go as far as to say that was deserved, but there are some serious issues with this movie, starting right from the start. The opening narration is very clumsy. The basic plot it describes is okay, but the script needed another pass or two to clean up the details. Why would the death of the Royal family result in a nation surrendering to a foreign power? Show us more details, don't just tell us what happened. And if you are going to tell us, make sure the dialogue is well written.

That's the issue I had the biggest problem with, the dialogue. The dialogue is the weakest link in the movie and it ranges from merely clumsy to startlingly bad. I doubt even the most seasoned actor could deliver these lines effectively, and this is bad news as the star is Alexander Wraith, who is apparently a former model, while this is his first lead role. Making her acting debut is Gail Kim, who is a wrestler, and she does about as well as one could expect in the role. There's not a lot of deep emotions on display here; it's mostly just looking dangerous (and sexy), doing fight scenes, and the occasional slice of enigmatic smack talk. Both Pat Morita and Eric Roberts are very underused. In fact, Pat Morita's character doesn't even have a name, while I don't think Eric Roberts was on set at the same time as Lalaine, who plays his daughter in the movie. Makes it hard for the characters to have any chemistry. Lalaine did the best she could with a role that can not have been very satisfying. She spends most of her screen time hiding and cowering.

Then we get to the ending. A surprise twist ending has a huge effect on the overall effectiveness of a movie. If well done, it can make you want to re-watch the movie immediately to check for clues. If poorly done, it can make you retroactively hate all the good parts of the movie you previously liked. The surprise twist in this film ... and be warned, I'm about to spoil the ending of the movie ... The surprise twist here is that Adam is basically nuts. There is no assassin, he isn't a heroic warrior, there are no countries going to war. He's dreamed it all up because he lives a mundane life and his psyche can't accept that. He has episodes where he thinks he's supposed to protect the princess, only to ... Even more major spoiler ahead ... to kill the innocent girl when the fantasy ends. And then the cycle begins again. On the one hand, I applaud the filmmakers for such a bold choice and by doing so the ending does explain a few things that were confusing to begin with. Like why a nation would be forced to surrender because their royal family was killed. It doesn't make sense in the real world, but it's not happening in the real world, but in the mind of a crazy person. On the other hand, not enough of the rest of the film works to support this bold choice.

Extras on the DVD are better than expected for a film that earned roughly $50,000 during its limited release. There's a six-and-a-half minute-long behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with much of the cast. There is another featurette on the creation of the score that runs two-and-a-half minutes. There are four deleted scenes with a total running time of five minutes and finally five-and-a-half minutes of outtakes. The total running time is close to 20 minutes, which is not a lot, but better than expected.

The Verdict

I've seen very few reviews for Ninja's Creed online and they most fall into two groups. Firstly, "So bad it's good." And secondly, "So, so bad." Personally, I'm willing to forgive the problems with the movie that are due to budget limitations (it reportedly cost just $350,000 to make) and I do think the overall setup and the payoff could have really worked. At its core, there's a good movie here somewhere, but it needed a lot more refining to get to. The DVD is better than expected, but it is only worth renting if there are mitigating circumstances. For instance, you are a big fan of some of the cast.

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Filed under: Video Review, Royal Kill