Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: Ninja: Shadow of a Tear
Oh no. Casey (Scot Adkins) is so happy at the beginning of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. He’s living in Japan, engaged to his pregnant fiance Namiko (Mika Hiji). She probably doesn’t even know she’s in the beginning of an action movie. Maybe she thinks she’s going to come along for the adventure, but no, this is a traditional action movie. Poor Casey will be a widower before the end of Act One.
This sequel to Ninja finds Casey going out for revenge and ultimately defeating a much bigger conspiracy than just the one against his family. It is loaded with fights: really awesome work whether Casey is sparring, picking fights in a rage or actually going up against bad guys. Hollywood movies don’t give you this much value.
It begins with Casey taking on two muggers. He follows them to the back of a mall, so it’s an isolated area, but the dynamic of the three fighters is energetic. Before things get bad, Casey does some benevolent sparring with his friends. At one point, Casey takes on five villains in a single take in their dojo.
Shadow of a Tear actually uses the fights to express character. That’s what action heroes always say, but you actually see the tonal shift here. When Casey is at his most despondent, he starts picking fights in an outdoor bar, just to feel something other than mourning. You can tell the difference when he’s fighting for no reason versus when he’s fighting people who need to be stopped.
There is one fight that happens off camera. It is a minor fight, and that’s how you do that joke. We know how he escapes a minor scuffle with two dudes. Don’t even bother filming that nonsense. Fast Five did that joke by cutting out a street race and I thought it was a mistake, because as funny and appropriate to the characters as it was, it hurt the pacing of their film because it came at a point when the film needed some more driving. In Ninja: Shadow of a Tear the point is that it’s so minor, you’re really not missing anything. They’re giving us enough fights.
Obviously the plot is a standard action trope of the avenging hero. It’s a little bittersweet because it means Casey can never be happy as long as there are Ninja movies. It’s also the trope of he’s going on a suicide mission… for justice! Hey, keep the legend alive, man. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I also like when Casey makes ninja weapons that he then uses later in the movie.
One way you can tell Ninja: Shadow of A Tear is a lower budget film that might not make it to wide theatrical release is the lack of extras populating sparse, isolated environments. There’s the fight against the muggers behind the mall, the fight in a dojo that’s empty except for the characters fighting, and lots of scenes between only two or three people. That’s how you can tell, but I’d rather have the filmmakers focus on the action. Do really great action with no other distractions on the screen. If that means you can only put the film on VOD or DVD/Blu-ray, I’ll still buy it. The outdoor bar looks pretty populated though.
The filmmaking elevates the proceedings far above any practical shortcomings, and far above the shakycam nonsense we see in big budget movies. Director Isaac Florentine uses a handheld camera, and get this: it’s steady! He keeps Adkins and his opponents in frame for the entire scene!
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is the kind of movie that makes me feel like maybe I belong more at a place like Fantastic Fest than TIFF. I’ll go to TIFF and I’ll review all the big movies, but Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t need my help. As much as I liked it, everyone will know about Dallas Buyers Club and it will reach the audiences most predisposed for a serious movie. I can take a little ownership of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. I found out about Ninja from Outlaw Vern, who I read religiously, but now I’m in a position where I can tell you about Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. The world needs to know about Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, so I’m doing my part.