Ninja film from creators of Matrix and Babylon 5

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Mar 27, 2019, 4:03 PM EDT (Updated)

Ninja Assassin introduces the ancient Japanese martial art of ninjitsu into modern-day America with a violent new twist, and the stars and filmmakers talked with us about what sets the new movie apart from previous martial-arts epics.

For one thing, it comes from the Matrix movies' Wachowski brothers, who produced it with Joel Silver. For another, it was co-written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski (with Matthew Sand). And it introduces a form of martial arts that has rarely been seen in American movies, at least not in a serious and scary way.

Korean pop sensation Rain stars as Raizo, a lone assassin who comes out of nowhere to slaughter criminal gangs in America before having to defend himself against his own people. "Ninja is very mysterious," Rain said in an exclusive interview. "When I was growing up, I loved ninja history and ninja movies. They're so mysterious, just shadow and darkness. It's so different than other action movies."

The film shows Raizo's training as a child in an orphanage run by master Ozunu (Sho Kosugi). You'll see how he learned the skills that enable him to kick butt in the film. The film's director, James McTeigue, filled in some of the historical influences that pay off in the action.

"I do like that they started off as these ... stealth fighters in the time of the samurai, when the samurai were wandering feudal Japan," McTeigue said. "There came to be these people that you could send in [when] by normal means you couldn't kill people. You'd send these stealth fighters who'd usually come under cover of darkness and appear, but they also had these cool kind of shuriken weapons. It was also told that they had smoke bombs that they used to throw down, almost like they were illusionists or magicians, which is a cool part of the mythology."

All this adds up to a warrior you just can't put your finger on. Stunt performer Kim Do Nguyen summed up the aesthetic of ninja fighting: "It's like a sniper with a sword," Nguyen said. "[They] come from the darkness, and if you see them, you're dead. The moment you see them, it's too late."

There's also an element of horror to ninjas, said screenwriter Matthew Sand. "It's the boogeyman," Sand said. "There is something moving in the shadows, something moving in the darkness, and I'm scared of it. Can I give it a name? Calling it a ninja is a great way to give a name to your fears."

For the film's producer, Joel Silver, Ninja Assassin was a lot simpler than the complex legend of ninjas. He just wanted to produce a vehicle for Rain.

"We wanted to make a martial-arts movie," Silver said. "I was talking to an executive at Warners. He said, 'What you really ought to do is you ought to develop a new martial-arts star.' They have had a history of having very successful movies with martial-arts stars, back to Bruce Lee and Steven Seagal and Jet Li. They've made a lot of martial-arts movies with ... personalities who the audience accepted who could do that kind of activity. He said, 'If you can find one, it can be great.' When we met Rain, and we saw what he could do in Speed Racer, we thought, 'He's the guy.' So we actually designed Ninja Assassin around him to make it for him."

Ninja Assassin opens tomorrow.

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