Fantastic Fest Review: NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR Is The New B-Action Champ

Do not fuck with Scott Adkins.

Scott Adkins' Pal: "Remember, the man who seeks revenge must dig two graves."

Scott Adkins' Scott Adkins: "They're gonna need a lot more than that."

That's paraphrased, but still: Fuck yes. There might be twenty minutes of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear where Scott Adkins is not beating the shit out of someone. He fights while buying necklaces for his wife. He fights while drunk and grumpy like Superman 3. He fights while high on crack. He just gets into a shit load of fights.

And even the film's rare moments of downtime brim with awesome activity. I mean, when one conversation early in the film discusses a spot in a Myanmar jungle where Adkins can find a cache of weapons buried during World War II (not guns, mind you, but cool ninja stuff, like self-assemble swords), the anticipation is almost better than the ass kicking. The same goes for a wonderful sequence in which Adkins goes to a market to buy a bunch of random objects (dolls, fish, etc), only to go home and assemble a bunch of awesome makeshift Ninja weaponry.

Ninja: The Shadow of a Tear is the new B-action King, a bright high point eclipsing former champions Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Undisputed III. There are absolutely no wrong moves in the film. It knows what it wants to be and attacks that goal with an almost aggressive straightforwardness and purity. The Universal Soldier film has to include a bunch of science stuff. Undisputed III has to explain its prison setting. All Ninja: Shadow of a Tear needs to do is kill Scott Adkins' wife. After that, we're on fire until the film ends in glorious freeze-frame.

Given his reputation among action fanatics, it's easy to overlook the fact that not every Isaac Florentine film is an automatic slam dunk. So much goes against these productions, it's no wonder they don't all turn out as well as we'd hope. But when he's on, he's incredible. And Ninja: Shadow of a Tear finds him in top form. Apparently both he and Scott Adkins were disappointed in the first Ninja film. Here they go very far out of their way to right that wrong. This isn't called Ninja 2 for a reason.

This is such a great Scott Adkins role, too. While not as good as his Undisputed III performance, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear gets a lot out of Adkins simply by focusing almost the entire running time on his rage, an emotion he plays really well. There's a great bit where he gets drunk in a bar, eager to belligerently start a random fight with strangers just because. It's a good look for him. On top of that, his insane, dizzying jump kick shenanigans are on a whole new level here. That's a good look for him, too.

I seriously cannot imagine a better action film. Narrative ambition can be very impressive, but that's not really what these films should be going for unless they're really going to nail it (my obligatory Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning mention goes here). Simplicity is key. Ninja: Shadow of a Tear knows this. Scott Adkins is out for revenge. He rips through an entire crime organization to get it (watch out for Only God Forgives' Vithaya Pansringarm as one of the higher up asses that gets kicked). That's it.

And with fights like this that's all you need or would want. It's not hard to see how a relentless series of action sequences might get boring after a while, but Ninja: Shadow of a Tear sidesteps that problem by making each one extraordinary. We all knew Isaac Florentine was kind of the king of these films, but here he totally outdoes himself. These are not just fight scenes, but the best fight scenes, delivered by a martial artist of significant talent (seriously, Adkins does shit here you will not believe), and captured by a director who knows to keep the camera back and edits minimal. There's no moment quite as awesome as Undisputed III's big leg break, but there are about ten that come pretty close. I'll make that trade.

Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is so complete, so perfect, that there's little else to say on the matter. The buzz I got from this film lasted hours. It's so remarkable that in the Q&A afterwards, Undisputed III's Marko Zaror was first to stand up, just to gush at Florentine and Adkins about how amazing the fight scenes were. Then on the way out, he started an unsolicited gushing session with myself and The Dissolve's Matt Singer. We are now all in a committed three way relationship, and we shall always remember Ninja: Shadow of a Tear as not only the year's greatest action film, but the film that brought us together. If Matt or I die, the world better watch the fuck out.

Seriously though, this movie is absolutely amazing in the context of B-movie bliss. Everything you want from these films is here, executed with an unprecedented level of skill, old school technique, and clarity. It's incredible.

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