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Thursday, January 2, 2014

47 Ronin (2013) 3D movie review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: Powerful Cast Chemistry, impeccable acting, flawless special effects

The Bad: redundant romantic subplot, underdeveloped characters, generic music score, unremarkable directing.

3D Readiness: filmed in 3D. Long landscape and wide shots utilize the medium well, but tight close up action scenes are blurry and dark.
IMax-ability: not filmed in IMAX. Wide shots would benefit from the format.

Ronin. They are masterless Samurai, cast out from their service. Free from the bonds of servitude, some become wanderers or mercenaries. But for 47 former samurai of the Asano clan, they continued to honor their dead master and carried out a final heroic act to avenge his death. This was a true story of loyalty and ancient bushido code of honor. From this historical tale came many retellings of the 47 Ronin. One of which was 2013's fantasy style adaptation starring Keanu Reeves.

Wait....Keanu Reeves? Yes that Keanu Reeves. He stars as Kai in Universal studio's 47 Ronin. Kai is a mysterious half Caucasian half Japanese who was found as a boy on the outskirts of a tengu demon forest. He was taken in by lord Asano and allowed to serve the clan as a worker and hunting scout. Lo and behold, the lowly half breed finds a forbidden love in the Asano's daughter, Mika, and develops a friendship/rivalry with Oishi, the leader of Asano's samurai. But wait......what does all this have to do with the 47 Ronin? Well, it seems that rival clan led by lord Kira somehow gets his bitch witch to bewitch lord Asano into attacking Kira during a visit by a royal official. Japanese code of honor dictates that rather than finding out the cause if such an outburst, lord Asano has to commit ritual suicide to spare the honor of his clan while his Samurai stand by helplessly, as their interference is forbidden by that code of honor as well. As compensation, Kira takes Mika as his bride and everything that used to belong to Asano. Rather than serve Kira, 47 of Asano's warriors leave to become Ronin and plot their revenge for this grave injustice.

 Oh but what about Kai? Demon Tengu? A witch you say? Yes 47 Ronin digs deep into eastern mythology of dragons, witches, bird demons and magic to deliver something less like a historical epic and more like graphic novel. 47 Ronin Feels like 3 separate stories cobbled together. The most interesting revenge plot and the development of the ronin as a cohesive team is muddled in Kai's cliche ridden romance and a whole lot of demon sorcery, monsters and special powers right out of some fan-manga. It is jarring when the tone shifts and the film switches it's focus. One moment, it is on Oishi and his quest to reunite the Ronin, the other it's on Kai and his continual pinning for the princess. Thanks to all this, we never fully realise just HOW loyal and united the 47 Ronin are other than being told so. We never delve into their group dynamic, into the spirit of brotherhood that held them together despite the crushing defeat they suffered. 

Despite weak writing and cliched scripting by FAST AND FURIOUS write Chris Morgan, the majority of the Asian cast members do a spectacular job. This is essentially an all star ensemble for anyone into Japanese movie stars. Although filmed in English, the Asian stars emote with pure professionalism bringing genuine emotion to every scene. There is chemistry between the actors. Of particular note is Kou Shibasaki whose beautiful regal presence plays of spectacularly against  Rinko Kikuchi's sultry slutty witch Mizuki. Arguably, Keanu Reeves' wooden performance also plays in good contrast to the Japanese characters, only to further highlight his alien nature.

Whether he is miscast or not truly depends on what you expect for the character. But none can be as out of his element than First time director Carl Erik Rinsch. Filmed in 3D, the director schizophrenically alternates between smooth wide shots that benefit realty from the medium to tight frantic close ups that utterly wastes the 3D format. Action is passable but no where as epic as it could have been filmed. Overall, despite astounding visual effects and flawless CGI, the unremarkable directing makes the film feel neutered and generic. Generic too is the movie soundtrack by Ilan Eshkeri. Having composed with a distinct Asian touch for films like NINJA ASSASSIN, that same Asian touch is sadly missing from 47 Ronin. It is run-of-the-mill fantasy music.

 47 Ronin had tremendous potential. You can see the amount of love for ancient japan, it's culture and it's mythology, that went into the production of this film. It could have followed other fantasy retelling of ancient history such as Zack Snyder's 300 or Troy. It could have been a tight ensemble film like FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING expanding on the group dynamic. Imagine how epic it could have been if it was "ancient Japanese Band of Brothers in the style of 300". Alas, we have what we got. An unremarkable, albeit expensive, movie work of a debut director that despite a powerful cast, wonderful performances and visual effects, seems written like some japanophile's fan fiction.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B-
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: C+
Music: C
Replay value: B
"Brains": C-

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