Shit, NINJA 2 is getting some pretty serious raves out of Fantastic Fest. I almost wish I didn’t hear that, it’s like when I was patiently anticipating THE RAID because of MERANTAU and then all the sudden a bunch of people flipped out for it and the wait became excruciating. Oh well, as long as that’s the case let’s read david j. moore’s interview with action hall of famer Isaac Florentine.
On the set of Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, director Isaac Florentine is completely in his element while making his latest martial arts action film, starring Scott Adkins and Kane Kosugi. I’ve been invited to observe several days of filming on the Bangkok, Thailand set, and my first day consists of watching an intense dialogue scene between Adkins’ character and his mentor, played by Kosugi. Both of them are dressed in Japanese robes during their scenes together, and the dojo set is decked with traditional Japanese tapestries and artifacts. I interact with the crew, as they move lights around, and in between takes I chitchat with Adkins, Kosugi, and Florentine, who all take time out to address my questions, comments, and attempts at humor. Florentine, whom I’ve interviewed before, is incredibly gracious to me, and he thanks me several times for visiting the set. We both agree on the fact that movies like the ones he makes aren’t given the attention or the fair criticism that they deserve, and I’ve made it my prerogative to give him and his peer filmmakers like Jesse Johnson, Ben Ramsey, and Ernie Barbarash, the attention that they should be getting. I interviewed Florentine for a few minutes about Ninja: Shadow of a Tear on set, and while this is not a comprehensive interview on his career, it does shed some light on what his intentions are with making this particular film.
Isaac, what’s brought you back to the world of Ninja again?
About a year ago, one of the sales people at Nu Image came up with the idea to do a sequel to Ninja. He was the first one who said, “Let’s do a sequel!” It was just a remote idea. I came up with some ideas, the producer, Boaz Davidson, came up with some ideas, and David White, the writer who had written my Undisputed movies, came up with some ideas, and this is how Ninja 2 was born.
How come Boaz didn’t write this film? He was the writer on the first one.
His hands are full right now.
Was it obvious to bring Scott Adkins back for this film, or did you have to convince him that a sequel to Ninja was a good idea?
In this industry, nothing is obvious, but it was obvious because he was in Part 1, he should be in Part 2.
Does this one feel like a sequel to you, or is this a completely different movie?
Story-wise, it’s a sequel, but style-wise, this movie … the first one was more in the comic book style, this is more in the realistic style. No wires, no fantasy … the character is in a more realistic world, and Scott’s character is becoming darker in this movie. It’s a sequel, but not in the same style.
How do you intend to amp up the action and present the martial arts in this film? What are your intentions as far as the action and fighting goes?
We have a very good team, which was a nice surprise. It’s not a big budget movie, as you know. One of the restrictions I had was that I had to use local people, which is not a bad thing because movies like Ong Bak were done here. I used all of their people. It was a really nice surprise to have Tim Man and Brahim Achabbankhe come in and coordinate the fighting. Tim is from Sweden and Brahim is from France. Working with them is a joy. They are innovative, creative, responsible, and the most amazing thing is how organized they are. When they came, they sketched the action and showed me what they could do, and I knew I could sleep really, really well.
How did Tim and Brahim become a part of Ninja 2?
My assistant is a relative of Prachya Pinkaew, the director of Ong Bak, and she saw them working on a movie last year that was shot here in Bangkok, and that movie was called Kill Them All. She was impressed by how they worked, and she popped their names in to me. Scott [Adkins] had heard about them, and I’d kind of heard about them. All of the elements were there. It was an opportunity for all of us to work together. It’s been a very good experience. I’m very pleased with them.
This is your eighth movie working with Scott. Talk about working with him again on this film.
You’re talking to someone who’s worked with him so many times. We each know our strong sides and our weak sides. Scott and myself have worked together so many times that we don’t have to say a lot or explain a lot.
Kane Kosugi has been in the action movie world since he was a child. Why bring Kane into Ninja 2? Talk about working with him.
It’s been several years since I wanted to work with Kane. This was the right opportunity to work with him. I knew 100% that he would deliver – I had complete confidence in him. He’s a rare combination of someone who has feet on two continents. He’s American, but he’s lived in Japan for so many years that he can be Japanese. He can play both characters. He can play the Japanese character, but he doesn’t have the baggage of struggling with the accent. He can up the action too.
Talk about Mika Hijii’s character in this film and how she relates to the story this time?
In the first film, it was about Scott and Mika before they got married. In this film, he hears that she’s pregnant and basically she gets murdered. He blames himself for her murder. So now he has a chip on his shoulder, and it totally changes his personality.
So this is The Dark Knight of the Ninja franchise.
Kind of. Look, the first Ninja was … the idea of Batman … in a way, Batman is a ninja. The idea was that a ninja can become Batman. That was the first one.
It sounds like you guys are packing in as many fights as you possibly can into this film. Talk about the fights.
There’s a lot of fights in this movie. Someone counted 15 fights. I didn’t count them. It’s action packed! There will be some nice, coherent action in this film. Action that you can see. We emphasize the beauty and the dynamic of the fighting, but not the violence of it. It’s clear, it’s coherent, it’s technical. I like the action to always be clean and coherent because I like to see the technique. Myself, coming from martial arts and being a martial arts aficionado, I like to see the beauty of it.
* * *
Other NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR interviews:
* * *
Isaac Florentine movies reviewed by Vern:
High Voltage (1997)
Bridge of Dragons (1999)
Cold Harvest (1999)
U.S. Seals II (2001)
Special Forces (2003)
The Shepherd: Border Patrol (2008)
Undisputed III: Redemption (2010)
Assassin’s Bullet (2012)