“Ninja Assassin” uses the full arsenal: Swords, chains, ninja stars, bamboo sticks, semi-automatics and even rocket launchers. Bodies are sliced, diced, mutilated and cut in half. The film’s very first swing of a sword involves the slicing of a man’s skull; his brains spill out as he tumbles over. All those girls who show up eager to get a glance at the shirtless Asian pop star Rain are in for a rude awakening.
It’s right here, in the first few seconds, when Thanksgiving audiences will start their screaming – and to be honest, “Ninja Assassin” doesn’t really let up. This is a brutal, bloody film, but also a hell of a lot of fun. And at its center is Rain, the Asian singer-turned-rising-actor who is trying to reboot his American film career after the less-than-stellar box office performance of “Speed Racer.”
Again, he’s working with the Wachowski Brothers (serving here as producers), but unlike their previous, CG-heavy collaboration, “Ninja Assassin” required Rain to beef up on his physique and agility, learning how to perform the majority of his own stunts. Techland sat down with Rain last week to talk martial arts, but wound up talking about a whole lot more: Michael Jackson, low-fat diets, and whether the pop icon is the least bit worried about seriously freaking out his more sensitive fans.
This is your second film working with the Wachowski Brothers – did they approach you about the project while you were working together on “Speed Racer?”
The first time it came up with the Wachowskis, I was like: ‘I can do it, don’t worry. I can work on the English and the martial arts – trust me.’ And so they said ‘Okay, let’s do it!’ But it was still hard because there was no green screen this time. There are no wires or camera tricks, and 90 percent of the time, it’s really me, doing all of this.
So you really did the handstand on those nails?
Yeah, that was me! I had to make my body fit like Bruce Lee. I trained for 8 months straight.
I wonder if your dancing helped you at all, from your music career. Do you think that by training to be such a great performer, it helped you hone your body for a role like this?
Dancing and martial arts are very similar. I guess you could say: My body knows. It knows how to move. And it was just a matter of learning how to do these particular moves.
Your body ‘knows.’ That sounds like something Michael Jackson might say.
Oh, he was my idol. He was my hero. I loved him so much when I was young. I learned how to dance every move of “Billie Jean.”
So around the world there are all these women who love you as a singer. I think I was sitting by two of them at the screening – these girls love you. But then the first thing that happens in the movie is that a guy’s head gets chopped in half. And they screamed out loud. Are you worried about freaking out some of your fans?
Well, there’s a little bit of a love story, kind of a sad love story, but it is mainly action. It’s a violent, bloody movie, kind of like “Scarface,” which is one of my favorites. I love Al Pacino.
So Pacino and Michael Jackson – your two icons?
Oh, that’s like asking me: ‘Do you prefer mother or father?’ I love them both so much. They are both equal.
Is that the sort of film you’re hoping to do next – some gangster film like ‘Scarface?’
There are two projects right now that I’m trying to decide between. Both action. But I’d love to continue my career in Hollywood – I’d love to do another action film, or a romantic comedy, or horror. I love horror films.
There are a few moments in this film that almost seem straight out of “The Matrix,” slow-motion circle shots of you kicking some serious ass. This is a whole lot different from “Speed Racer.” What did it feel like, the first time you sat down and watched the whole film? I mean you’re a superhero in this one! What was the hardest part of it all?
When I first saw this film, I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that was me, the Wachowski Brothers have such imagination and they make these dreams come true. But the hardest thing was the food – no sugar, no salt. Just chicken, water, fruit and vegetables for 8 months – that and exercise. Always working out.
So at the end of all this, you were basically: Hungry.
Yes, hungry. Starving. Always starving. When I got done, I said ‘No more chicken, no more exercise.’ The first day after we finished shooting, I ate three hamburgers, three French fries, three cokes. Are you familiar with Japanese bento? A 3-person bento box – I ate the whole thing. God, no more chicken.