47 RONIN (PG13)
119 minutes / Now showing / **
SINGAPORE - The story: Outcast Kai (Keanu Reeves) is grateful to Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) for taking him into his household as a boy. He and Asano's daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) fall in love. Rival Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), aided by a witch (Rinko Kikuchi), causes the downfall of Lord Asano. The fallen Lord's samurai must now be called "ronin", or masterless, and must disband or face execution. Their leader, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), is thrown into prison.
Muddled, overlong and marked by long passages of pointless dialogue, this umpteenth retelling of the famed Japanese tale is the perfect exemplar of a movie put together by a committee of studio executives. The intention must have been to take a story that was copyright-free (hence free to acquire), hire an amenable first-time feature director (Carl Rinsch), sprinkle a few computer-generated beasties into the mix, then attach a Hollywood property in the shape of Keanu Reeves to knock their heads off and, finally, shoot it in a less expensive Eastern European location. The result is this lumpy, plodding and completely derivative work, a Pirates Of The Caribbean (2003-2011) without the humour and a Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) without the epic scale (though the film tries, very painfully, to approximate grandeur, mainly through stiff body movement and formal speech).
Back story and intention are laboriously verbalised at every turn. "We must seek vengeance", declares Oishi (Sanada, inset). Well, duh. Whenever there is a need to explain a coincidence or weird happening, it is always the fault of "demons" or "a spell". It must also have been demons that caused teen Kai (Daniel Barber) to have a British accent but to develop an American one when he becomes an adult. The rank-and-file ronin themselves are largely faceless, except for the usual stereotypes ("fat comic relief guy", "old grey-haired guy" and so on).
And there is a relentless focus on Reeves as the lead, despite how, out of all the characters in the story, his is the least interesting. Placing the burden of carrying the movie on Reeves' one-dimensional shoulders is a very bad thing to do if one wanted to service the story first, but in yet another sign that this project was the brainchild of accountants, he is made in all but name the leader of the group of vengeance-seeking ronin. There is an awful lot of heavily costumed courtly goings-on before the downfall and revenge plot get underway.
This is followed by a middle section trip into a dark forest to find weapons and, as if it mattered, to try to explain Kai's origins. That is capped by an anti-climactic end in which supposedly unkillable enemies are easily despatched. That they are so easily taken care off, thus bringing down the curtains, should perhaps be counted as a positive.
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