The story of the forty-seven Ronin is one of Japan’s greatest national legends, that has inspired numerous pieces of art, theatre and films since the 18th century. The forty-seven Ronin were a group of rebellious samurai who avenged the death of their master by performing an elaborate assault on the official who drove him to suicide. The story of these samurai is a national icon of honour and pride for the Japanese and considered sacred.
Despite the cultural importance, a new Hollywood version of the classic story appears this year with Keanu Reeves in the lead role of 47 Ronin. However in this Western “adaptation” of the classic ethnic story, a number of facts are changed and Hollywood additions made, with the new story including CGI monsters and witches and Reeves playing a half-British samurai who becomes the group’s unlikely leader.
Kai (Reeves) is an outcast who joins Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of 47 outcast samurai. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials. This includes fighting monsters, witches and supernatural threats as Kai slowly becomes the leader of the group.
Helmed by The Gift director Carl Erik Rinsch, the film tries to bring the timeless cultural story to life on an epic scale. Unfortunately 47 Ronin doesn’t rise to the expectations that it promises. The result of the film is dull and fails to entertain. Instead of becoming an epic martial arts adventure, the film relies too heavily on the supernatural beings, the unnecessary additions to the story to provide a fun and wild ride, but forgetting to provide an interesting story and reasonable visual effects (surprising despite its $200 million budget).
Reeves isn’t at his best either, which is a shame, and the movie highlights how his action days of The Matrix are far behind him. In fact all acting in the film is mediocre, with Rinko Kikuchi playing the shape-shifting witch the highlight of the film. Rinsch doesn’t seem to understand the pacing and acting necessary for a film of this genre, which is a basic for any director. The one scene of the attack of Lord Kira’s house is executed brilliantly, with good pace and precision but the other two hours are nothing but tedious.
The whole film seems confused about what it is trying to be – an accurate portrayal of an important cultural group of people and events, an action packed film full of battles and a drama about becoming the leader of a group of samurai. It’s muddled combination means that the film is exciting at times, overdramatic at others and incredibly slow when in between these periods. It’s just not a movie you want to see the second time around and should be avoided seeing the first time around if possible.
Borderline cultural travesty, 47 Ronin doesn’t make use of its cast and appeals to those who know nothing of the real story, instead replacing them with action without intensity, power or cinema beauty. You could probably find more of this in the waiting line at the cinema.
Originally published on CelebrityOZ, January 16, 2014.
Watch the trailer for 47 Ronin below: