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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » January 30, 2014
Film review
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47 Ronin
January 30, 2014   
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One of the most famous samurai tales to have come out of Japan is that of the 47 ronin, or samurai who become outcasts from society after their master is murdered—and who then set out to avenge him. The tale is based on historical events that took place in 1701 and to this day the site where the samurai are buried is visited by numerous followers of Bushido, the samurai code of honor. The tale has been adapted for the screen five times in Japan, but none of these movies made it big outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

Now Hollywood has had a go at the story—with lamentable results.

How do you take such promising material and turn it into a movie that is flat, unoriginal and at times plain silly? Ask Carl Rinsch, the director of 47 Ronin, so far known for commercials and short films. His feature-length debut clocks in at just under two hours, but you’ll probably be checking your watch long before that. Why the screenwriters decided a cast of samurais was not enough for the film is anybody’s guess. Enter Kai, a mysterious half-breed, found in a forest as a child. Raised yet disdained by Japanese warriors in their castle, one day Kai turns out to be a priceless asset in their plans for revenge. There is a love interest, too, since Kai has a thing for the daughter left behind by the murdered master. She is a princess, no less, but other than being an excuse for some pompous monologues, the love story leads nowhere. If that were not enough, there are also monsters, giants and mysterious sorcerers who live underground and make swords using supernatural powers. It’s all pretty pointless, and fairly unoriginal too. There are “creative borrowings” from other movies: scenes set on an island inhabited by Dutch slave traders bear a striking resemblance to Gore Verbinsky’s Pirates of the Caribbean—The World’s End.

Most of the 47 Ronin are characters with a cartoon level of depth and the actors could not breathe more life into them even if they wanted to, or had the talent. Keanu Reeves (The Matrix trilogy, Constantine, The Devil’s Advocate) as Kai, the main character, is a major letdown. You get the impression that he’s only there to collect his paycheck and then go home, feeling a bit embarrassed. The only remotely memorable performances are delivered by Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai, The Promise, Sunshine) as Oishi, the leader of the revenge-seeking samurai, and Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) as an evil witch who can turn into a vixen or a dragon.

The movie was shot in 3D, which adds nothing much to the experience. The only strong points of 47 Ronin are the cinematography and costumes, but that’s a given in a quasi-historical movie set amid scenic Asian landscapes. But if you like that kind of thing then it’s a much better idea to rent Hero by Zhang Yimou, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee and The Promise by Chen Kaige.

The movie-going public were not fooled and 47 Ronin bombed at the box office. With a budget of $175 million, it managed to rake in less than $10 million in the United States on the opening weekend, which is the ultimate test of a movie’s success, or lack of it. In total, 47 Ronin has made just over $36 million around the world, suggesting this was Rinsch’s first and last shot at a big-budget movie.
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