Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
I understand why some would be a little upset with this film '47 Ronin'.  It is a beloved classic Japanese tale from a historical time and it has been updated with special effects and wacky witchcraft and all kinds of crazy stuff.  And it stars Keanu Reeves.  I imagine it would be like a fantasy retelling of The Alamo and then have Martin Lawrence play Davy Crockett, which also would probably get a lot of people upset.  Even though I think that movie might be kind of interesting.  Just like I thought 47 Ronin was kind of interesting.

A boy runs through the woods when he's stumbled upon by some samurai.  A young man knows exactly what to do upon looking at the marks upon his head branding him a demon, that being to kill him dead, but Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) is wise and spares the boy's life, allowing the Eurasian child to live with the clan, pretty much as an indentured servant, but it beats death.

The years pass and the child Kai (Keanu Reeves) has grown into a man, and the he has fallen for Lord Asano's beautiful daughter Mika (Ko Shibashaki), and she for him… but if ever there was a love that could never be, this is the one.  Kai gets this, Mika… not so much.  We're not sure why.

The love that cannot be is not the issue we will be dealing with, however.  No sir, the problem is Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and his right hand lady The Witch (Rinko Kikuchi) who wants all that Lord Asano happens to possess, including his daughter.  In order to get these things that Kira desires so badly he needs his witch to do some evil witch type stuff, and with this mission of hers completed, Asano's samurai are now Ronin, his daughter is betrothed to a man she despises, the man she truly loves has been sold into slavery and now the hateful Lord Kira, under orders of big boss Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), has now taken Asano's place on the council of Samurai.  Or something like that.
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NOT SO FAST!  So while these Samurai have no master, their number one, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) has a plan.  Yes, Shogun Tusanoyoshi told him he had better not seek revenge, but Kira is such a horrible person that these Ronin really have little choice.  Thing is, he really needs Kai on this plan of his because Kai is so badass, but Kai, for very valid reasons, is none too happy with these samurai.  Ah, but once Kai hears that his true love that he can never have is slated to marry this horrible person in a couple of days, the assault is on. 

It's going to be a difficult go for the 47 Ronin… and that Eurasian dude… with Kira and his witch, who really looks to be quite invincible, lying in wait to lay these poor suckers to waste.  But they have heart… and love… and their side.  Or something like that.

What a curious movie this '47 Ronin' is, a movie that will go down as one of the most miserable box offices failures in the history of cinema for a number of reasons.  Such as shooting it in 3D or giving a budget of 175 million to a novice director which would be difficult for any movie not based on superheroes or sequels to recoup, or attempting to recreate a Japanese legend for an American audience.  There's a reason that foreign actors mask there native accents while in American films… because an accent indicates 'foreign movie' and Americans in masses generally don't watch foreign movies.  Not to mention the fact that the ending is not exactly a happy one.  American audiences tend not to like that either.  But for this article, we don't care about any of that.  All we are concerned with is if '47 Ronin' entertained us for a couple of hours.  And we have to say that it did.

While it might've actually benefited this film to leave the 47 Ronin out of it and called itself something else, we still have a film that has the basis of a very solid tale to tell, one full of intrigue, betrayals and the honor code of the samurai, with the issue of this tale being how to shoehorn our star in the middle of all of this, since he really doesn't belong.  Admittedly, it was a little shaky at times integrating Keanu Reeves into the story, and there were times you could see the virtual seams where they were trying to make the character of Kai relevant to the story, but when it worked… it worked well.  Keanu Reeves will never go down in history as a great actor, but he is very effective when directed towards what he does well.  Director Carl Rinsch may never work again because of this movie, but he understood his star and he used him well.  Besides, Hiroyuki Sanada was in this film, and he is a great actor, so he got to handle all the heavy stuff. 

You want action?  There's action to burn in this movie.  Mythical monster battles, samurai fights, death matches, and all the running and screaming and dying that you can shake a stick at.  Then there are the CGI dragons and beasts and witches and whatnot, which I can't attest to how it looked in 3D on a big screen, but it sure did look good on my Panasonic Viera.  What we are saying is from start to finish, the movie moved and kept us engaged in its tale, with only on occasion causing us to mentally drift off to parts unknown.

That being said, the movie is erratic.  It presents a number of genre's settling on none, the dialog is often clunky, not helped by forcing actors not fluent in the English language to speak English, the romance aspects never really developed, and the ending is a downer.  Of course history said this is how it has to end, but history also didn't have a witch turning into a dragon causing a ruckus.  At least I don't think so.  I wasn't there.

Again, I understand why some take offense towards this movie and I also understand why it failed so miserably at the box office.  I know this isn't going to help anybody recoup their money or comfort the folks who lost their jobs over this fantastic flop, but for a cool night on home video, 47 Ronin was some fine entertainment. 
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