Now Streaming: BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN, Where Martial Arts And Magic Clash In Ron Yuan’s Pulpy Modern-Day Samurai Sequel
It was pretty much anyone’s guess nine years ago whether or not Carl Rinsch’s Lord Of The Rings-esque take on the classic tale of the 47 Ronin was going to get a sequel of any kind, as big as the aspirations (and budget) were for Universal’s 2013 box office flop. Suffice it to say that some jaws dropped when the trades reported such a follow-up to be directed by actor Ron Yuan who had long begun racking up his film credits behind the lens and with direct-to-disc/streaming releases becoming the more suitable business model for studios looking to capitalize on residual film fandom.
Thus, we have Universal’s 1440 shingle joined by Netflix in rolling out Blade Of The 47 Ronin, the second chapter which is set 300 years after the events of the first film and is set in none other than Budapest, which is where Rinsch’s installment was partly filmed. Tapped to pen the pic were screenwriters John Swetnam, Aimee Garcia, and AJ Mendez for a story that now welcomes some new blood in the extenuating saga led by actress Anna Akana, who has made a name for herself in various fields of entertainment for more than a decade.
Here, she plays Luna, a quick-witted and wayward pickpocket and ex-con with somewhat of a moral compass as she only lifts from the occasional deplorable. Upon arriving in Budapest to pick up a family heirloom in the form of a sword to sell and make quick cash, she finds herself thrust into an age-old war between modern-day ronin and power-hungry witches, following the recent assassination of the presumed last descendant of the original “47 ronin” who banded together to avenge their daimyō.
After surviving a deadly ninja attack and upon learning of the pricelessness of the sword in her possession, Luna reluctantly joins Lord Shinshiro (Mark Dacascos) and his band of “onna-bugeisha” on their quest to find and retrieve the sword’s missing half before it falls in the hands of Yurei (Dan Southworth), an elusive, superpowered witch with goals of uniting the two halves to form a Tengu sword and unleashing its power. Between running from safehouse to safehouse, however, it’s only a matter of time before conspiracy, betrayal, and fear threaten to derail their mission.
Blade Of The 47 Ronin was a little hard to look at, at first, but I took a liking to it after a second viewing. I remember some of the responses to Universal Home Entertainment’s ten-minute preview released to the public weren’t too optimistic. Take from a ten-minute clip what you will, of course – it was a sizeable-enough window to share a taste of what was to come without giving too much away and hinted at a film aimed toward young twenty-somethings who’ve been around long enough to know who Akana is, and don’t mind seeing her amidst a cast of characters spilling some of the red stuff on screen.
Dacascos gets a formidable amount of screen time in a role that allows him to do what fans love the most in one of the film’s major supporting roles opposite Akana. That said, I’m particularly fond of the moment when Akana’s character calls Shinshiro “a John Wick fanboy”, cheekily poking fun at an oddball antagonist from the third installment of the titular Lionsgate hitman saga. There’s a point to be made there, methinks, particularly in my view that there are only so many times I can stand to listen to Dacascos speak inauthentically with a Japanese accent, his partial ethnicity here by way of his mother notwithstanding.
One other key area of focus include Teresa Ting who plays Onami, Shinshiro’s second-in-command and one of the “onna-bugeisha” he leads on their quest for the Tengu sword – the two other members are Aya (Chikako Fukuyama) and Mai (Luna Fujimoto). Onami is at the center of the film’s quieter, underlying arc involving her close connection to Shinshiro, which is a nice little addition to the ruse that gets exposed ahead of events that take place later in the film amidst the conflict she faces as a female warrior presumably not of samurai blood, a fact quickly pointed out during a heated scene between her character and the Lords, including Lord Nikko (Dustin Nguyen) who is more fixated on avenging the death of one of their own.
The film also introduces Akira Koieyama as Lord Ikeda, as well as Koieyama’s fellow Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist cohort, Mike Moh in the role of Reo, a ronin exiled from Shinshiro’s clan following an unseen incident involving Onami and Lord Nikko. Nino Furuhata plays Dash, the enthusiastic keeper of a safe house whose clairvoyance plays a key role in Luna’s own self-discovery, while entrenched in the backdrop is Yurei, played by Southworth, who is joined by the spiked bat-wielding Sun (Yoshi Sudarso).
Akana is no stranger to the action genre, having gotten close to it a time or two including a spiffy 2016 fanmade Star Wars short film called Hoshino, directed by Stephen Vitale. Here, she steps in just a little more to meet the demand as far as screenfighting goes. The rest of the cast definitely takes the mantle, including Ting, Dacascos, Moh, Fujimoto, and Sudarso, with action sequences by Zack Roberts and James Newman under the supervision of Southworth, who has racked up more than his fair share over the years in screen fighting entertainment in shows like “Power Rangers: Time Force” and films like U.S. Seals 2: The Ultimate Force and Koichi Sakamoto’s Broken Path. The action isn’t anything too different from what you’re expected to see in a film where swords slice through things and people, but what the action lacks in presentation, it makes up for consistently-paced and performed choreography, topped off ample blood splatter and occasional gore. The most interesting fight takes place near the end between Nguyen and another antagonist wherein one section of the fight looks like a contest between who can sheath whose sword first before cutting the other person.
I can also appreciate the film’s modern setting in a foreign country wherein the presence of an English-speaking does get a little more wiggle room than a film set three hundred years in the past and every Japanese character speaks English – it was a little tough to stomach when John Fusco did it for Marco Polo, but it was a little more tolerable than a period piece that mingles jidaigeki with fantasy with a big name English-speaking star to accommodate English-speaking audiences. At the end of the day, Blade Of The 47 Ronin delivers about as much fun as you could expect from a home release and with enough action and pulp to guarantee an hour and forty-five minutes of your time away from reality.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.