Ninja Shadow of a Tear: Scott Adkins kicks butt in enjoyably knuckleheaded revenge rampage | Movies


If you’ve blitzed through Cobra Kai and it’s left you hankering for yet more fight-based, 80s throwback drama, consider checking out the work of prolific action movie star Scott Adkins in the truly excellent Ninja Shadow of a Tear (AKA Ninja 2).

Ninja Shadow of a Tear is the weirdly titled sequel to 2009’s rather more simplistic Ninja. But it works well as a self-contained entity, ditching any remaining story threads from the first film within the first 10 minutes so you can comfortably watch them in reverse order and kick your evening off with the better one.

Casey Bowman (Adkins) returns home one night to find his wife Namiko (Mika Hijii) has been brutally slain by an unknown assailant with a unique but deadly weapon. Casey accepts an offer from his friend Nakabara (Kane Kosugi) to stay at his dojo in Bangkok in an attempt to find peace. But Casey’s grief continues to manifest in self-destructive behaviour, losing his temper in a sparring session and drunkenly starting a massive bar fight.

When one of Nakabara’s students turns up dead, killed by the same unique weapon that took Namiko’s life, Casey’s thirst for vengeance leads him on a hunt through Bangkok and the jungles of Myanmar to the doorstep of an infamous drug lord known as Goro (Shun Sugata).

Although Ninja Shadow of a Tear’s plot is a classic revenge rampage, it still finds space to make its simple story more interesting than most. Casey’s journey is fuelled more by his grief than his desire for revenge. He gets things wrong, fights the wrong people, and in many ways he wants to get beaten up himself. But like any good genre movie it doesn’t necessarily need to be original; it just needs to play to its strengths. In Ninja Shadow of a Tear’s case, those strengths largely lie in Adkins’ unparalleled ability to kick a lot of people in the face.

With a colossal 59 movies under his belt and an upcoming appearance in John Wick 4, Adkins has been busy. Ninja Shadow of a Tear marked the sixth time (out of nine) that he worked with director Isaac Florentine. The Adkins/Florentine axis flourished in the mid-2000s to mid-2010s, courtesy of the two Ninja movies and the Undisputed series – three stylish direct-to-video prison fight movies that served as nominal sequels to Walter Hill’s 2002 original. With a surprisingly deft focus on character and stunning fight sequences, both the Ninja and Undisputed series belie their direct-to-video roots to offer up some of the most enjoyably knuckleheaded action since Jean-Claude Van Damme’s kinetic prime.

Florentine’s direction captures every bone-crunching kick and deadly elbow in luxurious slow motion, while Adkins’ acrobatic fighting prowess seems to defy all known laws of physics. Every spin kick and airborne punch asserts that gravity is a mug’s game and something for other people to worry about (meanwhile, I’m watching from the couch, shovelling biscuits into my face like it’s the end of the world).

Scott Adkins.
‘A one-man-army action film’ with zero pretensions. Photograph: AF archive/Alamy

The other reason Ninja Shadow of a Tear is so much fun is because it has absolutely no pretensions about being anything other than a one-man-army action film. It wears its love for 1980s action and ninja movies proudly on its sleeve and arguably does it better than the classics that preceded it.

Casting Kosugi as Nakabara is a masterstroke; he is the son of legendary martial artist Shô Kosugi who appeared in Cannon Film’s ninja trilogy – Enter The Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination – a staple of video stores everywhere. There’s also a nod to Schwarzenegger’s Commando, as Adkins rampages through the woods, taking on an army by himself and announcing his arrival at the drug compound via hand grenade. Amusingly, there is no concession to traditional ninja stealth, but that’s all part of the fun.

For additional viewing, you can catch the first Ninja on Prime and 10 of Adkins’ other movies on Netflix. His Art of Action series on YouTube – a lockdown project where Adkins interviews a fascinating selection of action stars, directors and stunt people – is also well worth seeking out.

Ninja Shadow of a Tear is a movie I love on a cellular level: as an introduction to Adkins’ filmography, as a nostalgic love letter to ninja movies and VHS rentals, and as an unashamedly fun slice of modern martial arts cinema.


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