47 Ronin: Movie Review
Keanu Reeves joins a cast of warriors not ashamed to serve their master.
47 Ronin is the classic Japanese folk story of 47 samurai warriors who are on a mission to seek revenge and restore the honour of their fallen lord… and some random white guy fighting CGI monsters. Somehow Keanu Reeves has got himself involved in this Westernised version of an Eastern story. Now, while I enjoyed this movie and thought it was a good way to spend a couple of hours in a cinema, it never quite manages to overcome to fact that there are two movies here trying to squish themselves into a space reserved for one.
What's 47 Ronin about?
It's a little complicated, but stick with me. Set in 18th century Japan, Lord Asano is forced to commit ritual suicide after rival Lord Kira, aided by a shape-shifting witch, tricks him into a dishonourable act. Asano’s land, as well as his daughter, are handed over to the Lord Kira, and Asano’s servant samurai are made ronin (master-less samurai – a dishonourable title) and sent into exile. A year later, Ôishi, leader of the ronin, plots revenge on Kira. Even if these Ronin successfully restore Asano’s honour, they will be forced to take their own lives for their actions. Got it?
The Keanu confusion
For some reason, one of the 'ronin' is a white guy named Kai (Keanu Reeves), who is part demon and has supernatural adventures. True, they are visually stunning supernatural adventures – the fight sequence between Kai and the witch is amazing to watch. But it does feel like Keanu Reeves is in an entirely different movie that happens to crossover with this movie about the ronin. It’s like making a movie about Robin Hood, except there is also this Asian guy (for argument’s sake, let’s say he’s played by Jet Li) having a whole different adventure fighting dragons that eventually ties back in with the Sheriff of Nottingham at the end. That’s what it feels like watching 47 Ronin.
It's all about the action
None of this should distract from 47 Ronin’s main focus – great action sequences. Every time some draws their sword, you’re in for a well choreographed and filmed fight scene. I’ll even suggest shelling out for the 3D session for this one – the scene on the pirate ship alone makes it worthwhile. At one point, I literally ducked as a projectile came crashing through the screen. 47 Ronin looks good. And because of its Japanese setting and sensibilities, it looks like nothing else coming out of American cinema at the moment.
The pursuit of honour
The pursuit of honour is the driving force of 47 Ronin. Keanu Reeves’ character Kai endures hatred and suspicion because of honour. Asano publicly kills himself to restore his broken honour. Ôishi commits to a course of action that will result in his own death – all because of honour. The honour and shame culture we see in 47 Ronin is not something I’m familiar with, being an Anglo guy living in Australia. But it’s something that resonates with the culture the New Testament was written in. For example, in 47 Ronin, Kai suffers brutal beatings because of honour. Now, if that were me, I’d be standing up for myself, asserting my rights as an individual etc. But that’s not how honour and shame works in this culture. He endures this because if he didn’t it would bring shame to his master.
Don't be ashamed
When it comes to the gospel and serving the real Lord, Paul uses the language of honour and shame.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)
For Paul, preaching the gospel, no matter the cost, was what was important. Even if it meant being mocked, beaten and imprisoned. Because giving honour to God was what was important. Therefore there was no shame in preaching the gospel. Like Kai undergoing hardship in order to honour his lord, as Christians, we should be prepared to also undergo hardship as we seek to honour the greatest Lord of all.
The final word
47 Ronin could have been a complete wreck. There’s a lot of competing elements all fighting for screen time. But while it doesn't quite manage to pull it off, it’s still a good action flick and worth checking out.