Kung Fu Cinema (US), May 12, 2009

Scribe Chris Morgan talks Keanu Reeves’ ‘47 Ronin’

by Mark Pollard

MTV recently caught up with FAST AND FURIOUS screenwriter Chris Morgan to discuss his latest project, a stylized adaptation of Japan’s famous 18th-century account of the “47 Ronin.” Morgan suggests the film will be a big action movie like 300 or GLADIATOR with samurai and ninja.

It was originally announced in December of last year that Morgan had penned a script to 47 RONIN for Universal Pictures with a story tailored to attached star Keanu Reeves and his half-Asian heritage.

The more recent article states there has been some criticism of Morgan’s ability to handle the very well-known material and that the screenwriter has responded by pointing out his long history as a “huge fan of samurai culture,” backed up by “extensive” knowledge of the story.

The story of the “47 Ronin” is one of the most beloved tales in Japanese history and has been adapted to film in Japan no less than eight different times going back at least as far as 1913 when Shozo Makino’s THE ROYAL FORTY-SEVEN RONIN was released.

The story is based on an incident where a group of samurai were left masterless when their lord was ordered to commit ritual suicide for assaulting a court official. For a year, the former samurai, now ronin, plotted to take revenge by killing the official responsible out of loyalty to and respect for their dead lord. They succeeded and in the process fulfilled their duty as followers of the bushido code but because they had attacked a government official the Shogun had to punish them so they were ordered to commit seppuku and thus ended their lives as their lord had.

Morgan’s knowledge of this incident may not matter if the producers intend to shoot a 300-style version of the “47 Ronin.” I have personally seen two different films about this story, Kon Ichikawa’s 47 RONIN (1994) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s CHUSHINGURA (1962). Both versions treated the subject with stately reverence. Ichikawa’s 1994 film, along with other more recent versions tend to dig deeper into the minds of the players involved, instead of focusing on action, of which there is little in the original story.

The main action involves the actual attack on the official by the 47 ronin but I doubt Universal intends to fill an entire movie with it. Then again, if they were to do something along the lines of BLACKHAWK DOWN where most of the narrative zooms in on a near real-time account of the attack I could see how the story could turn into an action film without straying too far from facts.

Aw, but who am I kidding? This story has been adapted for Hollywood by the writer of CELLULAR and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT as an intentionally over-the-top period actioner with Keanu “I know kung fu” Reeves starring as a feudal-era Eurasian ronin. Bring on the ninjas, limb-cleaving samurai action and macho heroics. Look out world. Hollywood is going to show us how America does chambara.




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