Evil lords are evil. They like to torture, kill and rape their subjects and have fun doing it. Shooting children with arrows? They love that, too. Why? Because they're evil. But evil lords sometimes need to be put in their place - by the good guys. And often that means killing them. Enter 13 Assassins.
Before I saw 13 Assassins, I caught wind of a couple reviews. "Best action movie of the year" one review said. "Best action movie of the decade" another one declared. I know, I know, I shouldn't read reviews that could influence my opinion, but 13 Assassins wasn't a film that had really spiked on my radar until that point. The reviews convinced me to see it.
Naturally, I slacked off and waited several months until it came to DVD.
The reviews did overhype the movie a bit. "Best action movie of the decade" is a stretch. But after putting up with this year's "big" Hollywood blockbusters like all the adequately entertaining Marvel Comics adaptations (Thor, Captain America, X-Men: First Class) and other early year B-grade films like The Green Hornet and Unknown, 13 Assassins stands apart: it is a well made, serious movie that climaxes with a 50-minute long action sequence.
Way to go, Japan!
13 Assassins is about a group of samurai who conspire together to assassinate Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki), a man who is on the brink of becoming much more powerful in shogun Japan, but who is also a sadistic sociopath. Deciding that he will be untouchable if they want much longer, the 13 men make a last stand against Naritsugu and his army of several hundred guards.
As we've learned from such movies, samurai protagonists usually can kill about 50 henchmen before they themselves feel the blade.
Directed by Takashi Miike, 13 Assassins is an elaborately constructed and methodically paced action-thriller. Its first hour is almost exclusively devoted to the setup, with only small bursts of violence scattered in for good measure. The acting is good, the action even better.
But since I'm an American and thus have a short attention span, and am writing a review for other Americans with short attention spans, I'll caution: the first hour does drag a bit at times. There's a lot of talk, a lot of debate, and a lot of "how can I play around on the Internet while still reading the subtitles?" on my part. It's not that it's bad - it's just that after a couple of beers and the promise of an awesome action movie, it takes a really long time to get to the action.
Once the action commences, however, hell unleashes. Admittedly, after 50 minutes of sword fighting to where the protagonists are so tired even they are just flailing their swords around desperately hoping to strike flesh, the climax becomes a bit tiresome as well. But it's still a 50-minute, elaborately staged action sequence, and its impressiveness should not be diminished or ignored.
If you like your action long and violent, 13 Assassins seriously delivers. It suffers from some pacing issues and does come close to monotony at a few points, but the care given to every aspect of the movie should not be overlooked. In terms of overall entertainment value, I can't say 13 Assassins is the best action movie of the year - but it definitely has the best action.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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