We Want Action: 13 Assassins (2010)

Much like last week’s Cold Weather, I checked out 13 Assassins on the recommendation of a friend instead of my usual method of finding movies, which is flipping through Netflix Instant and seeing what tickles my fancy. I’m not sure if I would have gotten around to watching this flick on my own. While I love action flicks–as you all know–I tend not to like ones set in feudal Japan. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I didn’t really like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the one time I watched it and then there’s all those crappy martial arts flicks of the 70s that never live up to expectations. But I think I figured it out while watching 13 Assassins.

These movies–and pretty much any story set in this time period–is pretty much the same. One guy’s bad, really really bad with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The problem is that he has power or is protected by the societal structure of the times. He’s usually got a pretty big army at his back or is one of the best fighters around. As such, a small band of warriors must secretly band together and go after the bad guy. There’s a big fight, nearly everyone–including the bad guy–dies and a very few people walk away at the end.

That’s essentially the plot of 13 Assassins. It just seems to me like there has to be more room for interesting stories that can be set in that time period. Maybe if it was 13 Assassins Vs. Zombies, I’d be more interested, but that might just be me. I can watch a ton of “Dude gets wronged and goes after the bad guy” flicks, but this story grates on me? That’s on me, obviously, but that’s how it is.

Because the plot is so familiar to me, I was pretty bored during the part of the movie that leads up to them actually going on their journey. This part of the flick is basically broken down into two sections: showing how bad the bad guy really is and amassing the assassins (I’m way more proud of those two words strung together than I should be). I have four problems with this part of the movie. I already mentioned knowing the plot, so that’s one. The way I know that plot is because it’s told to me in the beginning of the movie. “This guy’s bad, he’s a jerk, let’s kill him” essentially. So, I’m in, I get it. That’s the shorthand way of setting the movie up, let’s get to the carnage, right?! Nope. Now we’re shown how bad the guy is. Twice. My third problem with this section is that the “bad guy is bad” sections border on torture porn. He rapes this woman and kills her husband, he has a girl whose legs and arms he cut off as his plaything and he kills a whole group of people, ending by shooting arrows around a child tied up in the middle of the courtyard. He’s bad, we get it. Let’s move on. My fourth problem is kind of stupid, I admit. In a movie like this where I already know the background, I’m slapped in the face with how bad the bad guy is and I’m anxiously awaiting the fight scenes, I don’t care about the relationships of the people going off to fight.

Once we finally get to the adventure, though, it’s a pretty great movie. There’s some craziness trying to get the bad guy away from his army with all the ups and downs you’d expect from such a thing. The real gold comes with the huge final battle at the end of the movie. The good guys somehow set up this amazing set of traps throughout this entire village. We’re talking about bombs, stickwalls cutting off their exits and even an entire area filled with swords so a few guys can take on an army. That’s my particular favorite part of the movie. Really creative, fun and smart, plus wonderfully shot.

Overall, I feel like the movie should have kicked off with the voiceover/text thing (it was subtitled, so I don’t remember which it was, all I know is that I was reading text) leading right into the men heading off to battle. Maybe flash to a few scenes of the bad guy being bad and the band being put together and then bam, you’re on the journey. Since these kinds of movies are so formulaic and we all know the shorthand, why not just dive in? Maybe I’m thinking too much like an American watching a Japanese film. I’ve actually got a whole post brewing in my head about watching foreign films and the problems with subtitled films. I’ll hopefully get that up later today.

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