Set in shogun-era Japan, 13 Assassins tells the story of an elite group of samurai selected to rid the land of the shogun's evil brother who uses his power to rape and kill at will.
I was expecting fight sequences similar to Chinese produced successes like Crouching Tiger or House of Flying Daggers, with elaborate camera effects and stylish choreography. However, director Takashi Miike serves up a totally different kind of action. The fight scenes are much more substance than style and are considerably more gritty and realistic.
At just over two hours long, 13 Assassins can easily be broken into three chapters. Initially the film is slow to start as the story is told and characters are introduced, although Miike sensibly introduces the assassins in groups, and provides more focus on a few rather than diluting the characters too greatly. The middle of the film deals with the assassins travel to their chosen ambush point as the shogun's brother and samurai approach. Following a few minor fights in the first two-thirds of the film, the ambush and subsequent fight fills the remaining 45 minutes without much pause and can only be described as epic.
After the initial upper hand is lost, the 13 men fight against a seemingly never ending army of guards and samurai knowing they are fighting towards their inevitable deaths. Having killed tens or hundreds of the enemy each, the realism of the film is underlined by the fatigue shown by the assassins as they are ultimately swamped holding off the enemy forces.
A largely enjoyable samurai film worth watching if not only for the epic fight between good and evil.