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Out of the East

The best films I’ve seen this past month were from Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. All of them are genre pictures. Take note that the filmmakers don’t employ the quick cuts and jittery camera that mars and outright ruins so many current American action films; here, you know where the combatants are when the fists are thrown, and the guns, knives, and swords come out. This is righteous, honest filmmaking, made to entertain.

13 Assassins
A baker’s dozen of samurai go up against 200 warriors in a suicidal attempt to eradicate a corrupt warlord in mid-19th Century Japan. Director Takashi Miike’s tribute to Kurosawa and John Sturges is a well-written, well-acted surprise, culminating in a ferocious 45-minute battle that has to be one of the greatest actions sequences ever filmed. Highly recommended.

The Man from Nowhere
A former government operative comes out of seclusion to bring down a ring of gangsters and organ harvesters who have kidnapped a child. Won Bin plays the title badass like a cross between Charles Bronson and George Clooney. The story is unremarkable, but the action is kinetic and the players, including the villains, are charismatic. When our man takes on the mob in a climatic, epic gun-and-knife fight, you’ll be on your feet. Directed by Jeong-beom Lee, this is South Korean cinema at its best.

Ip Man
An aristocratic martial arts master (a very cool Donnie Yen) rises up against his country’s invaders in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War. High production values and believable, thrilling fight sequences mark this thoughtful historical epic, based on fact and, no doubt, legend. In a coda, we’re told that Bruce Lee studied under the elderly master. You’ll see the roots of Bruce’s boxing technique when Ip Man goes to work.