"The Assassin could have been an interesting success, but a lack of style and characterization, plus an abundance of decapitations and flying body parts make this an uncomfortable mess."
The Assassin (1993)
Director: Billy Chung Siu Hung
Producer: Chan Yung
Cast: Zhang Feng-Yi, Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam, Max Mok (Siu Chung)
Running Time: 81 min.
Plot: Separated from his lover (Kwan) and imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Tong must kill other prisoners gladiator-style to survive and land himself into the "Assassination Factory". Tong then becomes the evil Eunuch's #1 assassin, even though all he wants is to be free from the world of killing.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: Ho-hum. Once you've stopped flinching from the scene where the main character's eyelids get sewn shut, you're not likely to have a very strong reaction to anything else in this movie. And even if you do, it won't last long, since Tai Seng's incomplete special edition (why THIS movie?) clocks in at a mere 77 minutes, and much of the swordplay uses blurry slo-mo and the occasional severed limb to cover up its lack of vigor. The only really good fight is the tavern duel near the end (yes, folks, believe it or not, a tavern, of all places, becomes the scene of violence in a martial arts movie).
Remember, folks: you can't spell "assassin" without typing "ass" twice.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 4/10
REEFER'S REVIEW: Tong (Fengyi), who seems to have a terminal case of bad luck, ends up getting separated from his lover (Kwan) and then locked up with a bunch of uninteresting goons. During his prison stay, in what can only be described as over-the-top sadism, his jailers manage to sew his eyes shut. Plus, we get the displeasure of watching the whole thing. Martha Stewart would be proud of the expert technique. Nice, clean, tight stitches!
Ever the sufferer, Tong continues to mope around the scenery, spending quality time at his favorite quiet place, which happens to be a pit filled with rotting corpses. He lights them on fire every time he shows up just so he can smell death. Nobody has to tell this guy how to party! As he instantly finds himself at the top of the evil Eunuch's assassin food chain, Tong even gains an apprentice, Max Mok with stringy black Ted Nugent hair. He bonds with Mok after a battle by thoughtfully offering him one of his severed heads. . . . Had to wipe away a tear. Sorry for the interruption. Anyway, after running into his old girlfriend, Tong finally decides he has had enough and makes a run for it. The evil Eunuch sends Mok immediately on his tail. More bloodbaths follow.
Let's take a break and discuss the Evil Eunuch. I call him that because I can't remember his name and . . .well, he is EVIL. I mean tear servant girls in half evil. I mean cram your fist into someone's chest and play peek-a-boo with their heart evil. Man, castration must make you testy. This character could possibly be based on Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which came out a year earlier. He/It has the pale, pasty, knife-like finger nail, big hair, effeminate thing going for him. Besides that, he is just EVIL.
The Assassin could have been an interesting success, but a lack of style and characterization, plus an abundance of decapitations and flying body parts make this an uncomfortable mess. Most of the fights unfold without any noticeable choreography. They are just hacking away at each other like pissed-off lumberjacks. It's not until the finale that some nice moves appear, though unfortunately they are interrupted by some misplaced wirework-crap.
Don't get me wrong here. There are some points of interest too. The cinematography is an obvious bright spot. Lots of Sergio Leone/John Ford influenced landscapes and creatively lit spaces in the village. And director Billy Chung Siu Hung does create some elaborate shots that introduce most of the mayhem. But there is a reason that good production values featuring nice cinematography and attractive stars simply cannot carry a film. Afterall, sophisticated moviegoers just don't go to movies only to see pretty pictures and pretty faces. But unfortunately, that is all that The Assassin has to offer.
REEFER'S RATING: 5/10 (for the pretty pictures)