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The Assassin

Max Mok in The Assassin
Year: 1993
Director: Billy Chung Siu-Hung
Producer: Chan Yung
Cast: Zhang Fengyi, Max Mok Siu-Chung, Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam
The Skinny: The Assassin is an artfully shot, yet gratuitously violent Category III swordplay flick that is reminiscent of practically every revenge saga you've ever seen.
Review by
     Based on a novel by Wen Shui-On, The Assassin is a sprawling martial arts epic squeezed into eighty-one scant minutes. In yet another story about a power-mad eunuch in the Ming dynasty, farmer Tong Po-Ka (Zhang Fengyi) is torn away from his beautiful companion Yiu (Rosamund Kwan), and sent to prison. However, rather than be simply confined, Tong and his fellow inmates are pitted against one another in a plot to create the ultimate assassin. As the sole survivor, Tong becomes the titular assassin and is renamed Tong Jan by the evil Eunuch Ngai. After joining the rest of the assassins, Tong befriends fellow killer Wong Kau (Max Mok), a young swordsman whose anxieties over becoming "top man" eventually get the best of him.
     After a chance meeting with Yiu, the assassin Tong abandons his life of bloodshed and pursues his former lover all the way to her small close-knit community. There are a few surprises in store for Tong there, but he deals with them, eventually finding a sense of happiness with the quiet pastoral life. However, the peacefulness of his new life does not last long as the eunuch's men threaten the local farmers, forcing Tong to resurface and defend his newfound friends. Of course, the eunuch cannot tolerate such a betrayal and orders Wong Kau to kill his only friend. And despite the massive amounts of male bonding over the course of the film, there is a showdown between the hired killers to determine who the best of the best truly is. And yes, the evil, pale-faced eunuch gets his much-deserved comeuppance in a satisfyingly bloody climax.
     Though The Assassin is worth seeing, some of the film's choices are a bit peculiar. While this reviewer likes violent films just as much as the next person, all the brutality of The Assassin seems gratuitous. Filled with decapitations, sewn-shut eyelids, chopped-off limbs, split-in-half torsos, and various other gory moments, The Assassin earns every bit of its "Adults Only" Category III status (Don't even get me started on the disturbingly kinky exploits of the corrupt eunuch - yikes!). And while the cinematography contains many breathtaking visuals, the overall look of the main characters leaves something to be desired. How can a viewer invest any emotion into Tong Jan and Wong Kau when they look so damn stupid? Whose bright idea was it to give them the worst costumes in the film and dress them in ridiculously frizzy fright wigs? And while we're at it, does every Hong Kong movie have to use blue light in night scenes? The Assassin is neither a classic or a flop, but it does succeed at satisfying the requirements of an adequate revenge flick (Calvin McMillin 2002)
Availability: DVD (United States)
Region 0 NTSC
Tai Seng
Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and Vietnamese Language Tracks
Removable English Subtitles
Ric Meyers and Bobby Samuels Audio Commentary
image courtesy of Tai-Seng Home Video Marketing Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen