A colourful and heartfelt homage to Wuxia Cinema via Vietnam, like that pretty girl on the beach you’ll never have the nerve to talk to, easy to get infatuated with….
No relation to the 1982 Shaw Brothers movie, The Lady Assassin is a colourful and heartfelt homage to Wuxia Cinema via the lush local of Vietnam. Maybe a little reliant on eye candy, and certainly little here for the hardcore fan. But like that pretty girl on the beach you’ll never have the nerve to talk to, it is easy to get infatuated with.
A remote Tavern is run by Kieu Thi (Thanh Hang) and her bevy of beauties, luring in travellers before killing them. Of course there is more to this brigade of Sirens than meets the eye, as it transpires they are merely removing the supporters of the local corrupt warlord, Quan Du. Their latest haul brings them into contact with a kidnapped noblewoman Linh Lan (Tang Thanh Ha), who spills her own story about wanting to fight against this regime, so Kieu Thi invites her, despite some reluctance on the part of the other girls, to be trained and join in on their mission of revenge. Obviously things are never as simple as they originally appear, as a couple of characters have somewhat differing underlying motives, and this can only end in a bloodbath of Shakespearian tragedy proportions.
Director Quang Dung Nguyen (Truong Ba’s Soul in Butcher’s Body) brings us a film which has several big draws. Most obviously it looks utterly gorgeous. Vietnam always looks amazing on camera, and here the visuals of this wuxia-inspired world do not disappoint. I saw the 3D version at the cinema, and I was blown away with the overall looks and vistas. We also have a group of quite stunningly beautiful women, who spend their days playing some kind of foot-based Volleyball, having big baths together, as well as killing people. Mostly though, the film is imbued with a love of those Hong Kong wuxia films of the 1980’s. The plot is simple, there is a small musical number, script elements are bought up and never developed further, and the acting is… OK.
No elements of the movie are really that surprising; this is not a post-modern re-invention of the genre. There are hidden motives, some comedy, a doomed love affair (or two), a moustache twirling villain, subtle-ish lesbianism and a few fights along the way. It is respectful to what went before, and doesn’t try to subvert.
There is a subplot about a previous girl that is referenced a few times, but is never explored or appears to deliver any consequence to the general story. I wonder if it was excised from the script for some reason, but references to it were kept in. Or maybe it is one big red herring.
The film drips with beauty and love, but the movie really is quite slight. Even with a fairly brisk running time, far too much time is taken up with the volleyball, which is obviously there to show off the 3D (and that is part of the rub with this film – some of the 3D is gorgeous, some of it is terribly ropey). Not only that, but all the main players are actresses or models, and not really martial artists, so the action is pretty light and obviously wire assisted. For those who really adore these kinds of films, and are well versed in the genre, I have to think they are going to be somewhat non-plussed by the film in general, even if they enjoy it as visual experience.
I for one though was utterly entranced. Asian film fan I may be, but unusually, I am not a student of wuxia particularly, so I could enjoy it for the simple thrill it set out to be. There was enough character work and genuine heart on display here for me to be totally sucked into the film, and even find some of the faults quite charming. If you compare it to RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists, another attempt to produce a love letter to wuxia films, The Lady Assassin knocks it into a cocked hat.