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The Assassin (HK 1993)

Director : Siu Hung Cheung
Cast : Rosamund Kwan, Siu Chung Mok (Max Mok), Zhang Fengyi

A poor farmer who loves a woman he is forbidden to associate with becomes a hardened mercenary, and is hired by a local warlord as a professional assassin. Years later, he runs into his old love and begins to question his violent past. 

by Edward Tang

Finding this film on the shelf of some store, I wondered why I had never heard of it. Sure, it wasn’t a big production, didn’t really have any big name talent, and wasn’t the best film in the rack, but it had it’s moments that probably were brought on by the surge of bloody duels and an all around fun approach. You won’t find anything in this film that you might consider unique, other than a very gruesome scene which involves sewing a man’s eyes closed. But being a small budget flick that has only an 87 minute running time, I felt that they delivered what I wanted from something like this. Sure, the plot is sketchy because it moves so fast, and you might not know some characters, and none of them are really developed, but who cares? The fast pace also adds to the fun that this film delivers, whether or not making the plot more successful. I got everything they threw at me, but later heard that people had a trouble keeping up with it. 

The story follows a simple pattern. Po Ka (Fengyi Zhang) is captured for doing some stupid ass crime and is sent to prison, after losing his lover Yiu (Rosamund Kwan). He is tortured and eventually sent to his death, which he learns is actually an attempt to recruit a new assassin. After a fight with seven other prisoners, he is the last surviving and is sent to a man who makes him his lead assassin. A few years later, he teams with a rookie named Wong Kau (Max Mok), who secretly wants to be the best. During an assassination attempt, Po Ka spots his former love Yiu with a child. This makes him go crazy and abort the assassination, which forces Wong to take out the target. Soon later, the main boss wants Po Ka dead for betraying him, and sends another rival assassin. Po Ka finds his solace in Yiu’s village, in which he becomes a popular character, but assassins find his place and burn it to the ground. Po Ka realizes what he must do and leaves the town and returns to his life as an
assassin. He later joins Wong again as they go on another mission, to take out the man who formally imprisoned Po Ka. We learn later that their employer made a deal with Wong to take out Po Ka, to betray him. Po Ka eventually takes out Wong, and finally destroys his employer, to put life in front of death. 

I still think if they had a good budget, this could have been a better film and a well known one at that. But what is missing is a good storytelling logic, as I even found that I was rewinding more than necessary. Not because the story wasn’t GOOD, the film had such a constant pace, that you’d miss something if you didn’t pay attention. There’s a sequence in general, after Po Ka first becomes an assassin and then to a scene where he is already established as such. I honestly thought that it cut a few scenes, but later realized that a well thought out plot was probably bones when you have a fuckin’ flick like this in the process. Also, the story seemed to have been as of a typical one, man dragged into life he didn’t want and eventually comes out. There you go. Watching this film looks like a cheap thrill, and is such. Every scene I witness usually has some bad prop use (dozens of limbs coming off) or some bad special effects, especially one that involved a sword going through a man. 

Being a fan of such films, I did enjoy every action scene thrown at me. They weren’t on the level of such great films, but they had this brutish and harsh way about them, that made them seem a little more off than others. But what I enjoyed about this film, was the planning of the assassination, on how they would be pulled off and how everything went as to plan. I like seeing these things on the screen, a plan that actually succeeds and looks good. When Mok and Zhang face each other in their fight, the stuff looks good, quick swordplay with a good use of wire works to make them both look like giants. But then they abused their wire work privileges (Zed’s dead) and made some of the actors look like they were just flying around! Another scene had Zhang facing the main villain, named Ngai I think. This scene was cool in my opinion, Zhang taking his wounds like a man, and taking out his foe and destroying his only offense. But all and all, the fight scenes were brutal (as far as low
budget brutal can get) and did the job as far as giving us something to take away from the negatives of such. 

The star of this film is Fengyi Zhang, whom stands more or less as a typical hero who falls into what his current position throws at his feet. I thought he was average, as was most of the cast. Rosamund Kwan (Once Upon a Time in China series) plays the average girl to a key. Max Mok plays the typical friend who betrays his friend and eventually gets his head taken off. The cast is pretty much average, and I must say that nobody stood out. There was a guy who reminded me of the villain from Tai Chi Master (think white hair), which was a good thing, because that flick ruled. The direction basically takes from a Sergio Leone type approach of showing vast landscapes and the reactions of such unimportant features (a lizard for example). I liked the direction, and once again will say that, if this flick had a bigger budget and maybe some better stars, I think it could be a classic. 

“The Assassin” for what it is, is a good film. It doesn’t reach anything with it’s lame story and average acting, but can give you a good night of entertainment with some low budget effects. I like the action and because this film was so short, I felt that I didn’t loose anytime in watching it, which made the smaller points fall away, and the goods to be shown. I’m sure most will pass this one off, but give it a chance, hell I said I wouldn’t step near a flick like Versus, now I cream in my pants when it’s mentioned. “Samurai Zombies!” Check it out, it’s a throwaway film, but a worthwhile throwaway film.  

Plot : 2/5
Acting : 3/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 2/5

Notable Scenes
- Tong Jan vs. Wong Kau and a few of the fight scenes.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – The Assassin

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