Lady Assassin, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/31/13 08:15:39
SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Lady Assassin" is a so-so movie, but it does an admirable job of giving the audience what it shows on the poster: Pretty girls doing martial arts in a way that highlights their physicality, but not a whole lot of hard-edged sex and violence that would ever make someone feel particularly uncomfortable (or incur the wrath of the Vietnamese censors). It's exactly as lightweight as it looks, but simple pleasures are no less real.The Duong Son tavern is an inn on a river, off the main roads, owned by the Kieu Thi (Thanh Hang) and staffed by women who were just as beautiful - sharp-tongued Dao Thi (Ngoc Quyen), former circus performer Lieu Thi (Kim Dung), and discarded mistress Mai Thi (Diem My) - but who are also deadly, although they mostly kill and rob bandits and the forces of warlord Quan Du (Le Thai Hoa). The latest haul includes a surprising cargo - a kidnapped girl of noble blood, Linh Lan Thi (Tang Thanh Ha), who is put into training and to work so that she may eventually take revenge. But there are secrets in Duong Son bigger than Mai Thi's trysts with local goatherd Duong Linh (Anh Khoa).
It would be stretching things to call The Lady Assassin a remake of King Hu's The Fate of Lee Khan, although it would be hard for anyone who has seen both to not associate the two: Both have spies and other folks who aren't as they seem meeting up at an inn staffed by pretty girls who can fight - and whose outfits are always helpfully color-coded for when writer Ngo Quan Dung and director Quang Dung Nugyen don't do a whole lot in the way of filling in names and backgrounds. The actual plot goes off in a different direction, though, without as many pieces but involving most of the characters' own interests.
Not that there's much to the story - there's enough going on to keep most everyone busy and maybe surprise the viewers, and not just because the characters' plans are needlessly complicated and costly in retrospect. It moves things along and gives the filmmakers plenty of chances to put something nice-looking on screen. They're kind of shameless - this is the sort of movie that takes at least two opportunities to show that these assassins train by playing hands-free beach volleyball, after all. In addition, the action takes place in a lush but comfortable-looking part of the jungle, with the sharp digital cinematography highlighting a lot of bright colors. It appears to have been shot in native 3D as well - though the festival venue wasn't equipped to show it that way, Quang Dung Nguyen and his cinematographers seem to be making good use of depth and occasionally tossing things at the audience.
And, naturally, it's a very pretty cast, although by and large the filmmakers don't seem to have assembled a set of models who can't act. Tang Thanh Ha is the busiest, and she does all right, especially when the situation lets her be funny as opposed to just melodramatic. Thanh Hang carries herself with authority, while Ngoc Quyen makes Dao Thi just bitchy enough to be funny. Diem My and Anh Khoa are a likable pairing, although Khoa gets some of his best scenes with Tang Thanh Ha. Le Thai Hoa may not appear much until the end, but he makes up for lost time by gleefully making sure the audience knows who the alpha villain is.
Le's the only one that I'm positive was cast for his fighting I don't think anybody was cast for his or her fighting prowess, and sometimes it kind of shows. Not much and not most of the time; they have some good action teams in Vietnam, and the ladies aren't particularly stiff or anything. It's more that action scenes are more memorable for how they are staged (such as sequences of characters being swung around the inn's interior on draperies) than how quickly everyone is trading blows, and it would be nice to have both. There's also some CGI that probably wouldn't make the cut in Hollywood, including what is probably a lot more blood in the finale than the audience might expect from how lighthearted the movie is to start.Even with that, "The Lady Assassin" is still a lot of fun. Sure, it represents Vietnam's small but growing film industry better in terms of polish than ambition, but it can certainly play anywhere and have the audience come out feeling like they got what they came for.
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