Wuxia is traditionally a Chinese cinematic sub-genre that is being embraced internationally by countries like Korea and now Vietnam. “The Lady Assassin” has proven to be one of the country’s biggest box office successes and although much is made of the female stars’ stunning beauty, the film’s assets are the vibrant cinematography, great story and some magnificent high-flying action.
Leading the attractive polygon of colour coded femme fatales is Thanh Hang as Kieu Thi. As the leader, Kieu is dressed in red with each girl adorned with an identifying colour. Although a bitter and mistrusting person she nevertheless rescues kidnap victim Linh Lan played by Tang Tanh who isn’t what she seems to be.
The remainder of the troupe include Kim Dung as Mai Thi (green) an almost childlike character who follows her heart, Ngoc Quyen as Dao Thi (pink) hard headed and suspicious second only to her leader, and Diem My as Lieu Thi (blue).
Playing the only acceptable male character is Anh Khoa as goat herder Duang Linh. Always amenable and smiling Linh is busy protecting his own secrets. Thai Hoa Le plays Quan Du the tyrannical ruler of Vietnam’s Tring Nam province, and it’s with him that Kieu Thi has a score to settle.
Kieu Thi is the proprietor of the Duang Son Tavern on the outskirts of Tring Nam which she runs with her three “sisters”. The tavern is a cover to ensnare passing politicians and businessman in league with the province’s ruler Quan Du, who are then killed and the riches they carry split accordingly between the women.
Their latest haul includes a treasure chest imprisoning the virginal Linh Lan claiming to have been kidnapped and looking for revenge against Quan Du. Kieu Thi agrees to house Linh and train her to fight. Soon however secrets are revealed and loyalties torn building up to a climactic, spectacular showdown.
When the film was released in 2013 much of the hype accentuated the attractiveness of its female leads and the strong sexual overtones, yet there is more to “Lady Assassin” than eye candy and titillating sensual massages. For one thing there is Ngyun Trinh Hoan’s stunning and vibrant cinematography which really brings the film’s beautiful, remote beachside location to life. The film also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the fight scenes starting with the opening tavern fight.
Although the actresses’ limitations are evident briefly in places this doesn’t spoil the overall quality of the fight action featuring some smooth and balletic choreography. Some of it is violent – an axe flies in slo-mo straight into an attacker’s neck – but is imbued with a sense of cheeky fun with the ladies performing some well executed kicks, weapon skills, and gravity defying wire-fu all without getting a hair out of place. The fighting also has an inventive element as in the use of a ball at the end of a rope as a weapon and as a way to…ascend.
Writer/director Quang Dung Nguyen’s central focus is on the growing bond between new arrival Linh Lan and the four girls. The film never gets dull throughout as suspicions and secrets bound around just as much as the ladies indulge in some high-flying cleaning and some nifty hands-free volley ball!
Nguyen’s deft writing skill establishes the likeable bond between Kieu Thi and Linh Lan along with Mai Thi’s secret romance with the goat herder at the film’s visceral core. Of course this is part of Nguyen’s tactic to set up for the big, tense finale as everyone fights for their lives -we know that some are inevitably going to meet their doom.
This finale is the twenty minute action packed emotional ride you were waiting for, darker in tone featuring faster paced wire-fu, sword fights and “Matrix” style CGI that has more arrow time than bullet time. It dizzyingly never ceases to take a breath and we finally get to see Anh Khoa show off dynamic, aerial fight skills with impressive urgency. Thai Hoa also steps into the play, an equally adept martial artist and snarling, moustache twirling villain. This scene has a memorably exhilarating feel and represents the film’s finest moment with Ngyuen effectively saving the best for last.
Garish, brazenly sexy, with a good mix of character focus and action “Lady Assassin” is Quang Dung Nguyen’s confession of love for Wuxia cinema and like any love affair should be, he remains respectful without trying to change the object of his affection.
- This is Vietnam’s first wuxia movie filmed and released in 3D.