The Assassin

Director Billy Chung brings his bleak and violent style over from his Cat III film of the same year, Love to Kill, and applies it to the wushu/kung fu genre with mixed results. It does contain some individual scenes that are extremely stylish and memorable, but overall it feels ponderous and self-important. It also has moments that one might assume were influenced by The Blade and Ashes of Time, but both these films actually followed Assassin (1993). Relentlessly brutal and graphic with nary an attempt at character development, the film begins to wear out its welcome but for the occasional flash of inspiration.
One has to wonder if the 80-minute DVD I watched this on was cut because without even a bow to exposition it feels like it is in the middle of the story as it begins. The dour looking Zhang Fengyi and wide-eyed Rosamund Kwan are running away together when a whole cast of extras stops them and imprisons Zhang. Inside the prison he is tortured and in a scene that looks all too real has his eyelids sewn shut. I know HK will go to great lengths to capture realism on the screen but they wouldn’t do that - would they? His eyelids are later slashed open and he finds himself in an arena with other prisoners. In an early version of Survivor, they are told that they must kill each other until only one remains. Zhang is the lucky winner, but instead of a trip to Disneyland he becomes an assassin for the evil Eunuch Tsai and acquires the name Tong Chop and a chopping he does go.
In the next few years he and his partner, Max Mok, - carry out many killings for the eunuch and Tong begins to lose all sense of his humanity – just a killing machine with no regard to the virtue of his victims.  In the midst of one such assignment, he sees his old love Rosamund – who has remarried and had a child and forgotten about poor old Tong like a bad rash. Unable to carry out his mission in front of her big brown expansive eyes, he fails and is now on the other end of the eunuch’s killers. Mok has his eye on Zhang as well - either because he wants to become the number one professional killer or he is concerned that Zhang will get the GQ cover over him. Unlike the well coiffed eunuch with his high bee hair style, fashionable killers these are not as both have hairstyles from hell – I felt like my father “get a haircut why don’t you”.
The film rests on its action scenes – as much of the time in between is taken up by bilious dialogue between the killers about their fate in life – stop talking – get a haircut – and these are generally fairly well done (choreographed by Stephen Tung Wai). Full of decapitated heads and other limbs flying about like so much debris, it is interesting, but brings few thrills because everyone always looks as if they should be on anti-depressants. A few scenes stand out such as the eunuch being attacked by his killer courtesans and the final duel among a maze of columns and sharp flying objects. Rosamund is totally wasted in the film - she could have done her part while waiting for a bus.

My rating for this film: 5.5

DVD Information:

Distributed by World Video

The transfer is fairly beaten up and gone a bit soft like a middle aged man – but still good for an occasional go.


It has both Mandarin and Cantonese tracks

Subtitles - burnt on Chinese and English

There seem to be all of 2 chapter stops for this film - one at the beginning and one in the middle.