SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN (2012)
Written and Directed by Victor Vu
Vietnamese Language with English Subtitles
After three generations of his family are wrongly accused of killing the king and are executed for the crime, orphan Nguyen Vu is taken under the wing of his grandfather’s old friend, a monk who teaches the youngster martial arts. 12 years later, the monk’s pagoda is ransacked by royal guards and Vu spots his parents’ killer. Vowing to take revenge and to clear his family’s name, Vu embarks on a quest for justice. However, with heavily armed protection, Vu isn’t going to get near easily. Discovering that those responsible for his family’s death are looking for a blood letter said to spill the secrets and atrocities comitted by them, Vu decides to hunt the letter down to prove once and for all his family were not to blame for the king’s death. Along the way, he meets two sisters who too share a similar tale at the hands of the same oppressor and so they join forces to finally bring their family’s killers to justice.
Martial arts epic SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN brings a flavour of Vietnam to the martial arts action film genre mostly contributed to by the Chinese film industry. With a magical opening involving a statue coming to life and the traumatic arrival of an orphan at the door of the monk’s pagoda, the film quickly sets the story in motion. We have the big bad in the form of icy Thai Hau, the dashing protagonist Nguyen Vu (Huynh Dong) and an uphill struggle for him to contend with. We also discover early on that he has exceptional abilities that he is unable to control which is something that is revisited throughout the movie.
Nguyen Vu doesn’t embark on his journey alone though. When Vu first meets the attractive Hoa Xuan (Midu), the interchange is quite frosty. Xuan isn’t happy that Vu knocked all the lanterns off her market stall on the floor when he was rushing through town. But when they meet again, despite her snappy reactions, there’s a glimmer of attraction between the two. His gentle approach and her bad-tempered replies prove quite comical in the early scenes as the ever sceptical Xuan looks to kill the wicked Thai Hau (Van Trang) for what she did to her eldest sister. Fortunately for Vu, Xuan’s big sister Hoa Ha (Kim Hien) looks out for her and calms the young woman to prevent her from jumping into battles head first. It’s Nguyen Vu though who seems to convince Xuan that there is a better, more effective way to get justice rather than acting too hastily and facing almost certain death.
The human characters aren’t the only star of this show. The breathtakingly beautiful landscapes of Vietnam are displayed here in all their natural glory. I’ve wanted to visit Vietnam for a while now and this film has only fuelled my desire further. Director Victor Vu certainly knows how to use the surroundings to his advantage to both dazzle the viewer visually and to invite the viewer in to this story he has portrayed. The lush environment brings depth to his movie, providing an incredible backdrop and scene setter than contrasts the atrocities occurring in the court of Thai Hau.
One of the main draws of SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN is without a doubt its fight scenes. The action choreography is absolutely stunning to watch, making good use of the space provided to display some truly amazing combat displays inspired by wuxia. Using weapons such as swords and a bo staff, the film’s protagonists are often seen fighting a horde of enemies at once and the way in which the fight flows is thrilling to watch. The stars move so fluidly that it’s almost like a dance, one so hypnotic I was unable to tear myself away from the screen. The style of the choreography instantly reminded me of Yuen Woo-Ping’s work with the use of wire-work for the stars to leap higher and glide whilst still retaining the realism on the ground when fighting toe to toe, weapon to weapon.
SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN has all the ingredients you need for a brilliant movie: the story, the characters, the script, the action and the setting. It also helps that Huynh Dong mesmerises as the lead star, in what appears to be his debut performance, with both his acting and combat skills proving that he is one to watch for the future.
Thrilling and simply astounding, SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN is truly a work of art.