The Lady Assassin (Vietnam 2013)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/16/14
Cast: Tang Thanh Ha, Thanh Hang

"Assassins or prostitutes, they're still women."

A man's weakness is his desire, while a woman's weakness is love. Both are used to good effect in this tale of assassins and intrigue. Four beautiful young women work at a seaside inn where they feed and comfort weary travelers, and then rob and kill them. Their latest victims are a passing funeral procession, but much to their surprise, they find a bound and gagged girl (beautiful Tang Thanh Ha) in the coffin instead of a corpse. Against her better judgement, the leader of the group (Thanh Hang) decides to take the girl in and teach her to become an assassin, but can she be trusted? And in the end, who is going to betray who?

The film plays out like an old-school swordplay drama and feels refreshingly nostalgic. The story is fairly transparent and doesn't bother trying to hide its secrets, and the characters are likable and fun to watch. The film looks great, the acting is good, the women are impeccably beautiful, and the drama hits all of the right emotional notes. Unfortunately, where the film stumbles most is in the action scenes, which are marred by soft and loose fight choreography, overly floaty wirework, jerky frame rates, and ridiculous computer generated 3D visual effects. The worst scenes involve a CGI ball that is kicked around during some overly silly volleyball training sequences. Oh, and did I mention there's also a musical number? While the girls are all very athletic and physically graceful, their martial arts execution is soft, slow, and unconvincing. Only one fight scene is notable, where Tang and the goat herder threaten to reveal each other's secrets while fighting in the kitchen.

Given the weak action scenes, three stars is a bit generous for the film, and kung fu fans will surely be disappointed. However, as a female action film, I enjoyed the characters and appreciated the way they were presented in the story. The drama is light, but effective, and does a good job of exploring the lives and troubles of five young women who dream of being more than assassins and prostitutes.