On paper, Victor Vu’s Sword of the Assassin is a fusion of styles that shouldn’t work – a gorgeously shot, graceful, historical action drama combined with all the execution of a bog standard b-movie. On viewing the film however, Sword of the Assassin takes tired characters and clichéd plots and manages to scrape together a perfectly pleasant affair that’s happy in its own limitations.
The film has an extremely run of the mill young-inexperienced-warrior-must-harness-abilities-if-he’s-to-honour-family-name-by-defeating-corrupt-higher-powers plot, but it doesn’t get any of that wrong, per-say. As mentioned, it carries its overused story well enough with just enough charisma to make the whole affair watchable until the end. But if anything, Sword of the Assassin won’t be remembered for its lack of a fresh spin on character and plot. Rather, this film is Vietnam’s first attempt at crafting its very own marital arts epic, and if one can take anything away from this film, it’s the stunning Vietnamese scenery.
Vu does more than a fine job of capturing the breath-taking backdrop of Sword of the Assassin to full effect, with the film’s not-so-ambitious take on character and plot serving almost as a platform to show off the film’s spellbinding appearance. Vu also seems well aware of the scenery he’s surrounded by, and knows it’s his greatest tool in crafting this film, and so he stuffs as much of the eye-popping landscapes as possible into the film’s plot. We see our heroes traverse through engulfing rivers, soaring mountains, and dense forests that put any CGI-produced setting to shame, whilst several villages, temples and other rustic locations have a warm welcome of authenticity.
But aside from the visuals, Sword of the Assassin’s otherwise mundane content isn’t taking the film to the Oscars anytime soon. What begins as an earnest enough tale of redemption crumbles into muddled conspiracy drama towards the end, with twists and turns that fail to have the desired shock impact. Leading man Huynh Dong and heroine Midu give solid, enjoyable performances, even if one can spot their inevitable romance beginning to blossom before the script can.
Sword of the Assassin is an odd mixture of spellbinding cinematography that belittles its b-movie schlock. It may be clunky in its execution, but it has a puppy-like enthusiasm in getting the job done. Perhaps the real joy here is seeing this weary tale given fresh life thanks to its settings, and with such a basic enough film under Vu’s belt, Sword of the Assassin may open the door to an armada of new films keen to set up shop in Vietnam’s stunning natural wonders. For now however, Sword of the Assassin is an enjoyable b-movie romp with visuals that set it far apart from others and reward extended viewing.
SWORD OF THE ASSASSIN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VICTOR VU / SCREENPLAY: VICTOR VU / STARRING: HUYNH DONG, MIDU, VAN TRANG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (DIGITAL)