Vietnamese martial arts fantasy The Lady Assassin is an unashamedly silly, brazenly sexy romp and features as its protagonists five veritably drop-dead-gorgeous women (the men who come into their orbit invariably drop down dead).
Four of the kick-ass quintet are the hostesses of a remote coastal inn, the Duong Son Tavern, and they murder and rob the corrupt officials and other miscreants who turn up at their door, steadily amassing treasure that will one day enable them to give up their lives as prostitutes and killers and fulfil their individual dreams.
The fifth member of the group is noble kidnap victim Linh Lan Thi (Tang Thanh Ha), who is found bound and gagged in a coffin after the deadly innkeepers dispatch their latest victims. Freed, she avows her desire to gain revenge against the warlord who slaughtered her family - the enemy, too, of the tavern sorority - and urges her rescuers to train her in martial arts so she can achieve her goal.
That this training mostly takes the form of sessions of hands-free beach volleyball will give you some idea of the film's unblushing cheek and playful spirit. The fighting has a similarly larky feel and features copious amounts of gravity-defying wire fu as the lissome ladies get the better of their male foes.
There are also rivalries, secrets and a simmering erotic tension between Linh Lan and the cooly elegant leader of the women, Kieu Thi (Thanh Hang), whose feelings for her protégé seem to go beyond the merely sisterly. (With Khieu Thi even briefly adopting male drag at one point, The Lady Assassin's lesbian subtext would give queer theorists a field day.)
The characters' suppressed desires and hidden agendas come to a head when the long-awaited arrival of warlord Quan Du (Le Thai Hoa) and his men results in a running battle that climaxes in an emotionally charged three-way duel in which the adversaries (Linh Lan, Kieu Thi, Quan Du) switch back and forth between furiously attacking and - in some cases - equally furiously defending each other member of the triangle. It's all rollicking good fun, lighthearted, frequently absurd, but also at the close surprisingly touching.
Certificate 15. Runtime 89 mins. Director Nguyen Quang Dung.
Released on DVD by Terracotta Distribution.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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