This epic action adventure film, set in the 18th century, tells the bloody story of Tong Po Ka whose forbidden love transforms him from a simple farmer into the number one killer/swordsman.
Po Ka's "forbidden love" is portrayed by the very beautiful Rosamund Kwan Chi-lam. This fine actress is best known to audiences as "Aunt Yee" in Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA I, II, III. Her performance here is top notch. The film opens with Kwan's character, Yiu, and Po Ka in a romantic interlude. They are plotting to run away to start a new life together. When they try to leave the next morning, angry villagers accuse Po Ka of kidnapping and other crimes, despite Yiu's protests. He is sent to prison where, because he has been unrepentant and smashed the courtroom and his jailers, he is subjected to "the Eye-Closing Penalty"(eyes SEWN shut). Throughout his tortures, he visualizes his lost love, Yiu, to gain his inner strength.
Po Ka is given a chance to regain his freedom when he must kill 7 other prisoners to survive. All have had their eyes sewn shut and one is more crazed than the next. He survives but his freedom is costly. He must serve the evil eunuch Ngai Chung Yin and join his band of killers. Ngai renames Po Ka, calling him Tong Chop, as in "chop in two halves". Chop works hard putting the past behind him as he soon becomes the best swords-man, 2nd only to Sung Chung, the eunuch's #1 killer.
Chop becomes friends with another killer named Wong Kau, played by Benny Mok Siu-Chung, known to many as "Leung Fu" in Hark's WONG FEY HONG series. His character in "Assassin" is the young killer who wants to be the best; he lives the killers' life to the fullest, but Wong knows no master and his selfish pride is his undoing.
Chop(Po Ka) allows Wong Kau to take credit for one big kill and then on another killing mission, Wong must finish the killing of a child when Chop freezes upon seeing Yiu in the crowd. This sighting of his long lost love brings all the memories back to Chop and he flees. Wong Kau sees him as weak and Ngai is betrayed.
The troubled Chop seeks out Yiu and finds she has married and had a son named Sam Po. She lives with her husband in the place Po Ka(Chop) had wished to take her. He is ashamed of the evil killers' life he has led until he is able to use his sword for good. He saves a baby horse and its mother and the villagers treat him like a hero. This reverie is short lived, however.
Seeking revenge for Ngai, Sung Chung arrives and burns the village. Tong Chop emerges from the flames and kills the evil Sung, realizing he cannot leave the killers' world, that others will be sent to find him.
The final sequence of "Assassin" is a tour-de-force of martial arts. The movie is full of classic kung fu battles and intense swordplay with many beheadings, torso splittings, severed limbs, poison drinks, beautiful young girls, giant dildoes, perverted eunuchs, betrayals and gruesome revenges. The director of this film keeps the action moving with fluid camera movement and crisp editing. If you are a fan of the "swordsman" genre in Hong Kong cinema, then this film is a must see.
Copyright 1995, 2001 John Crawford. All rights reserved.
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