Pretty much any way you slice it, movies are marketed with a specific audience in mind. A movie starring Dwayne Johnson will likely be aimed at a younger male audience, while a Meryl Streep film may find a home with a more mature, female crowd. It makes sense that you’d want to get the attention of your key demographic to maximize ticket sales, but sometimes studios stretch the truth. They may have you believe a picture is an action packed shoot-em-up, when it’s in fact a cerebral thriller. While it can be an attempt to “throw some ketchup” on something bland, this isn’t always the case. Ever finish a decent movie that failed at the box-office and think ,”This would’ve done better if they’d sold it as a [whatever it really was]? Such is the case with “The Assassin’s Blade”, available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Well Go USA. While the trailer-cutters get it wrong, Director Jingle Ma (“Hero”, “The House of Flying Daggers”) gets it right.
Released in Hong Kong back in 2008, the film starts out a little like “Mulan”. Yanzhi (Charlene Choi) is sent by her family to learn martial arts with the powerful Soul Ease Clan. However, only men are allowed to train. With the help of a family friend who happens to be a Soul Ease teacher, she puts on some boy clothes and manages to convince the group that she’s a male. While there, she gets close to one particular trainer, “Big Brother” Shan (Wu Chun) and a crush develops. In time, Big Brother learns her secret and the two soul mates plan to be with each other forever. That is until Ma (Hu Ge), a childhood friend of Yanzhi with money and power, steps in to take the girl for himself. Now Yanzhi must marry Ma, lest he kill her parents… unless Big Brother can stop him first.
Titled “The Butterfly Lovers” in the East, what is pushed as a high-octane Kung Fu movie, in fact plays out more like a romantic comedy with “Romeo and Juliet” overtones. The first half is cartoony and fun. Characters feel like they’ve jumped out of a comic strip, to some extent. Sometimes the humor is a tad juvenile, especially when the scatterbrained Teacher Herbal Head (Harlem Yu) – Snoop Lion’s old math tutor – is on the screen, though it’s not much different from what you may find in an anime.
The second half, however takes a dramatic turn. As the characters fall deeper in love and are faced with being torn apart, humor takes a backseat. It’s as if the film jumps from junior high to grad school in one act. Things get significantly more violent and tragic, with the film ending on a far different note than when it began. That said, I get the feeling that Eastern cultures may hold the ending in a different regard than us Westerners, whom – if I can speak for one half of the world, may find it bittersweet at best. At worst, it’s downright depressing.
But that doesn’t change the quality of the film. Director Jingle Ma is clearly skilled at his craft. The actors all give solid performances and the action scenes are beautiful and well choreographed. My only gripe would be a few of the CG shots. Whenever there are butterflies on the screen, they look almost drawn in – like the way Pete’s Dragon was drawn in, only with a computer. It almost works though, as many of the exteriors are enhanced in a way that at times had me thinking of “What Dreams May Come”. Of course, this is me being ultra-picky as “The Assassin’s Blade” is presented much like a fairy tale and being TOO realistic would dull the movie’s fanciful qualities.
The Blu-Ray presentation is beautiful, if artificially enhanced. The picture can be soft at times, but the gorgeous lighting and vivid colors are a delight to see in High Def. The 5.1 DTS HD-MA has a few shining moments where you get that true surround feel – but again, this isn’t the non-stop action fest the trailer would have you think it is, so don’t expect Terminator 2 coming out of your speakers. Extras are pretty sparse, only including the theatrical trailer and a handful of previews for other films.
“The Assassin’s Blade” scores a 2.5 out of 4 angels. With a great story punctuated by pretty looking fight scenes, this is a great martial arts film for couples and fans of fantasy/romance. If hardcore, constant asskicking is what you’re after, you won’t find it here.
But you just might find it in your head-movie after watching the trailer below: