Assassin? I guess.
While intended as a showcase for Wu Jing (he stars and co-directs), Legendary Assassin proves to be a slight martial arts feature that fails to properly deliver the action-packed goods.
Bo (Wu Jing) likes to eat. Bo is also an assassin. I present the facts in that order because the film spends more time on his eating habits than on his assassinations. In fact, he only assassinates one guy; a Triad leader named Ma (Kou Zhan Wen), early in the film and then devotes the rest of his time dealing with the consequences. Based on that killing, I wasn't even sure that Bo was an assassin. He could have just been a ticked off guy out for revenge (as suggested by a pre-assassination pit stop in a graveyard). Although Legendary Ticked Off Guy Out For Revenge doesn't sound as good. I had it right the first time. Bo is an assassin. An assassin who is Legen...wait for it...
...dary. After a stealth attack ends with Ma's decapitated head stowed away in Bo's bag, a quick getaway turns problematic. A typhoon hits the region forcing Bo to stay on the island where he performed the killing. With nothing better to do, he wanders around until he meets cute lady cop Holly (Celina Jade). After saving her butt a few times in quick succession, he is welcomed into her police department where the entire crew acts like one big cranky family. While he is busy annoying them (by eating all their food) and being annoyed by them (one of the cops just doesn't trust him), the Triad regroups. Ma's wife, Miho (Aoyama Noriko) sends a fresh batch of goons to retrieve the missing head and to kill the person who stole it in the first place. The rest of the film consists of Bo's attempts to evade Miho's men and the increasingly suspicious cops while outlasting the typhoon that has him trapped.
I think it's a fairly troubling sign when an action film's most entertaining and coherent set-piece has absolutely nothing to do with the central storyline. This is definitely true of Legendary Assassin. Soon after Bo meets Holly, they get into a tussle with 3 robbers in a noodle shop. The fight is energetic, well-paced and shows Bo and Holly both getting in on the action. There is way too much wire work for my liking but that is true of the entire film. At least the noodle shop fight clearly displays Wu Jing's impressive physicality. This can't be said of the climactic battle. The final showdown features Bo going up against a small army of Miho's foot soldiers. I prepared myself for a smackdown of epic, nay, legendary proportions and was promptly disappointed. All the fighters wear black...at night...in the rain. At least Bo has the decency to show up in white sneakers to set him apart a little. In any case the finale is choppy, tediously choreographed and goes for emotional appeal rather than an adrenaline rush.
Given his excellent past performances in films like Kill Zone
and Fatal Contact, I felt as though Wu Jing was curiously restrained in this movie. His typically impressive martial arts skills were underutilized when they weren't being insulted outright (that damn wire work). With that said, his fleeting moments of asskickery are still the highlight of the film. The dramatic moments are leaden and ponderous while the whole episode with Bo making himself at home in Holly's police station feels like a silly detour. The performances are a mixed bag. Of the entire cast, Celina Jade shines the brightest in her film debut. Aoyama Noriko is a close second although she isn't given much to do. Sammy Leung is supremely annoying as the suspicious cop. With all that I've said about Wu Jing's physical prowess, his performance leaves much to be desired when he isn't throwing out punches. He shoots for stoic and mysterious but ends up bland and expressionless.
Wu Jing and his co-director Li Chung Chi have assembled a film that doesn't work very hard to keep your pulse elevated. The action sequences are largely unimpressive except for that blazing noodle shop bit. Wu Jing really needs to find a director capable of fully utilizing his talents. He needs someone who really understands him and what he has to offer. He should consider directing himse...oh, right....never mind.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was clear and free of any obvious visual defects. It accurately conveyed the dull and gray color palette of Bo's environment in light of the impending typhoon. I did find the presentation to be a bit flat but that could have been intentional. This isn't a cheery film after all.
The audio was presented in Cantonese and English 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes. I chose to view the film with the Cantonese track and found the mix to be more than adequate. The rear surrounds definitely came alive when the fists and feet started flying. The climax benefited slightly from the rain effects coming through in the midst of the action. English and Spanish subtitles were available.
First up we have a piece on The Making of Legendary Assassin (6:11). This featurette gives us interviews with the directors and principal cast members. They discuss the finer points of fighting while completely soaked and how they were striving for realism with all their action beats. This is laughable for obvious reasons (hint: wire work) but I appreciate their commitment. This is followed by a shorter featurette called Assassin Profiles: Inside the characters of Legendary Assassin (3:13). As the name suggests, this is a fluffy piece where the actors just describe their characters. Nothing terribly surprising comes out of this piece but it is a nice addition. We close things out with a Legendary Assassin Trailer (1:20) and 4 other trailers Also from Lionsgate.
There is no denying that Wu Jing is a skilled martial artist. Unfortunately Legendary Assassin is an imperfect showcase for his skills. Only one fight lands with any impact while the climax is a bit of a mess. Action fans who are familiar with his filmography will surely want to check out the film but they should temper their expectations. Rent It.