Vietnamese films aren't exactly easy to come by on our shores, especially martial arts movies filmed in 3D. The Lady Assassin is a feisty action adventure that makes the most of cutting edge technology, stunning locations and beautiful girls. Make no mistake about it, the female cast members of The Lady Assassin are absolutely stunning. So much so, it's easy to forgive the films textbook plotting and overambitious set pieces.
Deadly women with dark secrets, evil outlaws, corrupt officials and group bathing sessions are the order of the day here. Nothing too gratuitous, that might upset the Vietnamese sensors, but there's more than enough titillation for those of us growing tired of wire-assisted wonderment. The Lady Assassin is one of the biggest box office hits in Vietnamese history, and as long as you keep your expectations down to a minimum, there's plenty for western audiences to get their grips on too.
Set in and around a traveller's tavern, The Lady Assassin tells the tale of a beautiful seductress and her team of lethal waitresses, who routinely slaughter the corrupt (and not so corrupt) government officials and businessmen who come their way. Before honing their skills in a game of volleyball and washing each other down in a pool overlooking the sea. I may have mentioned that part already.
When an innocent young woman - whose family were killed by an evil general - arrives at the tavern, they train her to become a skilled assassin so that she can take bloody revenge. And maybe join them for some post-match bathing. Things aren't quite what they seem of course, and The Lady Assassin benefits from a blood-soaked, ultimately tragic conclusion. The first hour provides - with its relentless juggling of balls and the occasional jaunty sing-along - plenty of lightweight escapism, but it doesn't really hint at what's to come in the sombre finale. Though to be fair, a second musical number lightens the mood somewhat.
Tang Thanh Ha, Ngoc Quyen, Kim Dung and Diem My provide plenty of eye candy, and the action sequences work a whole lot better than they have any right to. Don't get me wrong, the choreography is nothing special, and unsurprisingly, it compares unfavourably to the high standard set by Hong Kong cinema, but the girls deserve praise for their commitment to the cause. They're not going to trouble the likes of Michelle Yeoh anytime soon, but what The Lady Assassin lacks in finesse it makes up for in colour and creativity. And bathing sequences. Obviously.
Even ignoring the stunning beauty of our alluring leads, The Lady Assassin is a sumptuous proposition for fans of Asian cinema. There aren't many locations in the film - the trailer certainly hints at more scope - but the dreamy locations are almost as striking as the girls on top. You'll struggle to find a better looking action picture this year, that's for sure. The exotic locations are used to great effect, giving The Lady Assassin a unique and deeply rewarding visual elegance.
Besides the obvious attraction of the leading ladies, performances are relatively strong. It's an energetic affair, with mild humour and playfulness running through its veins. At least until things get serious. The characters bounce off each other really well, injected with enough warmth and personality to prevent them from becoming one-dimensional. The Lady Assassin could never be accused of being dull either, even if the lack of direction does start to grate after a while. Fortunately, things pick up in the final act, and the downbeat ending offers a change of pace that's both surprising and welcome.
The Lady Assassin will never be considered a genre classic - the action choreography rarely elevates above ordinary and the storyline is too slight - but there's plenty to pilfer from this lightweight endeavour. Namely, stunning locations, beautiful locals and PG rated titillation and tease. Oh, and did I mention the bathing yet? Worth a look.