Martial arts cinema never fails to surprise. Take, for instance, the visually stunning, high-kicking Vietnamese period adventure The Lady Assassin (2013). In this garish, cartoon-esque adventure – starring Kim Dzung, Tang Thanh Ha, Thanh Hang, Thai-Hoa Le, Diem My and Ngoc Quyen – director Quang Dung Nguyen and writer Ngo Quan Dung have fashioned a celluloid romp which, though preposterous in its premise, is as entertaining and aesthetically impressive as many films currently being produced in the West. Beside a beautiful beach on a lonely stretch of coastline live four women whose job is to entice the corrupt local hierarchy to stay at their appealing hostelry.
Once there, the deadly ladies lighten the men of their purses as well as their lives. One day though they discover, to their cost, that the ‘treasure’ being carried by their latest victims may be more trouble than its worth. Many films which fall into the grouping of martial arts adventures focus on two aspects prominently – a predominance of alluringly clad women, and a fixation with violent, if cartoonish, action sequences. Factors which both feature heavily in The Lady Assassin. That the storyline (what there is of it) is simplistic in the extreme, is of little significance in a film aiming to titillate. Here, a bevy of beautiful maidens make a living by luring corrupt local officials and unscrupulous business racketeers towards their untimely demises.
Like a bevy of harem of deadly Robin Hoods, the viewer never feels anything less than on their side even though, unlike the legendary Lord Locksley, these girls steal for personal gain, dispatching their victims in an exuberant display of high octane and increasingly impossible deadly gyrations. Which is pretty much all there is to say. It feels like the introduction of a young stranger (Thanh Ha) – who supposedly provides the story with its main plot – is really only in order to give the proceedings a degree of legitimacy. The film’s main drawn is, more likely, the chance to ogle the girls in an array of risqué (often incongruous) costumes and a series of bizarre pastimes – with heavy lesbian overtones – including several bouts of all girl beach volleyball. Though The Lady Assassin may not be the deepest world cinema offering you’ll see this year, it may well be one of the more stylish.