Well… it’s finally here. The Region 2 UK DVD release for the 2013 Vietnamese swordplay adventure “Mỹ Nhân Kế 3D” aka “The Lady Assassin”that I’ve been waiting for anxiously for like what seems forever!! I know this one was supposed to be another “shared review” with Stephen from Gweilo Ramblings but seeing as he’s already covered this one over at the Asian cinema blog Easternkicks.com, I can’t see making him repeat himself all over again so instead I thought I’d go ahead and do one of my own and not bug him again quite so soon. (Pssst! No worries Stephen… we’ll get the chance next month if you like when the Vietnamese horror goodie “House in the Alley” comes out on Region 1 DVD… 😉
Our synopsis for this one goes along these lines: “In the remote Duong Son Tavern, the beautiful and mysterious landlady Kieu Thi along with the help of her three gorgeous hostesses lures weary travelers, bandits and officials into her establishment for what they promise will be an unforgettable time. But rather than selling their bodies, the women rob and murder their guests, hording a growing pile of gold for a rainy day. Their latest haul reveals a coffin which conceals a beautiful young noblewoman – the bound and desperate Linh Lan. She begs them to spare her life and train her in their martial art style, to become an assassin, so she can kill evil general Quan Du, who she claims murdered her family. Kieu Thi agrees, and takes Linh Lan under her wing, but it soon transpires that not everyone at Duong Son Tavern is who they originally claimed to be.”
Pretty Vietnamese girls with deadly Kung Fu skills… plenty of slimy evil bastards that truly need killing… some sweet love and romance for spice… (maybe a little subtle lesbian subtext too if I’ve learned anything about exploitation film-making… )…and… wait for it…. some anachronistic beach volleyball! Yep… seems a certain wannabe Wuxia Princess is gonna have all the bases covered with this one and then some… 😉
So, by the time this DVD finally arrived, I’d been driven nearly crazy with anticipation for it…. If there was one thing about those old Shaw Brothers Kung Fu classics that I watched as an eager and impressionable little girl, it was the very clear idea that you could grow up to be a very pretty… very sexy… and very feminine girl and still manage to kick serious butt… just like the big boys!! As a result.. when this crazy lil girl wasn’t trying to be her favorite heroine “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle”, I was jumping about swooshing an old curtain rod around and fantasizing about a life of perilous Martial Arts adventures as “Snow Leopard Swordmistress Miyuki”…. (Yes, yes… “Snow Leopard”… because darn it… they are just soooo amazingly pretty kitties compared to tigers or lions…at least that was wee Miyuki’s opinion after seeing them once on a National Geographic TV special… or was it Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? 😉 )
Well… I’m a grown woman now (although at times Carolyn and a few others might dispute that… 🙂 ), but those old childhood fantasies still have their power, and having rediscovered the Wuxia film in college, I find that I still enjoy those sorts of stories just as much now as waaaay back in my youth. From a look at the Trailer for this one… I’d say that’s the case for a lot of other people too. I’m thinking this film was made just for those of us who still think “Come Drink With Me” might possibly be the greatest swordplay film ever made…
However… in fairness… it must be said that this one is a lot more about our bevy of gorgeous Vietnamese ladies than the kung-fu. Sort of the way “Charlie’s Angels” isn’t quite the police show that “Cops” is…. 😉 (Not that my sweetie was complaining, mind you… for once she actually seemed to perk up during one of our Kung Fu flavored Movie Nites. But then… **ahem**… she does have a certain weakness for sexy Asian ladies. 😉 )
And yes… even your Favorite Catgirl herself has to admit, the ladies were pretty darn sexy… but their kung-fu skills were definitely not their greatest assets on display throughout this one. Sigh… At least the Vietnamese stunt team behind it all knows their stuff. Thanks to them, the girls manage a passable display of wire-fu antics that… accidentally or on purpose… was a fairly credible imitation of some of the early Shaw actresses I remember from back in the day. It gives this one that “vintage feel” and makes for a nice homage to those old films… and given the limitations of budget and the fact that this film is a Vietnamese movie rather than a big budget Chinese one, makes for more than acceptable results overall.
So what about our story? A simple one that certainly sounds like one of those old movies too. Madam Kieu Thi (played by Vietnamese fashion model Thanh Hang) runs a tea-house brothel waaaay out in the boondocks where she and her bevy of beautiful prostitute/ waitresses waylay stupid male travelers with their own version of the old “honey trap”. She’s a ruthless and highly skilled Martial Artist… although no mention is made in our story of exactly how she acquired her lethal skills… and has collected her girls and taught them the skills of the assassin. The girls follow her order to the letter… all hoping that eventually they’ll amass enough gold to split up and go their separate ways and live better lives than the miserable ones that landed them here.
After one such ambush of a group of wanderers nets them a coffin, they discover pretty young kidnapped noblewoman Linh Lan (played by actress and model Tang Thanh Ha) trussed up inside, last survivor of the massacre of her family. Rather than kill her outright, she’s given the choice of undergoing the rigorous training to join their gang and earn the skills she’ll need to hunt down wicked General Quan Du (played by Thai-Hoa Le), the man responsible for her family tragedy.
Ahhhh… so it’s that kind of story, right? Yep. Revenge melodrama with the prerequisite “training montage” and everything. Here’s where the beach volleyball comes in… 😉 I mean… if you are going to have a bunch of frisky ladies learning to kill people they might as well do it while playing volleyball, right? And if you are going to play volleyball, it might as well be at the beach, right? And… if you’ve gotten all sweaty playing beach volleyball…. errr… I mean practicing kung-fu… then you’ve got to cool down in a “girl’s only” hot tub when you are done, right? You’d be crazy not to…. Heck… it worked for the “Dead Or Alive” girls, and from watching this one, I’d say it seems somebody in Vietnam paid oodles of attention to that fine film, Hehehehe!!
Mind you… all this goofy plot anachronism does allow Linh Lan to learn to use our ladies’ signature weapon. A big wiffleball on a rope… color coordinated to each girl’s costume… to it’s best potential as a weapon of death. Flying guillotine it ain’t, but it’s a fun weapon none the less and suits the “fluffy and girly” tone to a tee. Sort of like “Barbie Meets Master Killer”.
Now… as with all such melodrama, there’s a few “twist” elements to the plot that rear their ugly heads. Can’t tell you all about them without spoiling it all, but let’s just say that a few relationships get strained by the end of this one and things wont end well for… well… most everybody by the time the dust settles.
There are a few odd moments here and there where the plot seems forced… where things from before the story starts don’t seem to get introduced or explained adequately and the introduction of our villain only in the final climax without any real lead-in just seems awkward and wrong, but having seen few Vietnamese films, I’m not really sure if this is typical of their narrative style and pacing so I’m willing to let these minor objections slide.
Now… you might be getting the sense that I didn’t like this one. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is a downright silly film filled with non-martial artists and loads of risqué titillatingly hinted lesbian moments… especially between Madam Kieu Thi and our heroine Linh Lan. However, none of it is tasteless or overdone, and for me at least, brought back memories of the 1972 Shaw film “Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan”. Now there’s a film about killer courtesans….. 😉 But… all in all… that’s exactly what “Mỹ Nhân Kế 3D” gets right. It pays homage to those old movies without making them seem silly or stupid and lets you know the film makers enjoyed watching them too… just like you did.
Given that, I can actually recommend this one rather wholeheartedly and give it 4 “Meows” out of 5 not for being the best Martial Art film ever made today, but for being a pretty good imitation of the way they used to do them in the primitive golden era of the kung-fu film. The recent Terracotta Films Region 2 release is an excellent way to watch it too, keeping the widescreen presentation intact, original Vietnamese audio, and adding terrific English language subtitles for those of us not born in southeast Asia but who sometimes wish we were. 🙂
Well… that seems to wrap things up this time out, and as always before we go, I leave you with a look at the Trailer! Enjoy!