Film Review: Violent, Amusing “Night of the Assassin”

night of the assassin 2023 movie poster one sheetThere’s a certain vibe that seems to be the foundation of most all Asian martial arts movies. They’re set in an unspecified historic era where there are no guns and no electricity and it’s generally a sullen martial arts hero stepping up to protect an innocent peasant who is being harassed by corrupt government officials or feudal overlords. These eras were also apparently rife with assassins for hire, fierce ninja killers who could penetrate the toughest defenses and dramatically chop off a villain’s head or run a sword across his neck as the coup de grâce. They’re entertaining and empowering, but they often lack humor, treating their theme as deadly serious.

The Korean film The Assassin (being re-released by Well Go Entertainment as Night of the Assassin) takes these tropes and offers a story that is actually amusing, interspersing over-the-top violence with amusing interchange between the quirky characters. It revolves around deadly assassin Lee Nan (Shin Hyeon-jun), a sullen, long-haired killer who finds out that he has a heart problem. “No fighting! No sex with women!” his doctor warns him. There is, however, a magical herb called mahwangcho that can cure our hero, but no one knows what it looks like. All in all, not very useful information from the doctor.

When every other assassin in this Joseon era of Korean history decides that Nan is easy money now that he’s become infirm, he decides to hide out in the country, eventually meeting up with single mom and restaurant owner (played by Kim Min-kyung), and her son (played by Lee Ro-woon). Most of the comedy is in the interaction between Hyeon-jun and Min-Kyung, as she doesn’t realize he’s a retired assassin, instead mistaking him for a clumsy and overly serious beggar. The town is run by corrupt officials in league with a local gang, and when the gang leader’s brother breaks out of prison and shows up at the restaurant with his sadistic sidekick, it’s no surprise that Hyeon-jun leaps into action after they threaten to kill the boy.

night of the assassin 2023 publicity still

Then all sorts of mayhem ensue, with our sullen hero taking on dozens of gang members (none of whom can fight very well!) along with a few fellow assassins who recognize him for the killer he is. There’s a surprising death along the way, some redemption, and a happy ending (well, sort of happy), but as with most films in this genre, it’s the fight scenes that are the payoff for watching. Night of the Assassin pays off with modern wuxia styles, though a bit less wirework than we’d expect from a Chinese film with a similar theme. If you’re into this genre, then Night of the Assassin, released in the United States by Well Go Entertainment, is worth tracking down and watching.


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