Archive for the ‘martial arts’ Category

kung fu cinema

Sword of the Assassin (Aka Blood Letter) 2012


Director – Victor Vu
Runtime – 100 minutes

Shenanigans in the royal court, revenge, love, a web of betrayal, wire work, exquisite scenery and an epic soundtrack that just won’t let up. This could only mean one thing, well several but lets’ rule out the obvious and concentrate instead on a martial arts epic from Vietnam.

sword of the Assassin

In short, the synopsis is as follows; A lone survivor of a massacre trained in martial arts (in a monastery far up in the picturesque mountains) joins with a sister team for much the same cause, revenge, vengeance, call it what you will. The Queens, Thai Hau, “has gone apeshit” (to quote a line from a favorite movie of mine) and believes everyone is a rebel conspiring to usurp her from her ill-begotten throne and sends assassin teams wily-nily into the surrounding countryside to quell threats before they’ve even oftentimes begun.

(trailer courtesy of Epic Pictures Group)

Apparently, a transcription of sorts, a ‘blood letter’ written by one of the Kings favorite eunuchs, exists which would light a fire under the Royal court. Telling of concubine visits and other secrecies pertaining to the rightful heir (of the throne). Its possession holds great power for whoever grasp it happens to fall into. But it it’s existence merely a hoax to place confidence in those who wish to challenge the Queens seat of power?

here hold my sword

Do you mind awfully if I look at you longingly whilst I instruct you in the ways of holding a sword?

For want of dropping spoilers like breadcrumbs in a Brothers Grimm Fairy tale I’ll refrain from a scene by scene narrative. What must be said however is that S.o.t.A. (an abbreviation I must use to save wear and tear on my fragile digits) impresses right from its opening scene. A display of special effects features a monasteries ornate guardian of sorts a Chinese dog (whose title I can’t remember or bother to do the research upon at this time) break from its stand to rear up and bark its discontent at the resident monk.  The monk, obviously surprised, manages to bind a spell on the over-sized pooch only to find that the nearby lake has deposited a little something upon his doorstep. Fast forward twelve years, the ‘surprise’ has developed into a flexible lad able to project a power he cannot control from his fingertips and devastating blows from pretty much everywhere else. And the story unfolds (and I’ve started doing what I promised I would not) a past narrative, his origins, overflowing with beheadings, pointed fingers and a hierarchy the viewer can’t help but find instant disagreement with.

an unlikely herpo


The film flows form this moment on at an incredible rate offering dynamic energy, high kicking antics, weapon utilizing eye widening action and a myriad of other elements which combine to place Vietnam on the list of places one needs to add to the list of locations which make a martial arts epic worthy of placing before the eyes.

Only partway through and I’m quite literally blown away. Disregarding the fact that I picked this movie up at a price which is roughly the same as that of a candy bar (Snickers, anyone?) this still astonishes. The opening credits are a fantastic indication of what the movie offers, a POV shot of the picturesque mountains and location surrounding a secluded monastery all set against a grandiose score, an uplifting orchestration which brings to mind epic platform RPG affairs.

aka blood letter

The cast ensemble (not a Slayer track, but close)

The camera work and direction are nothing to scoff at either. Character movements and the storyline are fluid and the dialogue makes sense, even if like me you struggle with subtitles in instances, and the style has undeniably more in relation with a Shaw Brothers production than a modern day effort.

No expense is spared in regards to lavish production values in scenes depicting the Royal court in direct contrast to that of the sets used to depict the daily lives of normal, everyday, folk. And the interaction between the two is as one might expect. However, our hero, Nguyen Vu, soon finds a friend of similar ilk following his intervening in an assassination attempt. Much to his chagrin the two hit it off and are seen later sharing a tray of scones with butter and a stunning array of jams (that’s a lie, Sake and dumplings is closer to the truth).  Details emerge and apparently the two have more than a few things in common. Enter intrigue.

Hi I'm intrigue

HI. Someone asked for Intrigue! Well here it is!

Cut to the throne room and the introduction of another of the film’s villains. Complete with a face splitting scar and a smirk (one only wants to wipe clean with a baseball bat) he makes quite the imposing figure a statement made more concrete by the fact that he’s a wizard with his wrist blades (my Kung-Fu is better than yours!) Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his later appearances are rife with flowing crimson, lacerated torsos and spats of diabolical laughter (but thankfully not the petting or purring of a white lap cat).

There are many elements which make ‘Blood Letter ‘(I can use an aka also) appealing. Undeniable is the care used to produce its fight sequences (Thank the Dark Lord), the wire work is invisible, the gymnastic ability is eye opening and the epic values make the film more than praise worthy. But what should come as a surprise is that it also utilizes dream sequences to great effect. The director’s ability to be able to stitch the two ‘realities’ together with them still making a modicum of sense is stunning. Fantasy is also an element which is front and center. Mystical powers lurk in the background, coming to the fore only with training and emotion, never used to the point of making this a comic book affair. Often the films scenery looks foreign, far from that we’re used to, bringing a certain beauty in a land rife with danger, tragedy and oppression.

the immortal movie Vietnam

Alongside the score, a brilliant orchestration addition which only adds to the viewing experience, the films scenery, breathtaking doesn’t even come close, character portrayals, interactions and personalities and fast paced story ‘Sword of the Assassin’ is a film which propels its creative team and director to the realms of people to keep tabs on in the very near future. The Immortal (2018) is certainly a film I will traipse through relevant websites to find (but only if it comes complete with SUBS)

I’ve tried to keep this short, and to the point (thanks for your patience) fingers crossed I’ve enchanted you to the point where you’d wish to give this a peek, it certainly made an impression on me. What started as a foray into ‘relaxationville’, a distraction, transpired into a scribbling event which I honestly never thought would actually happen. Sometimes celluloid surprises you, and this was one of those times.