The Assassin

The Assassin (1993)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Zhang Fengyi, Max Mok, Rosamund Kwan
Extras: Trailers

With ’The Assassin, ’ Tai Seng Video Marketing is sending another Hong-Kong sword-fighting film into the race as a domestic release. The film tells the story of a young man whose forbidden love gets him in jail. There he is forced to fight other inmates to the death and as the sole survivor of the massacre is picked as an ’assassin,’ henchman of an evil warlord. He is turned into a killing machine and kills without mercy or second thoughts until one day he faces his forbidden love once again. She makes him realize that being an assassin is not his vocation and he wants to leave his past behind. But the warlord is now dead-set on killing the assassin he has trained!

Tai Seng presents ’The Assassin’ in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is not enhanced for 16×9 TV sets. The transfer is a mixed bag that, while serving its purpose, shows a good number of scratches, speckles and other blemishes and also has a number of registration errors causing the image to waver occasionally. Unfortunately the presentation is also quite grainy and unfortunately compression artifacts are abound washing out many of the details of the original image. Colors are vibrant but due to the strong compression of the material gradients and falloffs sometimes look unnatural and show signs of banding. Given the fact that ’The Assassin’ is such a visually sumptuous film, these deficiencies sadly make it a less attractive presentation than it could – or should – have been. Obviously the master used for this DVD is the best that was available and actually had to be converted from a PAL master – hence the soft appearance of the image. While a bit disappointing, this is unquestionably the best home video transfer of the film to date.

The DVD contains Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and English, as well as English subtitles, which are flawless and without errors. The tracks are adequate and without defects or hiss. They are generally clear, although occasionally distortion is evident in some of the louder scenes, as a result of the original elements, not the DVD encoding.

The DVD also features an audio commentary track by Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers, Martial Artist Bobby Samuels and Tai Seng’s own Frank Djeng, which is as expected insightful and informative, offering a lot of information that is not easy to come by otherwise. The track sounds a bit muffled, especially on Meyers’ part, but other than that is a great addition to the release. The three discuss the film, the background of the actors and filmmakers as well as general history of Martial Arts movies. The track is always engaging and full of exciting tidbits.

Unfortunately ’The Assassin’ is very slow and clearly suffers from too much dialogue, which slows down the action considerably, giving the film a lengthy feel despite its short 81-minute running length. The focus of the movie is clearly on the visual presentation and it is fully convincing in that department with its beautiful shots, the atmospheric settings and unusual camera movements and image composition – elements director Siu Hung Cheung is renown for.