Assassin: City Under Siege begins in 1940’s Malaysia at a Japanese prisoner of war camp where POWs are being herded into an underground chamber to see how they fare against another prisoner who’s been dosed with a chemical nerve gas to make him stronger and more aggressive. As you’ve already guessed, they don’t last long, but then neither does the rest of the camp as the allies arrive to liberate it, sealing off the camp into the mountain it’s located in, that is until the present day.
Cut to a travelling circus and our rather accident-prone clowning hero who wants to be ‘King of the Flying daggers’, but is actually more ‘king of cleaning up after everyone else’ than a knife-wielding maestro. Tagging along with some of the others from the circus as they go treasure hunting in the local mountain one night, he, and they, are exposed to some of the body altering Japanese chemicals from the war years. Probably because he was furthest away at the time of exposure, Sunny, our hero, played by Aaron Kwok, isn’t so badly affected and generally maintains a normal metabolism, unless his life is in danger, whereas the others, (who weren’t pleasant people to start with), are turned into humanoid mini Hulk-like monsters, with a shorter life span.
To cut a long story short they all end up in Hong Kong, hence the ‘City’ of the title, battling it out in a hyper kinetic manner due to their enhanced strength and speed. Sunny is fighting to save Angel (Qi Shu), a TV reporter he falls in love with, and his ex-colleagues are fighting for profit and for pleasure, although they also want Sunny as he might hold the key to prolonging their life-spans, by using his blood as an antidote.
Assassin is clearly trying to appeal to several audiences all at once. It has the silly sense of fun that many of Jackie Chan’s films have, although Kwok doesn’t have the same level of charisma as Chan and most of the humour just doesn’t work, or maybe that’s just me! It’s also obviously trying to appeal to fans of comic book movies such as X-Men, with it’s mutant hero and adversaries, although I suspect the budget for City was probably cheaper than the Hollywood film’s catering budget. It’s also trying hard to appeal to martial arts fans with some fairly average fights thrown in for good measure between the mutants; most being ruined by too much wire work. There’s also some similarity to Superman II, although that’s pretty slight, and a definite nod to Leon, with a bad mutant channelling some of Gary Oldman’s theatrical moves.
Strangely enough, for a film that’s possibly 15 minutes too long anyway, there is surprisingly little characterisation for any of the bad guys, although Sunny and Angel’s characters are more favourably fleshed out. There are also a couple of cop (?) characters in the film who also seem to have mutant properties, although no explanation is properly given, they just seem to have some rather enhanced physical abilities and know about mutant physiology, which aids the plot in minor ways.
As with many Asian films, the love story elements are excruciatingly ‘cheesy’ in nature and some of the humour is, perhaps, too Eastern for Western plebs like me to really appreciate, hence at times some of the early scenes were pretty tiresome.
On the good side the film is generally well shot, there are some decent stunt/action sequences and the sound design is very good. Although it’s pretty derivative it does have a few original ideas and I particularly liked how Sunny discovers his own powers, especially during the mosquito scene. Some of the effects shots are pretty well handled too, even the waterlogged Sunny scenes.
All in all Assassin: City Under Siege is an ok Hong Kong comic book styled action film, which is worth a look if you’re desperate for your next X-Men or Heroes fix and can’t wait for the next instalment of those franchises to arrive.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Metrodome have just released Assassin: City Under Siege on DVD, so keep a look out for it on the shelves of your local HMV, supermarket or online. There were no extras on the disc I was sent, but there might be some on the retail version.