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The Assassin's Blade(2008)
Life is fleeting as the butterfly, beautiful yet transient. As legends has it, a pair of butterfly lovers reappears once more after having gone through three lifetimes of repeated pain and tears. This time, they find each other in the world of martial arts. Liang is highly skilled in martial arts and resides in the mountains. When his master tasks him to take care of Zhu, a girl from a wealthy family who disguises as guy to herself from revenge, it sparks off the painful journey that they must go through once again. Zhuâ's father, in order to pay the kindness shown to him, has betrothed her to a General Ma, although Zhu is in love with Liang. Love can fester into hate in some while in the selected few, it can lead to undying love that survives one lifetime after another.
For more about The Assassin's Blade and the The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray release, see the The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 5, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Charlene Choi
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The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray Review
Romeo and Mulan-iet.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 5, 2013
The Assassin's Blade is evidently based on an ancient Chinese folktale known as The Butterfly Lovers (the original Westernized title of the film itself), but anyone with even a passing familiarity with either Romeo and Juliet or Disney's Mulan will certainly recognize a number of elements that are shared between these disparate offerings. While the original legend of The Butterfly Lovers actually deals with lovers experiencing a number of tragic reincarnations before finally achieving something approaching happily ever after (shades of yet another film, What Dreams May Come), the particular incarnation that the film deals with has an ending that is more than a bit reminiscent of the tragic conclusion of Shakespeare's most famous romantic tragedy, while the basic set up of the film, which posits a young girl posing as a male in order to receive martial arts training, will certainly remind many of Mulan (which itself was based on historical events as well as folklore). Perhaps at least a little surprisingly, The Assassin's Blade is frequently played for laughs even as it moves inexorably to its quasi-tragic ending (when we're told via narration that an afterlife bestows good things on all who wait, it's hard to get too worked up about things). The comedy works in dribs and drabs here, as do the action elements, but the dreamlike ambience of the film helps it coast along on just enough momentum to get by, though my hunch is that wuxia fans will want more action and romance aficionados will probably want more of the lovey dovey stuff.
Rather interestingly, there are some who know that Yanzhi (Charlene Choi) is a woman masquerading as a man from the get go in The Assassin's Blade, including her liaison at the martial arts academy her family sends her to. But her main mentor, Liang (Wu Chun), is in the dark, calling the young woman Little Brother and helping to instruct "him" in the martial arts ways of the Soul Ease Clan. Both Yanzhi and Liang have had lifelong dreams where they can't quite see their "true love", but both feel a strange sense of familiarity from the first moment they meet. Perhaps unexpectedly, Liang ultimately finds out that Yanzhi is in fact female relatively early in the film, which then catapults the proceedings into the more turgid middle section, when their supposedly predestined love is repeatedly thwarted.
This section of the film is fraught with political intrigue as well as more than its fair share of melodrama. Yanzhi's childhood friend Ma (Hu Ge) has gotten mixed up in some internecine warfare between rival forces, and has become something of a paid assassin to increase his chances of moving ahead. He also has plans to marry Yanzhi, something her family accedes to despite Yanzhi's obvious sadness that she's being forced into an arranged marriage. Yanzhi attempts to put up a bit of a fight, but Ma is relentless, jailing her and threatening her. When Liang makes plans to rescue her, Ma is one step ahead, and ultimately Yanzhi, is true unrequited love fashion forsakes her true love and agrees to marry Ma, thinking it will ultimately keep Liang and her family safe. Meanwhile, her old liaison at the Soul Ease Clan has given Yanzhi a potent drug that will make her appear to be dead. Can you guess how the rest of the story plays out?
The biggest problem with The Assassin's Blade is that it doesn't seem to know what exactly it wants to be, something that evidently has continued straight through the film's marketers, given the fact that we've seen the title morph from The Butterfly Lovers to its current incarnation (no pun intended, considering one of the film's central theses). Each individual element in The Assassin's Blade is okay—frankly sometimes not much more than okay—but the film is knit together so loosely that it only fitfully engages. Yanzhi simply doesn't make even a passably believable male (probably a backhanded compliment to the lovely Choi), the martial arts sequences are few and far between, and the romantic entanglements never work up much more than doleful gazes and a slight feeling of angst.
What's left is a fitfully entertaining piece that has some well staged set pieces as well as one exceptionally beautiful piece of CGI. At a point fairly far into The Assassin's Blade, Liang spirits Yanzhi away to a secret hideaway, which turns out to be an incredibly gorgeous glade full of butterflies. This one scene is almost worth the price of admission and recalls some of the painterly effects that were so memorable in What Dreams May Come. It's a frankly breathtaking little sequence in what has otherwise been a passable but hardly exciting retelling of a folktale mixed with wuxia elements. Sometimes choosing one from Column A and one from Column B leaves you with an average of about a C minus.
The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Assassin's Blade is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Having never seen this film in its theatrical exhibition, I can't really comment with any precision as to whether this Blu-ray recreates its cinematic appearance, but I can say there are some kind of strange anomalies going on here. While it's obvious the film has been very aggressively color graded at the DI stage, often to the ever popular blue side of things, there's a really bizarre purplish haze covering many sequences here, something that might be pushed contrast but really doesn't look exactly like that. If you can overlook that tendency, the rest of this high definition presentation is quite pleasing, if a little soft looking most of the time. Fine object detail pops quite well in the film's many close-ups, and some of the outdoor shots offer great depth of field (though one assumes some of that was achieved through CGI).
The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Assassin's Blade's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in the original Cantonese has bursts of fantastic surround activity but then tends to retreat (or advance as the case may be) to the front channels for most of the dialogue sequences. Since this isn't a no holds barred wuxia-fest, those who want their soundtracks filled with nonstop immersion and LFE are most likely going to be at least minimally disappointed with the rather restrained affair on tap here, but fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide, all things considered.
The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Assassin's Blade would have done better to have focused either on the love story or the martial arts angle rather than trying this ill fitting hodgepodge of ideas. The stars are charismatic, but the comedy isn't very funny, the action is too sporadic, and the love story never exciting enough to warrant much interest. The film is often quite lovely to look at, but this is a folktale that perhaps suffers from having been lost in translation. Still, those who don't mind an uneasy combination of romance and martial arts may want to check this out for its visual flair if for no other reason.
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The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: The Assassin's Blade - May 6, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Well Go USA are offering three members a chance to win a copy of The Assassin's Blade. This 2008 Chinese film combines elements from Chinese folklore in a story reminiscent of Shakespeare's immortal Romeo and Juliet within a wuxia settin ...
• The Assassin's Blade Blu-ray - March 18, 2013
Texas-based distributors Well Go USA have officially announced that they will release on Blu-ray director Jingle Ma's The Assassin's Blade a.k.a Butterfly Lovers (2008), starring Charlene Choi, Chun Wu, Ge Hu, Siu-Wong Fan, and Shaun Tam. The release will be available ...
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