A right royal mess of a film, Assassin: City Under Siege is one of those Hong Kong epics that really doesn’t seem to know what it actually wants to be.

Part slapstick, part bonecrunching action and part over-the-top sentimentality, this flick is likely to annoy as much as it is to entertain.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is definitely room in action films for humour – after all, Jackie Chan has made a career (and a great one at that) out of it.

But when it is such straight-up buffoonery as you get in this – well, that is a harder pill to swallow.

Benny Chan’s film starts off promisingly with a prologue that shows Japanese genetic experiments at an underground lab in Malaysia during World War II.

Turns out they were trying to create the ultimate warriors, but the lab gets bombed and all is forgotten.

Cut to present day, and Sunny (Aaron Kwok) is part of a travelling circus, dazzling crowds with wire-work, knife-throwing and the like.

Sunny though is the camp idiot, reduced to the clown role as he is not trusted to do anything else.

The rest of the acts, headed by Zhang (Collin Chou) decide to go for a wander when in Malaysia on tour and, wouldn’t you know, they stumble across said lab.

An explosion releases some toxic gas and next thing you know, the circus stars have become mutants, with super-strength, vision and the like.

Sunny, unlike the rest though, is not so badly affected – he gets the abilities, but does not get the deforming mutations (think Peter Sarsgaard in Green Lantern).

Naturally Zhang and the rest of his gang decide this is the perfect opportunity to become criminal legends, and it is up to Sunny and journalist Angel (Shu Qi) to try and put a stop to their nefarious activity and save the day.

With a harder edge this film could probably have been interesting, but the truth is a lot of it seems pitched at the children’s market.

Some of the comedy is so basic (Kwok wearing a fatsuit for example) it is laughable, and the mood is jarring throughout as we switch from fat gags to broken limbs in the blink of an eye.

Kwok certainly has the on-screen ability, as anyone who has sat through the likes of the Bare Foot Kid or 2000AD will agree, but he is given an awful role here and can do very little with it.

The title is also pretty misleading, as it is only in the final 10-15 minutes that Zhang’s gang step their activites up, so to call it a city ‘under siege’ is a bit wide of the mark.

There is stuff to enjoy here – some of the fight sequences are impressive and well-choreographed, and Shu Qi is as gorgeous as ever.

But overall this is a film that is very difficult to get into, as I spent as much time rolling my eyes as I did sat on the edge of my seat.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.