Blu-Ray Spotlight: Night of the Assassin
There’s a certain appeal to films centering around wandering swordsmen. Many have been depicted in martial arts media as films, books, and television series, mainly in a serialized treatment that picks up our hero and drops them in the middle of deadly situations. Night of the Assassin (or just The Assassin) tries to take our wandering swordsman archetype and inject a larger focus on the wandering aspect.
It’s successful in slowing down the action-oriented side of things, substituting it with less lethal yet equally scary things like holding a regular job in the service industry. But in doing so it sacrifices most of what brings us to stories like these. The audience may want for our assassin to risk his life to save others, no matter how large or small that community is. Assassin, however, lends itself to a more comedic approach so if you’re not ready for it this could be quite the disappointment. The results are mixed; the clashing tones of action and slower, light-hearted country living feel so squarely separated from each other that they feel disagreeable at times. Budget wise this feels like a production made for television, and had Netflix or another larger streamer optioned this story this could easily be a series of some sort.
The movie follows Lee Nan (played by Shin-Hyun-joon) as the titular assassin as he completes another job. He visits a doctor who tells him that he has developed a condition that will kill him if he continues to practice martial arts or any strenuous activity. So he follows the doctor’s advice, and prepares to adjust to a life no longer reliant on the sword. But an outfit comprised of warriors seeking revenge for Lee Nan’s killings finds out his secret, setting out to find and kill him at last. Well Go USA provides their hospitality for this release, both on their Hi-Yah! streaming service and now on physical media.
Assassin is presented in its original flat aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The video is AVC encoded, as usual with Well Go USA’s releases, and has a surprising amount of depth to its visuals. Details come through quite nicely in both closeups and wide shots, and night scenes provide a pleasing sense of deep blacks and other darker colors. There are some instances of interior sets where lighting washes out an actors face but in the grand scheme of things it’s forgettable in the midst of how nice the rest of the film looks.
There are the usual choices of a 5.1 DTS-HD surround and a linear PCM stereo track for the film, here both in the original Korean language. There are optional English subtitles as well. The sound comes through with a nice flair towards dynamics but doesn’t really get to return much to the film’s exciting opening. As the movie progresses dialogue scenes dominate the runtime, and while the dialogue levels are always clear & intelligible it can feel a tad empty, even with the nice touches of foley art filling the sonic space.
On this release there are only the handful of Well Go USA’s trailers for other titles, as well as a trailer for Night of the Assassin. There is an option to view the film’s trailer from the menu but the disc is set to auto-play all other trailers in a playlist immediately after, and those trailers start at disc boot-up.
If one would approach Night of the Assassin not as a specifically labeled “martial arts” film but as something more amorphous, the film’s divergence can be appreciated as something more experimental in practice. But even in reframing there’s something key that this leaves out that could have made it just as inquisitive of its genre elders (not unlike the other Well Go USA title that shares its name, The Assassin). Perhaps it’s like the blade of an assassin grown dull, not useless by any measure but in need of attention and honing to cut to the center of its true purpose. There is a potential for this story to perhaps take another form, and maybe another crack could help lift Lee Nan’s character to a sort of acme to join the likes of Ogami Itto, Zatoichi, Sanjuro, or Nemuri Kyoshiro, but in his own sheepish way.
Disclaimer: Well Go USA has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.