The Assassin (1967)

Directed by
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-08-07

Nie Zheng (Jimmy Wang Yu) trains under a master swordsman, until a jealous rival frames them and has the teacher killed. Nie Zheng takes revenge but then has to flee, living an uneventful life in exile as a butcher. One day he meets Yen Chung Tzu, a patriotic official who is also in exile after crossing a corrupt regent, and his dreams of being a renowned chivalrous swordsman are rekindled.

Chang Cheh's follow up to One-Armed Swordsman is nearly as impressive, with an excellent script and superb production values. It's hard to believe how much more cinematic Chang Cheh's early films were compared to his later work - there is much more attention to detail and seeming pride in his craft than was visible in the films he made a decade or so later.

The film has a rather classical feel to it, an epic tale full of melodrama and passion with some great dialogue (with better than average subtitles, thankfully). Jimmy Wang Yu spends most of the film wearing his trademark puzzled/constipated expression, but manages to bring Nie Zheng to life regardless. This would have been a great role for David Chiang, but he was still a couple of years away from being discovered.

The Assassin 026

It must be noted that for a film called "The Assassin", Jimmy Wang Yu spends a lot of time not assassinating anybody.

This film has been in my Shaw Brothers Top 10 since I first watched it, though it's dropped a few places and is only just hanging in there. I'd been somewhat afraid to rewatch it, as films that wowed me the first time I saw them don't always live up to that memory. It didn't quite blow me away on this rewatch but it is certainly an excellent film, amongst Chang Cheh's best.

Is it the 10th best Shaw Brothers film? Sure, why not... though to be honest The Five Venoms or Have Sword, Will Travel probably deserve the spot more. It's foolish to pretend such rankings represent anything objective though, so this one might as well hold onto its place for now.