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[Movie Reviews] It's All Low Blows in `Assassins'

2003/12/04 | Permalink | Source

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By Joon Soh

With a combination of bad martial arts and even worse potty jokes, the new comedy "Nangman Chagaek (Romantic Assassins)" takes humor back to a more elementary level _ as in third or fourth grade. The film is a slapstick affair that overwhelms you with its stream of truly tasteless tales while daring you to keep a straight face.

Taking place in the late Choson period, when the nation was overtaken by a Chinese kingdom, the comedy stars a group of hapless assassins who can't seem to do anything right. The worst of the bunch is the group's youngest member, Yo-i (Kim Min-jong), a bumbling but sweet bandit who is only in the killing business to support his kid sister.

After a series of mishaps involving kidnapping an upper-class couple, the assassins hide out in an abandoned house, which happens to be haunted by the spirits of some of the sexiest, foulest-mouthed ghosts on the peninsula.

Swinging a mean sword when not shedding their clothes, these alternately coy and tough spirits turn out to be "kisaeng" (courtesans) murdered by a cruel Chinese official. When the comely ghosts' attempt to finally end their days of haunting gets accidentally derailed by the assassins, the two teams fight and then team up to take revenge on the bad Chinese.

In its best moments "Assassins" is a mix of the Three Stooges, "American Pie" and a campy late night kung-fu flick. The scenes may start off serious or sentimental, but the director finds a way to end everything with a punch line.

Despite the plot being predictably one-dimensional, the cast does its best to make the comedy work. Scenes with French-kissing men, tweaked nipples, bathroom emergencies and comical nosebleeds abound throughout the film, all done with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.

Especially funny is Choi Song-guk who, as leader of the assassins, ends up sometimes literally being the butt of many of the jokes. And the techno nightclub set it in the 17th century, complete with DJs, bouncers and manual disco balls, is admittedly a nice touch.

Wallowing in the xenophobic, sexual and scatological, "Assassins" is unabashedly lowbrow, and there really isn't anything redeeming about it. Nonetheless, moviegoers might find themselves laughing despite themselves, though they probably wouldn't want to admit to it afterwards.

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