REVIEW: Dark Assassin (2003)

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2003, Edge of Darkness Productions/Film Shack

Director:
Jason Yee
Producers:
Jason Yee
Stephen Fromkin
Writer:
Jason Yee
Cinematography:
Stephen Maing
Editing:
Marc Valois

Cast:
Jason Yee (Derek Wu)
Thomas Braxton Jr. (Ray Jones)
Cung Le (The Assassin)
Tony Todd (Ghost)
Doug Marsden (Det. Harris)
Joseph Kelsey (Det. Suarez)
Michael Nurse (“Buddha” Williams)
Yuisa Perez (Gina)
Jimmy Sing Yee (Old Tiger)
Jennifer Yen (Kate)
Yao Li (Yang)
Hector Cortes (Yang’s Man)
Jorge Borda (Yang’s Man)

Sanshou and kung fu champion Jason Yee makes his film debut with this look at a character who finds himself dealing with his past as he tries to move on.

After four years of serving time in prison, Derek Wu has been released. The only thing he wants to do from this moment on is to just live a normal life, away from his past. After attempting to win some money in an underground fight, he comes to the realization that it’s something he can no longer do. An attempt to find actual jobs comes to no avail until he gets a small job as a dishwasher at a local Chinese restaurant. However, Derek’s life is about to be turned upside down.

Someone has been killing members of Derek’s old gang, run by leader “Buddha” Williams. When hard-tailed detective Harris begins to investigate, he automatically assumes that Derek is back to get revenge on Buddha for the prison term and is seeking revenge. When Derek finds himself wanted by both the police and Buddha, who assumes that Derek is offing members of the old gang as well, Derek has no other choice but to lay low. However, when he learns that someone else is responsible for all the killings, will Derek try to find himself out of the situation peacefully? Or will he have to resort to going back to his old ways to clear his name?

Shot in between 2001 and 2003 in pieces, martial arts champion Jason Yee became immersed in film and acting while attending school in his hometown of Boston. He has called this film his lessons in filmmaking, paying homage to Bruce Lee films and the urban action films of the 1970’s. What is surprising is that for a debut film, this is actually a pretty good film about one man’s search for self-redemption only to meet his worst nightmare.

Yee makes a worthy film debut performance as Derek, who just wants to return to normal life, even before he was involved with the gang boss that sent him to prison. With many action stars only known for using their skills in terms of fighting but could act better, Yee is one of those stars who can pull off both acting and action skills. In terms of acting, Yee makes Derek in some ways, a very tortured soul who is constantly struggling to live a normal life only to be framed for a series of murders and having to find himself a major target with almost everyone from his past.

Tony Todd, best known as the Candyman in the 90’s horror trilogy, makes an interesting cameo appearance as a handyman who appears in Derek’s dreams, as if he brings the guilty conscience of Derek as a sort of penance for his past regressions. Thomas Braxton Jr. does well as Derek’s best friend, who tries to help Derek on the straight and narrow even with all the chaos happening. Doug Marsden’s Detective Harris is the kind of cop who thinks he strives on intuition but definitely more relies on assumption, making him pretty much no better than a dirty cop.

What is even more interesting is that there are three major action sequences in the film and the action improves with each fight. The first is a low-grade fight at a nightclub that Derek competes in just after his release from prison, in which he realizes it is no longer for him. The second fight has Jason paying homage to his idol Bruce Lee as he takes on a group of thugs at a warehouse. This allows Jason to even do a little Bruce-like pose which works well considering he somewhat resembles the iconic martial arts legend. The finale pits Yee against another Sanshou champion, Cung Le, who plays the titular Dark Assassin. This finale is split in three parts, beginning with a gunfight, followed by a blade vs. blade fight, followed by bare-handed combat. Le and Yee faced off against each other in real life back in 1994 and the two translate well onto film as both fighters choreographed this finale.

Dark Assassin is actually a very decent effort for Jason Yee, who can prove he can make a film that’s more than just an average fight flick. It’s about a road of self-redemption and penance for one man. Definitely worth checking out for Yee’s performance, the warehouse fight, and the three-stage finale between Yee and Cung Le.

WFG RATING: B

DVD

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