If Bruce Lee had ever made a blaxploitation movie the results may not have been a lot different to Dark Assassin, the writing, producing and directing and starring debut of ambitious Chinese-American kung fu and kickboxing champion Jason “Ming” Yee. Although it would certainly have had a lot more action.
Inspired as much by Clint Eastwood and Robert Rodriquez as Lee, Yee wanted to direct his own star vehicle and made Dark Assassin independently for only $80 thousand. Over three years! According to the IMDB, 80% of the movie was shot in 2001 with the other 20% shot in 2002 and 2003, but post-production was not completed until 2005.
The results are unremarkable, the plot finds yet another tough guy released from prison and unable to stay out of trouble, and it’s difficult to stay interested.
That is until we reach the 42 minute point of this 75 minute movie, when Yee does a Bruce Lee impression and kicks serious ass in a warehouse action sequence. This scene jolts the viewer out of boredom and raises expectations. Sadly it lasts less than two minutes and the rest of the movie is more bland. When Yee faces off with MMA favourite Cung Le at the climax it’s nowhere near as exciting as you want it to be.
When Yee embraces his uncanny resemblance to Bruce Lee (and Brandon Lee) and pays homage to the master it’s great fun to watch but this brief scene is the movie’s only real redemptive feature. Sure it’s good to see indiscriminate actor Tony Todd make a few brief appearances and note some pre-24 use of the split-screen device, but the negatives far outweigh the positives.
Dark Assassin is more Game of Death 2 than Game of Death; a poor sound mix buries much of the dialogue from the inexperienced cast under a cheesy score and Yee doesn’t make much of an impression as an action hero.
Generally you never get a second chance to make a first impression, well he did, in the equally retro The Girl from the Naked Eye (David Ren, 2011).
Several years after Dark Assassin, The Girl from the Naked Eye purports to be Yee’s first movie. The credits say “Introducing Jason Yee” as though he’d never made a film before. The latter has certainly been far better received and gives Yee a better chance at breaking out as an action star.
Similarly independent but boasting much stronger production values, a better supporting cast (including Gary Stretch and Dominique Swain) and many great action sequences, The Girl from the Naked Eye is a Neo-noir revenge movie and everything Dark Assassin wasn’t. Highly stylized and slow burning, Yee was once again instrumental in the film’s production, not only as star, but co-writer, a producer, a second unit director and action choreographer.
Once again cast as an anti-hero, Yee plays Jake, an underworld heavy escorting prostitutes around the city. He's the strong silent type and cares deeply for one of these women. When he finds her dead sets he off on a quest for truth and vengeance with no concern for his own welfare.
Yee has significant skills as a screen fighter and any disappointment fight fans experienced watching his showdown with Cung Le is more than compensated for by the one he has with Capoeira fighter Lateef Crowder from Tom Yum Goong (aka Warrior King, Prachya Pinkaew, 2005).
Co-star and experienced fight coordinator Ron Yuan deserves a great deal of credit. His action scenes, which include a side-on single take corridor fight scene inspired by Old Boy (Park Chan-wook, 2003), complement the storyline making this one of the most satisfying action films of in recent years.
Time will tell whether The Girl with the Naked Eye will propel Yee on to better things. Even if it doesn’t, and it takes several more years, I’m sure Yee will be back.