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Soundtrack review: Sword of the assassin (Christopher Wong – 2012)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Sword of the assassin (Christopher Wong – 2012)

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“Sword of the Assassin” is a 2012 action film and Vietnam’s first Wuxia-style film, featuring martial arts scenes reminiscent of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon placed lush cinematography of beautiful Vietnamese landscape. The film tells the story of Nguyen Vu, the the sole survivor of his family who got executed by the empress of Vietnam. Upon discovering that his family may have been framed for crimes they did not commit, he sets out to deliver swift justice and clear his family name. The music was written by Christopher Wong.

Martial arts, mentions of Crouching Tiger, I am in for this score as almost every time the music for this genre inspires me and puts me in a very good mood. “Sword of the assassin” starts with the expected Chinese percussion instruments and a melodic motif to make me fall in love with the lore of the story. This is not your generic opening as the composer gets right into the story with the suspense as well. No time is wasted as “Journey of dozen years” has the feeling of a journey with its many changes of pace from alert to tense and back.

The Crouching and lush references from the description were a bit misleading as I would have expected more of a tender and melodic score. It’s not the case here as Christopher Wong goes for the action and suspense; I only need to adjust my expectation as the score is very enjoyable but in a different way. “Ambushed and escape from the palace” gets my adrenaline pumping with strings and percussion and I feel like I am in the middle of the fight. The suspenseful parts are not as exciting but the composer manages to find the right link between the two moods with the mystery he brings in cues like “A story untold” which is a beautifully quiet theme that is just the kind I want to hear for a movie like this.

“Blood letter origins” is another cue that I really like; this is the kind of theme I would look for and enjoy in any drama score with the haunting piano motif that tells a story in itself and the moment of decision when the music changes to pounding action. This is the kind of cue that show the potential of the composer and for me it’s the heart of the score. The piano will always get to me like that and the subtle string motif that accompanies it only adds to the emotion. “To fight another day” is the motivational anthem I also want to hear in a martial arts score and I will surely try it out for my running playlist, for the moments when I feel like I am too tired to go on. “Sword of the assassin” is developing as a complex and rewarding listening experience.

In order to be a great standalone listen as well, a martial arts movie score needs to have powerful action moments, meaningful emotional ones and at least one motivational theme; “Sword of the assassin” checks all this boxes and the piano motifs could very well stand proud on a drama score; with subtle melodic Chinese elements as well, this Christopher Wong compositions shouldn’t miss from any collection.

Cue rating: 89 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 33 / 62

Album excellence: 53%

Highlights:
Ambushed and Escape from the Palace
A Story Untold
Blood Letter Origins
To Fight Another Day
Still Practicing / Assassin of the Night
Recovery
Sacrificed Love
A Power Unleashed
The Pen and the Sword

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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