Margaret Cho: Assassin (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Apparently, I approached this production with a misapprehension. I was under the impression that Margaret Cho: Assassin was intended to be a filmed comedic performance. What I got instead was an 85-minute political rant from a liberal Asian American woman who abandoned comedy in her desire to advocate a number of causes. I have no problem with comedians who use politics as the backbone of comedy; the problem comes when nastiness supplants humor. Even those who agree with every one of Cho's positions (and I agree more often than I disagree) may find this motion picture tough going.

I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but, after watching Assassin, I can understand why this country is so polarized. The divisions between the far right and the far left are so deep and wide as to be unbridgeable. Cho's monologue radiates hatred and bitterness towards those who do not share her convictions. She gets applause, ovations, and laughs, but it's important to remember that those in the audience share her views. (In fairness, I should mention that it's just as offensive to watch an arch conservative give a lengthy speech. I can't endure more than about 10 minutes of Rush Limbaugh's pontificating before I have to change the station.)

Passion radiates from every syllable in the comedienne's diatribe. She speaks about topical current events from early 2005, including the re-election of George W. Bush, the Terry Schiavo situation, the death of Pope John Paul II, and the war in Iraq. She makes funny faces, scrunching up her nose and holding it. And she attempts mimicry, although most of her accents sound either like a black woman from the South or an Asian with broken English. Through all of it, I chuckled once or twice, and never let loose a hearty laugh.

The show, which is composed of simple long, medium, and close-up shots, was recorded live in May 2005 at the Warner Theater in Washington D.C. Having moderately enjoyed Cho's 2000 concert movie, I'm the One That I Want, I expected to be similarly entertained. But the tones of the two films are as different as Cho's physical appearances - this time, she's leaner and meaner. Every notable conservative takes a licking, as do a few liberals. Cho even makes some self-deprecating remarks, calling herself a "bitch" and a "fat dyke." In the end, it all feels too mean-spirited to be humorous.

One final observation is in order. This kind of "shock comedy" often does not play well when recorded. Live, it's another matter. There's an energy in the audience that cannot be replicated on film, videotape, or DVD. It's possible to be rolling in the aisles during a live performance like this, but to sit stone faced in front of it in a theater or at home. I can't say whether that's the case here, but I can say that the movie Assassin is only for die-hard Cho fans. Everyone else will be offended, bored, or some combination of the two.

Margaret Cho: Assassin (United States, 2005)

Director: Kerry Asmussen
Cast: Margaret Cho
Screenplay: Margaret Cho
Cinematography: Sovonto Green
Music: Paula Gallitano
U.S. Distributor: Regent Releasing
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2005-09-02
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1