DVD. Entertainment One.
taken a couple of years for Reign of Assassins
to hit the UK, and I suspect it won't have the same impact as
other wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon or House of Flying Daggers. That's
no fault of the film itself, beyond a fairly uninspired title
– but mainstream audiences are a fickle bunch.
The film – which was rather confusing credits that list
Su Chao-pin as writer and director, but have John Woo as 'co-director'
– stars Michelle Yeoh as the unfortunately named Drizzle,
a deadly assassin in the Ming Dynasty-era Dark Stone gang who
decided enough is enough, books herself in for face-changing surgery
(which involves flesh-eating insects inserted into the nose –
hey, no-one said this was realistic!) and takes on a new identity
in a small village, where she meets and marries Ah-Seng (Jung
Woo-sung). Unfortunately, she also holds the secret of the location
of a dead monk, who's bones are said to hold great power, and
her former colleagues soon track her down and force her to rejoin
Reign of Assassins is visually stunning, with
great action moments from the get-go, but the actual story takes
a while to develop, and the first part of the film is a bit of
a confused mess, with characters barely introduced and someone
having both too much and too little taking place at the same time.
It seems to lack focus. But a curious thing happens, and as the
film continues, the story slowly develops a sense of coherence,
the pacing evens out and the characters actually become more believable
(within the context of a whacked-out martial arts fantasy, that
is). Certainly, you can perhaps see the Woo influence as the film
builds to a grand finale that is heavy on melodrama and mayhem,
ultimately revealing itself as a tragic romance with a satisfying
character twist in the final act.
The fight scenes are slick and stylish, the comedy rather subtle
by Chinese standards, and the characters sympathetic – even
the bad guys are driven by their own desperation rather than a
mere lust for power. And while the performances, surprisingly,
seem a little flat sometimes, the all-important martial arts scenes
are impeccably handled.
If your only experience of the genre is from the blockbusters
mentioned earlier, then Reign of Assassins might
seem a little weak in comparison. Genre enthusiasts, on the other
hand, should find much to enjoy here.
IT NOW (UK)