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Reign of Assassins - Movie Poster
Original Title:

China 2010


Su Chao-Bin

Michelle Yeoh
Jung Woo-sung
Wang Xueqi
Shawn Yue
Barbie Hsu
Leon Dai
Guo Xiaodong
Jiang Yiyan
Paw Hee Ching

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Reign of Assassins

Story: In the 4th/5th century the Buddhist Bodhi comes to China and doesn't only spread Buddhism but is said to also have created what is nowadays known as kung fu. Legends tell that after his death his body was divided in two and now, 800 years later, is supposed to be somewhere within the country. He who has Bodhi's full body in his possession is said to be invincible according to the legend. Therefore, the "Dark Stone" group, a syndicate of assassins led by the Wheel King (Wang Xueqi), is after the body as well and manages to find one half of it. However, the assassin Drizzle takes the body with her and vanishes. After an encounter with a monk she decides to start a new life and undergoes facial surgery. As Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh) she now lives a normal life in the capital city and soon has found herself a husband in the shape of the somewhat naive looking Ah-Sheng (Jung Woo-sung). But suddenly the group of assassins turns up in the city since they heard that the second half of Bodhi's body is supposed to be there. Before Zeng Jing realizes she is once again confronted with her past as Drizzle.

Review: "Reign of Assassins" is a great addition to the wuxia genre and makes use of certain clichés in a successful way by not letting them look as such. Up until now this has only been achieved by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and in fact there are quite some similarities between the two. First of all, Michelle Yeoh is in the lead, but there is also a Taiwanese behind the camera. However, this time it's not Ang Lee but Su Chao-Bin, who has already written the screenplay to "Double Vision" and "Silk" whereas he also sat on the directing chair for latter one. In "Reign of Assassins" his experience becomes apparent because apart from the high production value it's especially the story that manages to convince as it constantly delivers some thrilling twists.

Reign of Assassins - Film Screenshot 11

First and foremost it's the wonderful sets that catch your eye, which are embellished by fantastically captured pictures. The only thing annoying are some freeze-frames and unnecessary slow motion sequences at inappropriate places. Named as a co-director is no one else but John Woo ( "Hard Boiled"), but it seems that he had more of a consulting role, because besides the just mentioned slow motion scenes, which may be out of his book, there is nothing that reminds us of him. Su Chao-Bin on the other hand proves to have a great knack shooting a wuxia movie that can also excite an international audience. That is if you are willing to put up with a few fantasy elements which the director and scriptwriter works in in various places and in a pretty accomplished way.

Reign of Assassins - Film Screenshot 12

Magic in "Reign of Assassins" is to be found in diverse shapes. In a classical western fashion, depicted by the "Magician", who can make his swords blaze up with fire and throws around fireballs or escapes danger with a rope trick, or in a traditional Chinese way in the shape of acupressure points that can paralyze an enemy if pushed in battle. Furthermore, the fights, too, especially the showdown, stand out with detailed different techniques that have recognition value and thus have something tactical and a certain anime nature to them as well. Or they rather remind you of wuxia novels by Jin Yong, as is actually the case with the whole story of the movie. To get inspiration from the bestselling author is never a bad idea if the end product looks as good as here.

Strangely enough the fights in the movie, apart from the aforementioned showdown, aren't the real highlights and that is a good thing! Instead attention is put on the story and this also leads to the fact that said magic is brought to the screen in a very unobtrusive but effective fashion. There is no unnecessary visual effects that remind us of a bad video game, and for that you have to be thankful to director Su these days. Moreover, it is a welcome change that the assassins are drawn out quite well, every one of them getting a motive to do the things they do. Thus, there are also a few good sides to the villains if you look closely. Shawn Yue ("Love in the Buff") can be seen in a supporting role as well as Wang Xueqi ("Sacrifice") as the leader of the Dark Stones, who can deliver an especially memorable portrayal.

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"Reign of Assassins" features well-known faces everywhere. Interestingly enough Jung Woo-sung ("The Good, the Bad, the Weird") has also found his way into the cast thanks to his knowledge of Mandarin. However, apart from the running gag that Jung's character is constantly described as ugly, Jung delivers the weakest performance of them all. That is probably also because his role demands of him to mainly look naive and inconspicuous. For HK movie fans it might also be a bit irritating that Michelle Yeoh is already in business for quite a while and therefore is eleven years older than Jung. Yet, she still looks unbelievably young and thus her marriage with naive Ah-Sheng in the movie works out quite well, nonetheless. At the bottom line "Reign of Assassins" is simply an extremely entertaining wuxia movie that does more right than it does wrong and which shows that there are still directors out there who know how to appropriately bring the genre to the big screen in a modern wrapping.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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