The legendary John Woo produced and co-directed this martial arts epic that meshes elements from a few Hollywood action films but done in the style of the wuxia pian.
It is long believed that whoever possesses the remains of the Indian monk Bodhidharma, responsible for the creation of martial arts, would be the ruler of the martial world. Countless opportunists seek to get their hands on the remains. One such group is the Dark Stone, a deadly assassin group led by the Wheel King. When an attack on Minister Zhang Haiduan results in the minister and his son Renfeng’s deaths, Dark Stone assassin Shi Yu, grabs the remains and disappears. With a reward on her head, after spending three months with a wise monk, Wisdom, she decides to leave the martial world and hide the remains, getting a new look in the process.
Years have passed and in the capital, a woman named Zeng Jing has arrived, renting a former doctor’s home for her own. There, she meets a courier named Jiang Ah-Sheng. Eventually the two marry but Zeng Jing’s dark secret is revealed when she stops a group of thugs from robbing the local bank. When the Wheel King discovers that Zeng Jing is actually Shi Yu, he sends his cohorts Lei Bin, the Magician, and Shi Yu’s replacement, Turquoise He, to confront Zeng. However, to everyone’s surprise, Zeng’s new husband also hides a secret that could change the course of the martial world forever.
With John Woo’s name on the film, that combined with Michelle Yeoh’s name mentioned, has a very high chance of attracting fans to this film. While many wuxia epics have quite standardized plots involving perhaps weapons and other relics as the source of power that everyone is after, or much like many films, someone dies or is hurt and a hero seeks revenge, this film, from writer-director Su Chao-Pin, meshes a few of the classic martial arts genres but in a surprising move, adds elements of Hollywood films as well. There are truly nods to the likes of a Woo film, Face/Off as well as shades of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and that alone proves to be a shocking element in terms of plot.
Michelle Yeoh is truly enjoyable as Zeng Jing, the former assassin who finally sees the light and just wants to live a normal life. However, when she is forced into a situation that she wasn’t expecting, she ends up being forced to face her former life. Korean star Jung Woo-Sung plays Jiang Ah-Sheng as a hapless courier who falls for Yeoh upon first sight and the two eventually do get married. However, we don’t see Jiang’s revelation until the end of the second act of the film. The other breakout of this film is safely said to go to Barbie Hsu, who plays Shi Yu’s replacement Turqoise, as the wuxia epic equivalent of a true femme fatale. She uses her looks to get her way but when confronted, has very deadly skills when fighting. Her character is truly one book you would never judge by the cover because she will literally kill you. Shawn Yue and Leon Dai give ample support as the remaining Dark Stone cohorts, who look to have normal lives but like Shi Yu, are also forced back to their past ways when summoned by the deadly Wheel King, played by Wang Xueqi in quite a performance.
Stephen Tung Wei served as the film’s action director, bringing some core elements of the wuxia pian, the sword fighting and wirework when necessary. Some of the chases and stunts bring to memory Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of course. However, the one scene that is very nicely done in terms of execution and drives the story is Jung Woo-Sung’s first fight sequence, in which he sharpens his sword, bringing the tension between himself, Shawn Yue, and Barbie Hsu to a high where Jung’s character reveals his dark secret. The final confrontation pits Yeoh against Wang Xueqi and is nicely done, and just when you think the predictable happens, well, it turns out to be not as predictable as one would think, yet it is nicely shot nevertheless.
Reign of Assassins is a great meshing of both Asian and Hollywood film elements, with some great performances by Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, and Barbie Hsu driving the film in their core roles. A nicely done wuxia epic that should definitely be checked out.
WFG RATING: A-
A Lion Rock Production in association with Beijing Galloping Horse Co. Ltd./Media Asia Films/Zhejiang Dongyang Dragon Entertainment Ventures Investment Co. Ltd./Gamania Digital Entertainment Co. Ltd./Lumiere Motion Picture Corp./Beijing Heguchuan TV and Film Co. Ltd. Director: Su Chao-Pin. Producers: John Woo and Terence Chang. Writer: Su Chao-Pin. Cinematography: Horace Wong. Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai.
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Leon Dai, Pau Hei-Ching, Li Zonghan, You Benchang, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong.