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Reign of Assassins/Jianyu


Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Leon Dai, Paw Hee-ching, Matt Wu, Jin Shijie, Pace Wu, Calvin Li, Angeles Woo

Director: Su Chao-pin, John Woo

The time and place is Ancient China, where Drizzle, initially played by Kelly Lin, is the ruthless and invincible leading assassin of The Dark Stone gang.

Despite her fame, she decides on domesticity instead of assassination and, after a beetle has been placed up her nose by Dr Li to eat away her skull and so give her head a different shape, he indulges in some advanced Ming Dynasty plastic surgery. After which Drizzle is now played by Michelle Yeoh who, having escaped her life of violence with the Dark Stone, changes her name, becomes a shopkeeper, marries messenger Jung Woo-Sung and lives a quiet life – until her identity is revealed after a violent confrontation with he old gang. And Jung reveals he, too, has a secret identity. And the scene is set for a climactic battle when Yeoh refuses to hand over the remains of a legendary Buddhist monk which gives its owner(s) the power to rule the martial arts world…

There were times (rather too many) when I found the narrative quite hard to follow, despite excellent subtitles, but in the final analysis, that didn’t really matter. Co-directed by screenwriter Su Chao-Pin and John Woo, Reign of Assassins makes for thrilling entertainment - not because of its light-hearted (despite a high body count) storyline, but rather because of the superb action sequences in which Our Heroine and everybody else defy gravity with extraordinary leaps and bounds and slice and dice in spectacular style. (Among the soaring swords-people, Woo’s daughter Angeles makes her movie debut as one of the assassins).

The leads are more than up to the relatively simplistic dramatic demands of their roles and stunning in action, settings are attractive and evocative of the period (in cinema-style, at least) and fans of martial arts movies should be very pleased with the action on offer. And there’s enough story to entertain non-believers, as well as fine sets and excellent cinematography (Horace Wong).

Alan Frank

China 2010. UK Distributor: Ratpack Films. Colour.
117 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 10 Feb 2013