Deft martial art flick starring Michelle Yeoh and produced by John Woo
The worldwide sensation of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon seemed to promise that the martial arts styling of the ‘wuxia’ would spawn an internationally popular sub-genre. But after an initial flurry including House of Flying Daggers and Hero, the expected mainstream cross-overs didn’t happen. As with Hero, the acquisition (and delayed release) of 2010’s Reign of Assassins by Harvey Weinstein in the US suggests latent commercial potential, and two other names will chime with Western audiences: star Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies) and producer John Woo, director of Hard Boiled, Face/Off and Mission Impossible II fame.
The title Reign of Assassins suggests a lavish kill-fest, but writer/director Su Chao-Bin’s plotting offers plenty of depth; in ancient China, Drizzle (Kelly Lin) seeks escape from her duties in a band of killers called Dark Stone, and a dose of facial reconstruction surgery allows her to begin a new life as Zeng Jing (Yeoh). She attempts to settle down to domestic bliss with Jiang A-sheng (Jung Woo-sung), but defending her husband during a bank robbery accidentally blows her cover. Zeng Jing’s old boss Wheel King (Wang Xueqi) and his crack team of Lei Bin (Shawn Yue), the Magician (Leon Dai) and Ye Zhanqing (Barbie Hsu) soon arrive in town, preparing to punish her for her independence. The scene is set for a showdown, but an additional plot-twist ensures that Reign of Assassins doesn’t finish as might be expected…
There’s little about Chao-Bin’s other work (Better Than Sex, Silk) to suggest the splendidly choreographed ballets of swordplay that feature here, with Woo’s dexterous hand obvious in the fight scenes. The balance works as Yeoh projects vulnerability and inner strength in equal measure; romance duly blossoms, tension builds, and explosions of acrobatic action resolve all issues with a deft bend of a sword.
Limited release from Fri 15 Feb.