China, 2010: Reign of Assassins
“Reign of Assassins”
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Wuxia
Michelle Yeoh stars in this tale about the lost remains of a mystical monk, and the society of assassins that would stop at nothing to retrieve them.
A joint venture between several Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese elements, Reign of Assassins comes off as a promising concept for revitalizing the wuxia genre. Using a present day star like Yeoh to connect to lesser known actors like Woo-Sung Jung and Barbie Hsu, and an established director like John Woo, it should have been a real breath of fresh air for the Chinese martial arts film industry. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes a sort of strange concoction of typical wuxia melodrama, bizarre humor, and rather predictable attempts at plot twists. The production values are strong, helped along by Taiwanese investors, but nothing is quite engaging enough to really impress. Most of the sets feel cramped and sometimes like they were lifted straight out of other movies. There are number of times where the CGI effects are painfully out of place, cheapening the rest of the cinematography, which itself isn’t that bad. I do have to mention, though, that the animated opening is quite beautifully done, providing a decent exposition with a pleasing aesthetic.
The story is typical kung fu fair, using the deceased monk’s body as a major plot point to draw the various fighters together in a convoluted fashion. The performances range from hammy to hammier, although some actors hardly get to act at all. It seems like a waste to dub over Michelle Yeoh’s voice, whether for accent reasons or creative ones, especially since she’s one of the main draws for the film. Speaking of which, for a film supposedly developed specifically with Yeoh in mind, it seems like the part was meant for a much younger actress, requiring a great deal of post-production on her face and further removing the audience from her presence. The other actors give decent one note character roles, most notably the Korean Jung, whose fluency in Mandarin is either well practiced or well hidden with dubbing.
With John Woo “co-directing” the film, the action is always sure to bear the weight, and this is no exception. The fights are fantastically choreographed and performed, even if they are highly reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The wire-fu gets to be a bit clumsy at parts, but it’s largely unnoticeable. Certainly less noticeable than the CGI, which is used in a few scenes. It’s not as if I’m always biased against computer effects, but if it’s going to be used in stunts it really needs to be done well, lest it remove any sense of connection to the real performers on screen. Reign of Assassins is a good effort from all parties involved, but ultimately fails to satisfy anything beyond a simple fight flic. If that’s all you’re after, this is at least satisfactory.
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