Reign of Assassins
AKA: Rain of Swords, The Swordswoman's World, Jianyu Jianghu
Year of release: 2010
Genre: martial arts
Directors: Su Chao-Pin, John Woo
Action director: Stephen Tung
Producers: John Woo, Terence Chang
Writer: Su Chao-Pin
Cinematography: Horace Wong
Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai
Music: Peter Kam
Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Shawn Yu, Barbie Hsu, Wang Xue-Qi, Kelly Lin, Pau Hei-Ching, Guo Xiao-Dong, Pace Wu
Rated IIB for violence
Movie Review Index
After a decade punctuated by disappointing releases such as The Touch and Silver Hawk, Michelle Yeoh makes a fine return to form with Reign of Assassins, a swordsplay picture that skimps a bit on the actual swordsplay and goes a little overboard with melodramatics, but is still a very entertaining film nonetheless.
The plot centers on the remains of the Bodhi Dharma, which are said to grant mystical powers to whoever holds them. The ability to take over the jianghu (martial arts) world is a nice side effect, but palace eunuch Feng (Wang Xue-Qi) wants the corpse to resurrect his wee willie winkie. One of his team of assassins, Drizzle (Kelly Lin) finds half of the body and then experiences an event which causes her to want to go straight. Going under a form of ancient plastic surgery, Drizzle becomes Jing (Michelle Yeoh) and tries to live a normal life until Feng comes looking for the Bodhi Dharma.
Su Chao-Pin's script, while not exactly being straight-forward, thankfully does not get so full of itself that it forgets to tell a story that the audience will actually care about. There are points (most notably the ending) where the viewer might have to switch off the hyper-critical portions of their brains a bit, but for the most part, Reign of Assassins is a film that refreshingly does not assume the audience is comprised of blithering morons.
The actors also really benefit from Su Chao-Pin's directing. Even through a Mandarin overdub, Michelle Yeoh's performance is outstanding, and the other actors manage to create real characters out of what could have easily been cookie-cutter stereotypes. Su's directing is surprisingly mature for some one who has only made three films, and combined with a co-directing credit for John Woo (who was one of the producers), some have questioned just how much of Reign of Assassins' success can be attributed to Su. Woo himself has said in interviews that he was only helping out Su and didn't feel a need to be formally credited as a co-director.
At any rate, getting back to the actual finished product, along with the well-made dramatic scenes, Reign of Assassins delivers its' fair share of high-flying swordsplay action that should delight long-time fans of Michelle Yeoh. Helmed by veteran action director Stephen Tung (who has worked on classics like A Better Tomorrow) the fight scenes definitely fall into the wire-fu camp, so if you're looking to something on the more realistic side of things, you probably should look elsewhere. But if you enjoy the style, you're going to find a lot to like here. Michelle looks great during the fight scenes, and seeing her perform here at this level is well worth the purchase of admission alone.
This movie has been released in North America by Anchor Bay. This version runs at 107 minutes, which is ten minutes shorter than the original Chinese version. The disc has an anamorphic 2.35:1 picture accompanied by a Mandarin soundtrack in Dolby 5.1 with English and Spanish subtitles available. There are no extras on the disc.
The DVD is available from Amazon.