Reign of Assassins (2010)
Director: Su Chao-Pin, John Woo ; Screenplay: Su Chao-Pin
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Kelly Lin
This is a solid Wu Xia feature with a great performance by Michelle Yeoh that should interest anybody (like myself) who has gotten bored with historical wu xia or war films from China. She’s joined by Korean actor Jung Woo-sung. Both of their voices are dubbed which is fine for Jung but weird for Yeoh who is given a voice that sounds way too young and cutesy for her. Even though Yeoh does speak Mandarin, it’s not her native language and the producers likely wanted to avoid the criticism that her spoken Mandarin received in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Still, the director should’ve gotten a more appropriate voice actor for her.
The story is a bit confusing at first but what it amounts to is that Shi Yi (Michelle Yeoh) is part of a group of assassins called Dark Stone. During a raid on some palace, she steals half of some sacred remains which purportedly allows the owner to become master of the kung fu world. However, an incident with a monk prompts Shi Yi to change her ways and to adopt a new identity but of course she can’t hide from the Dark Stone assassins forever.
The action scenes are well choreographed with restrained use of wire-fu and sfx. Each assassin has their own distinct weapon and style. Shi Yi has a sword that can bend like water which makes tricky to defend against. Another one called the Magician combines fire with his martials arts while another one shoots darts/needles. They all have distinct personalities and not all of them are fully evil. Fighting-wise though, the leader, Wheel King, doesn’t seem to have a noteworthy fighting style at least visually but he is undoubtedly the best fighter.
The middle act does have a bit of innocent romance with the introduction of Jung Woo-sung’s character who initially appears to be a dope with no martial arts skills. Of course, you don’t cast such a well known Korean actor just to stand around and get saved by Michelle Yeoh. It’s not really a spoiler to say that he too does get to do some fighting. He does a fine job although I think he was cast more for commercial reasons.
There are a couple of plot holes but they will likely go by unnoticed initially as the revelations lead to some entertaining combat. The Wheel King’s motive in acquiring the sacred remains will certainly not be what you would normally expect either unless you are a Wu Xia know-it-all. The final fight is also quite good as the advantage goes back and forth. Also of note is the nifty animated intro sequence.