REIGN OF ASSASSINS - Mainly Wire-fu Thrills
REIGN OF ASSASSINS (kungfu thriller in Mandarin)
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong and Jiang Yiyan
Directors: Su Chao-Pin, John Woo
Script: Su Chao-Pin
Time: 117 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: Fans of Chinese swords play who long for more Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon action would probably whet their appetite with Reign Of Assassins, a pan-Asian reworking of Hollywood's Mr & Mrs Smith, incorporating 'modern' themes of 'plastic surgery' and rudimentary courier service.
The thrills and action seem to stall at the end of the first half but they pick up in the second, unveiling a number of interesting twists with wire-fu and smoke-and-fire power.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie opens with Drizzle (played by a ravishing Kelly Lin) opting out of the Dark Stone gang of assassins led by Wheel King (Wang Xueqi). She is tired of all that killing and longs for a quiet life. After undergoing facial surgery (involving parasitic insects), she transforms into Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh) who rents a house in the city to sell clothes. Soon, she is courted by a local messenger boy named Jiang Ah-Sheng (Korean star Jung Woo-sung) and they marry.
Of course, there will be no happily-after as Wheel King and his gang of assassins - Lei Bin (Shawn Yue), the Magician (Leon Dai) and Zhan Qing (Barbie Hsu) - track down Zeng Jing in their bid to find the magical remains of a revered monk.
HITS & MISSES: There are some beautifully-choreographed balletic action in the first half which centres on the Zeng Jing-Ah Sheng courtship. However, this is where the lull permeates as the romance lacks the requisite sparks. Somehow, the lovers opt to act coy during their meetings in the rain - and it falls on Barbie Hsu's nymphomaniac Zhan Qing (left) to liven up the proceedings. Zhan Qing drops her clothes every so often (but no nude scenes) in her attempt to get what she wants.
The action picks up in the second half where all the action and plot twists unfold. John Woo, who directs the action sequences, employs lots of wire-fu and fantasy elements to provide some spectacular visuals. However, these are too manipulative to make us feel that there is any danger involved. I had thought that Wang Xueqi is wasted in his role as chief assassin but Taiwan writer-director Su Chao-pin has a few tricks up his sleeve for him. In the end, Wang's character turns up to be the most interesting, overshadowing even Michelle's performance. Reign Of Assassins will be reworked for Western audiences but I don't see it triumphing over Ang Lee's 2000 Crouching Tiger epic.
THE LOWDOWN: Should be quite a hit with kungfu fans.