Reign of Assassins

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“I liked it much better it the first time, when it was called Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

The most disappointing film of 2010? I went in with huge expectations, based on reviews that said, “The best swordplay film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon..” O RLY? I know Crouching Tiger. Crouching Tiger is one of my favourite movies. And Reign of Assassins, you’re no Crouching Tiger. It’s a confused, poorly-shot mess that proved a struggle to endure and a challenge to stay awake, right from the opening lump of introduction. Stick with me for this synopsis. The remains of a Buddhist monk, split in two, are said to turn whoever has them into a kung-fu master. The Dark Stone gang, under the Wheel King (Wang), want to possess them, and get one half, but gang member Drizzle makes off with the body parts, undergoes plastic surgery that turns her into Michelle Yeoh and takes up a quiet life as a fabric seller. She meets and marries Jiang Asheng (Jung), until her secret identity is revealed in a bank raid, and the Dark Stone gang come after her again. However, turns out Jiang isn’t who he seems either…

While obviously, some suspension of disbelief is necessary when watching wuxia films, we’re expected to believe they had plastic surgery? And I thought it was supposed to take years off, not turn Kelly Lin (aged 34) into Yeoh (47). That kind of problem cripples the entire film, as does the leaden romance, with none of the passion seen in Tiger: instead, if we get Jiang offering to help close Drizzle’s stall when it rains once, we get it half a dozen times. Is she too dumb to get a damn canopy? Such thoughts interrupt your train of thought far too often, and as a result it fails to engage, with the bad guys a selection of one-dimensional stereotypes, such as Turquoise (Hsu), Drizzle’s replacement, who drops her clothes at the drop of…er, a cloth. Though her over-acting is at least fun to watch; we simply wanted the Wheel King to get some cough lozenges, his raspy voice being the most irritating since Christian Bale in The Dark Knight.

Much of this could be forgiven if the action was coherently put together, but it isn’t. Ang Lee was wise enough to step back, leave the camera rolling and let Yeoh and Zhang ZiYi do their thing. Neither director here exactly has a pedigree in the swordplay genre – and boy, does it show. Filmed with too many close-ups – it felt pan-and-scanned even though it wasn’t – and edited in such a choppy fashion, you have little clue what’s happening or who’s doing the fighting. Sitting through tedious relationship stuff, only to find the battles largely an incoherent mess, including mediocre CGI, was the final straw. Our interest, already flickering, was finally snuffed out.

Dir: Chao-Bin Su and John Woo
Star: Michelle Yeoh, Woo-sung Jung, Xueqi Wang, Barbie Hsu

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