The Emperor & The Assassin

"OK"

The Emperor & The Assassin Review


An ambitious historical epic of espionage, artifice and combat in the imperial courts of ancient China, "The Emperor and the Assassin" vividly fictionalizes the brutal, third Century B.C. unification of that nation by the psychologically unstable King of Qin (Li Xuejian), the most powerful of the region's of seven kingdoms.

A complex, manifold narrative from Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine," "Temptress Moon"), this wildly cinematic, Homeric endeavor juggles a lot of information in its sprawling 161 minutes, and is sewn together by a few key performances.

Gong Li is Lady Zhao, the King's lover and a royal from another kingdom, who is assigned to arrange an assassination attempt on the King, so Qin will have an excuse to invade the kingdom of Yan.

Zhang Fengyi is Jing Ke, the infamous assassin she tries to recruit, but falls in love with instead. Years before Jing became beggar after a crisis of conscience brought on by haunting memories of a blind girl he left orphaned (something Chan revisits repeatedly), and it takes witnessing Qin's military barbarity to coax him out of penitent retirement.

But the King's intentions are noble at first. A hero as the film begins, leading his troops into battle against neighboring Han, the mood-swinging King dreams of peace and prosperity in a harmonious China. But a psychotic appetite for destruction consumes him after he discovers several skeletons in his dynasty's closet, triggering genocidal brutality and leading to massive slaughters as his armies over-run rival kingdoms.

Coup attempts by Machiavellian underlings follow (Wang Zhiwen is oddly enjoyable as the conniving Marquis, an adviser to the king, his mother's secret lover and an absolute snake), and Lady Zhao, after seeing her own kingdom's children methodically murdered, so the King of Qin might elude any chance of future vengeance, resolves to see her assassination attempt through to actual fruition (in which case she should have recruited a hit man with less on his mind).

As a director, Chen is in love with every moment of his film, and it's astounding what he accomplishes on what by Hollywood standards would be a very small budget. The picture is saturated with symbolism and sumptuously filmed with choreographed horse-and-chariot battle sequences, elegant but simple cultural costumes, and an unforgettably imposing scene of the coup attempt, which ends with the Marquis and his followers being outnumbered, out-maneuvered and subsequently massacred by the King's guard on the vast steps of the spectacular palace.

But while savory as a visual and historical document -- if occasionally confusing (the press kit came with geography and character charts) -- "The Emperor and the Assassin" is also lethargic (the first hour could have easily been 20 minutes) and inconsistent -- especially when it comes to the character of the King, whose composure, charisma and emotional stability are (literally) all over the map.

Once the intrigue finally gets rolling, "The Emperor and the Assassin" might really engross anyone who is still awake, but it's still too much to digest in one sitting. I can't believe I'm suggesting this, but this story, with this amount of detail, would have made a better miniseries than a feature film.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Lady Zhao, as Jing Ke, as Dan, Prince of Yan, as General Fan Yuqi, Wang Zhi-Wen as Marquis Changxin, as Lu Buwei, as Queen Mother, Zhao Benshan as Gao Jianli, as Qin Wuyang, Pan Chang-Jiang as Prison Official, as Blind Girl, as Ying Zheng

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in...

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

With the more dumbed-down title Fast & Furious 8 outside of North America, this overcrowded...

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the...

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel is adapted into a remarkably intelligent, gently involving film anchored...

The Boss Baby Movie Review

The Boss Baby Movie Review

There isn't a lot of subtlety in this madcap animated comedy, which is more aimed...

Advertisement
City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

After the latest incarnation of Dredd, director Pete Travis shifts gears drastically for this complex...

Going in Style Movie Review

Going in Style Movie Review

This is only technically a remake of the iconic 1979 film starring movie icons George...

Graduation Movie Review

Graduation Movie Review

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) recounts another staggeringly detailed...

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the...

Free Fire Movie Review

Free Fire Movie Review

Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.