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

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

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.