Back in the day, in this film ‘Reign of Assassins’, there was this sage and wise Martial artist named Bodhi. One day Bodhi died, as old people tend to do, but there was something about Bodhi. Something awesome. Something so awesome that some ne’er do wells stole Bodhi’s remains because holding the secret of his remains will make you the king of Martial Arts, and being the king of Martial Arts during this time period makes you the king of everything. Somehow the remains of Bodhi were split in half and now the task for the killers, thieves and assassins is to find the two halves and unite them as one and unleash their power. That’s crazy, I know, but apparently that’s how they did stuff back in ancient China. The oppressive group of the day is the Dark Stone led by the terribly lethal Cao Feng (Xueqi Wang), better known as The Wheel King, and he and his crew of nutjob killers have stormed where one half of the remains are held to claim them as their own. Which they do. Kind of. You see the nutjob killer known as Drizzle, right now looking a lot like actress Kelly Lin, has taken this half of Bodhi and disappeared. Now the name Drizzle might not sound all that oppressive but image rain drizzling on you, but instead of soft water that drizzle is instead the relentless attack of sharpened blades. Now what do you have to say? That’s what I thought.
Without giving too much away, Drizzle, who was truly a total nutjob, has decided her previous life of murdering is not the life she wants anymore. Even though she’s damn good at it. Damn good. So she changes her appearance, swears off murdering and settles down to a nice simple life. Still in possession of her half of Bodhi’s remains and an awful lot of silver to live off of.
But The Wheel King wants… no, he needs Bodhi’s body. He has placed a bounty on the head of Drizzle, now going by the name of Zeng Jing and looking like actress Michelle Yeoh. But if Zeng Jing can just stay out of trouble, stay low key, Cao Feng will never find her.
Then there’s Jiang a-Sheng (Woo-sung Jung), the amorous, simple man who has fallen in love with this simple woman who makes the beautiful cloth. She tried to resist, but alas Sheng’s game is too strong and they are soon husband and wife. Sadly it’s not long, via one of this films better scenes, before The Wheel King and his Dark Stone crew which includes Lei Beng and his needles (Shawn Yue), Lian Sheng and his magic (Leon Dai) and Ye Zhanqing and her insanity (Barbie Hsu), track her down and make her an ultimatum. Help them retrieve the Bodhi or watch her beloved husband die, quickly followed by her own death. Zeng Jing knows that the man speaks with a forked tongue but what can she do? As lethal as she might be The Wheel King is the Kung Fu Truth.
I don’t need to tell you that some glorious battles will follow, we will learn the reason that the Wheel King really, really wants Bodhi’s remains and there’s one more little secret waiting for us which I’m betting you probably will already know what it is long before it’s told to us.
My first question, in regards to ‘Reign of Assassins’, would be who directed this movie, Chao-Bin Su, who is listed as the director or John Woo who is credited as the ‘co-director’? I’m thinking if I’m a relatively young director and a legend was hanging around set occasionally directing a scene or two of my movie, that would make me a little uncomfortable. This might also have added to the mixed bag of things we got with ‘Reign of Assassins’ which was one part pure exhilaration and one part overwrought melodrama. The thing is that both of those parts seem to work separately, I’m just not sure how well they work together.
First off the action sequences are fantastic, exciting, fast moving and brisk. Heck if I know which one of the two directors is responsible for these, but they are incredibly well done. Michelle Yeoh has been in so many of these movies I would worry about her every time she walked past a window because the woman might think she can actually fly, and not surprisingly she handled the role with ease. There wasn’t much of a bridge between Kelly Lin and Michelle Yeoh’s version of the same character, Kelly Lin playing Drizzle as a violent psycho and Michelle Yeoh portraying her as serenity personified, but I imagine that was the point though some thread of similarity would’ve helped to tie the two actresses together somehow.
The love story part kind of worked, I mean Michelle Yeoh and Woo-sung Jung are interesting actors and they had chemistry together, but there were these extended stretches of courtship which… well… I got tired of looking at after a while. I kinda needed somebody to get kicked in the face to break the monotony. Or better yet, since we’re taking the time to develop characters and all, and considering that I get the fact those two like each other, let’s spend some time with the needle guy who seemed to have and interesting back story, the crazy chick who likes to sleep with men and then stab them to death and the magical kung fu guy who we got to know next to nothing about. And don’t get us started on the Wheel King. Now that guy had a story to tell.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy ‘Reign of Assassins’ for the wire-fu action, some clever touches here and there, the poorly concealed ‘secret twist’ and even the melodrama overkill, but given a choice I would’ve preferred the melodrama spread out evenly across the characters… or better yet… get rid of it altogether. If it were up to me.