Reign of Assassins

Michelle Yeoh still in fine fighting form

Martial arts goddess Michelle Yeoh and Korean Wave god Jung Woo Sung in one movie sounds like Heaven – and it is. Reign of Assassins is a multi-layered treat for martial arts fans. It’s another of those big and beautiful Wuxia movies that take place in a universe where martial arts rules and the impossible is ordinary.

Yeoh plays Drizzle, a former assassin seeking a more peaceful existence. Unfortunately, she also chose to nick half a mummified Buddhist priest that her old master wants badly. She changes her face with the help of insects and gold thread – definitely better than botox if you end up looking like Michelle Yeoh – and her name to Zeng Jing, and goes into hiding as a seller of cloth. After some hilarious attempts by her landlady to get her married off, Zeng is romanced by the bumbling local courier, Ah Sheng, engagingly played by Jung Woo Sung. It is a fact of cinematic life that his fangurls love him even more when he’s playing dumb.
Jung Woo Sung – from bumbler to barnstormer

The gentle scenes of domestic harmony that ensues when Zeng marries her deliriously dopey postman do not sidetrack into sweaty flights of passion, but instead draws a picture of two people supremely happy and content in each other’s company. It is irrelevant that she is obviously older than him – although the ever present landlady diplomatically alludes to it with some herbal help on getting pregnant – and the relationship is one we we all wish for in our hearts. But it is soon shattered with the arrival of Zeng’s former master, the Wheel King (Wang Xuequi) and three of the members of his assassin squad, the Dark Stone, after her identity is exposed during a bank robbery

Two are old colleagues of hers – Lei bin (Shawn Yue) whose way with needles definitely lacks the healing qualities of acupuncture, and the magician (Leon Dai). The third member of the group is a new recruit – Turquoise, a lusty babe who killed her husband because he was impotent and who was sentenced to be buried alive. She’s played by Barbie Hsu, more of a Michelle Rodriguez than a Zhang Ziyi, a singer turned actress whose future in movies is assured, going by this performance.  She is a wicked Tourquoise, taunting Zeng with threats to murder the husband she loves. The scene where she tries to seduce Ah Sheng is brilliantly funny.
Barbie Hsu – a performance to relish

There is plenty of Kung Fu action, but there is also humour, romance and some serious dramatic developments that take the viewer by surprise. The courtship between Zeng and her bumbling suitor is especially delightful, played out in the rain, which also underscores Zeng’s assassin name, Drizzle – referring to a sword fighting technique, and not her emotional nature.

Woo Sung’s Ah Sheng gambols about bumping into everything, but we fans know what’s going to happen when things go pear shaped. Although he spends the first half of the movie being protected by Zeng from the bad guys in some wildly funny sequences, when it is his turn to protect her, you just know the man’s going to turn into a sword wielding force of nature with the grace of a panther.

The plot is full of surprises, and runs away like a galloping horse sometimes, but the credibility of the acting anchors it all together. Director Su Chao Pin not only has a brilliant cast, stunning scenery and a spirited story to work with, he also got a bit of help from  the legendary John Woo, who apparently couldn’t keep away. With all this going for him, he couldn’t help but make a hit.

After all the plot twists and turns, and the tugging of the heartstrings, the ending is both memorable and satisfying. The underlying theme of the movie – the redemptive power of love – is exemplified by the oft quoted line:  “I would turn into a stone bridge, and endure five hundred years of wind, five hundred years of sunlight, and five hundred years of rain,” if the beloved would walk just walk over the bridge. These are the themes that set Wuxia apart, and why these movies linger with you, and you have to watch them again and again.

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