Reign of Assassins

Reign of Assassinsreview by Steve Cameron

Distributor: Madman
Language: Mandarin (with English subtitles)

In Reign of Assassins, the legend states that those who possess the remains of a mystical monk will have access to its magical powers, including complete control and mastery of the Kung-Fu world. As the most ruthless assassin of the Dark Stone gang, Drizzle finds herself owning half the remains, as well as a large amount of gold. She decides to give up her past, and undergoes a change of name, a change of face (ancient plastic surgery), a change of address and occupation, all to obtain the unassuming, peaceful life she’s always dreamt of. And then she falls in love. But the Dark Stone can’t be shaken that easily. They want the monk’s body, and no one will get in their way.

I’m not a fan of the whole Hong Kong martial arts, flying warriors, leaping soldiers and mystical Chinese genre, and I’m definitely not a fan of John Woo. So it was with a little resistance that I finally dropped this disc into the player. I needn’t have been concerned.

The next two hours flew past. Once you accept the basic premise of the story, nothing else there is ridiculous (which is the problem I’ve often had with these ‘mystical’ films).

This film is not only beautiful to look at, but the story is absorbing (if completely far-fetched) and superbly directed. Although Woo’s name is all over this, he is not the director and it bears none of his heavy-handed approach that mars most of his western films.

The martial arts sequences are not as prevalent as in many other films of this genre, and they are certainly more restrained and less fantastical. The budding romance between Drizzle and the messenger boy is gradually and tastefully unfolded, and is not without humour. I found myself laughing loudly several times.

And then there are the twists. And no, I didn’t see them coming.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining, beautiful film. A talented cast, suitably underplayed and a fascinating story well told. A Chinese Kill Bill that I will be recommending to my friends.

Originally published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011.  This post has been pre-dated to reflect the original publication date.