Despite its opening–a training camp for turning kidnapped peasant children into killers–The Assassins is actually a manor drama. Sure, it’s a Chinese manor drama, but it’s a manor drama. The action principally takes place at Chow Yun-fat’s estate. There are all sorts of political machinations (none interesting) and some character development (mildly interesting).
Chow looks distressed throughout the picture. It fits his character but one has to wonder if he realized what a terrible job director Zhao Linshan does. The Assassins has no personality. It occasionally has rapid action movie cuts and, of course, it has to have wire-work and then there’s the occasional bullet time, but it has no personality. The estate has no presence. It’s ornate but alien.
And director Zhao’s awful at handling the political stuff. The bad guys are immediately demonized–or just played as buffoons. The protagonist of the film isn’t even Chow (though he takes over the second he arrives) but Liu Yifei, as a young woman sent to the estate to kill him. Hence the title.
Chow’s great, Liu isn’t bad (though her voiceovers are the worst written thing in the film) and Annie Yi’s decent as the Empress who conspires against Chow. The male supporting cast is weak, however. Tamaki Hiroshi is awful, as are Alec Su and Qiu Xinzhi.
Excellent photography from Zhao Xiaoding helps a little, but not enough to make The Assassins compelling. The film’s failings aren’t all director Zhao’s fault, just most of them.
Directed by Zhao Linshan; written by Wang Bin; director of photography, Zhao Xiaoding; edited by Cheng Long; music by Mei Linmao and Lin Maoqing; produced by Zhao Xiaoding; released by Changchun Motion Picture Studio.
Starring Chow Yun-fat (Cao Cao), Liu Yifei (Ling Ju), Tamaki Hiroshi (Mu Shun), Alec Su (Emperor Xian of Han), Annie Yi (Empress Fu Shou), Qiu Xinzhi (Cao Pi), Yao Lu (Ji Ben) and Ni Dahong (Fu Wan).