A martial arts film that is simultaneously formulaic and original, Reign of Assassins (Jianyu) is finally released in the UK after a two and a half year wait.
I first saw this Chinese-Taiwanese production back in 2010 when I was on holiday in Malaysia, one of several Asian territories that was showing it at the time (perhaps because the leading lady, Michelle Yeoh, is Malaysian). My memories of the story got a bit fuzzy since then, however, so I had to watch the film again recently to refresh my memory. On second viewing, it doesn’t hold up quite as well as I had hoped, but there are still some genuine pleasures to be had.
Yeoh plays ‘Drizzle’, the most developed character, who used to be a trained assassin but now only wants to protect the remains of a former Buddhist monk, for reasons that are not always obvious. This leads to all sorts of entanglements with a group of assassins hell-bent on retrieving the body from her, one of whom is played by famous Korean actor Jung Woo-sung. Involving typical wuxia (martial art hero) plot tropes such as destiny, love, revenge, and secret identities and powers, it can be a bit cliché at times, but there are enough twists and turns to hold one’s interest.
The action scenes flow well, with choreography assisted by director John Woo (Face/Off, Red Cliff), who also seems to enjoy stories involving cosmetic surgery and false appearances. Thankfully light on CGI, though boasting some impressive wirework and swordfights reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this film harkens back to the Hong Kong martial arts classics of the 1970s and 80s without feeling too tired in the delivery. All of this adds up to a good choice for a rainy day at the theatre.
By Tim Holm