• Assassins, The

    Released on: Jan. 8th, 2013
    Released by: Well Go USA Entertainment
    Director: Zhao Yiyang
    Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Liu Yi Fei, Tamako Hiroshi, Qui Xin Zhi, Alec Su
    Year: 2012
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    The Movie:

    Continuing the Red Cliff saga is another Chinese history lesson titled The Assassins. The film focuses primarily on Cao Cao (Yun Fat), chancellor of the Eastern Han dynasty during its final years. A brilliant general but tyrannical and seemingly cruel this story seeks to find the little-known compassionate and emotional side to this famous ruler.

    The film starts, though, with the long-seeded efforts to depose Cao Cao by rebels snatching up the orphans from Cao Cao’s purges across the country and then training them for many years to become the weapons of that tyrant’s destruction. Here the love story is developed as young friends Mu Shun (Hiroshi) and Ling Ju (Liu Yi Fei) fight to keep each other alive by being each other’s hope for some kind of peace and escape from their torment. Years pass as Cao Cao further establishes his power base, using the puppet Emperor Xian (Su) to fulfill all the state formalities. Mu Shun is castrated and made a eunuch in the court and Ling Yu is sold as Cao Cao’s chief concubine in order to keep these sleeper assassins close by, ready to strike.

    However, Cao Cao hasn’t won any friends in his rise to power and many other lords, generals and warlords plot his demise. They worry over his inappropriateness toward the long-standing Han dynasty by using a puppet emperor and want to preserve the dynasty. At the same time, his own son, Cao Pi (Qui Xin Zhi), has his eye both on the throne as well as Xian’s wife. So, a couple of separate assassination attempts occur while Mu Shun and Ling Yu bide their time, waiting for the right time - literally, when the stars align and signal regime change

    This mix of violence, greed, distrust and revenge serves as the swollen dramatic undercurrent for the film and while it makes for some good melodramatic moments it also threatens to overwhelm the story by burying it with just too many competing elements. This is, though, something I’ve found in a fair amount of the recent Chinese cinema I’ve watched and seems to be the intentional pattern of storytelling. Here, though, all these competing storylines get held in check and balanced out by the character of Cao Cao and Chow Yun Fat’s fantastic performance. While he can be ruthless he’s direct and clear in his loyalties and intentions. And yet at the same time he’s also weary of the battle and the cost of it on his own life and the lives of those around him. He truly reaches out to Ling Yu and is willing to be vulnerable and open which better informs his character’s actions throughout the film, providing a consistent and compelling centralized force to the action.


    This BD from Well Go USA is presented in 16:9 widescreen and utilizes that well. The film is big and colorful, almost over-saturated in lavishness at times - but the image quality is exceptional throughout, nicely showing off all the period costuming and variety of sets and locales. Black levels are crisp and well-defined, too, with little-to-no muddiness or blockiness visible.

    Audio is available in either Mandarin or English, in either 5.1 DTS HDMA or 2.0 Stereo, with both options holding up very well and clearly as the film exploits it for a wide range of duties, from close-in, whispered scenes to huge battle sequences. English and Chinese subtitles are available here as well.

    Apart from a scene selection menu the only other included options are the film’s original trailer and a roughly :14 minute behind the scenes featurette that has interviews with the actors and shows the director and writer’s creative process as well.

    The Final Word:

    With many different storylines competing for prominence The Assassins is threatened to be dragged down under the weight of so much going on in it. But thanks to a fresh, compelling take on a major historical figure and an incredibly good performance from Chow Yun Fat the film becomes an interesting new look at a particular significant time in the history of China. Plus, the film makes a sound point that despite the affectations of ruling and rulers the true power resides in the relatable, strong ruler that makes him popular with the masses.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!