Thursday, 23 May 2013

Reign Of Assassins (4½ Stars)

The original Chinese title of this film is "Swords and Rain, Rivers and Lakes". I admit that this is a mouthful, but the English title doesn't really make sense. There is no "reign" in the film, and the main characters are only indirectly assassins.

The film centres around the corpse of an Indian Buddhist monk called Bodhi. It is rumored that whoever possesses the corpse is granted supernatural powers. In the first half of the film it seems that these powers are fighting skills -- though I have a suspicion that this may be a translation error in the subtitles -- but towards the end we see that it is healing powers, such as the power to regrow lost limbs. To prevent anyone gaining such power the corpse is divided into two halves. One half is stolen from the prime minister by the Dark Stone gang, but the gang member called Drizzle (Michelle Yeoh) betrays the gang by fleeing and keeping the corpse half for herself. While on the run she meets a monk called Wisdom who takes her in and tries to turn her from her ways of evil. Only after killing him does she abandon her life of crime. She tries to live a normal life, but her former gang are searching for her, especially after they manage to retrieve the other half of the corpse.

What makes this film special is the characterisation of the outlaws. (I prefer the word "outlaw" to "assassin"). Chinese films are usually very black and white. The good guys are perfect and the bad guys are pure evil. This film attempts to show us the depths of the personalities of the Dark Stone gang. They are all very pleasant characters, and it's difficult not to like them. The leader, Wheel King, is an enigmatic teacher driven only by the desire to overcome a physical deformity. Lei Bin is a man with a passion to create the perfect noodles, always reluctant to fight, sitting and waiting until there is no other possibility. The Wizard is a man who prefers trickery to actual fighting. Even Turquoise, on the surface the most evil of the gang, is a tragic figure. She kills without mercy, but she is driven by the desire to be the most beautiful and most desired woman, flying into a rage whenever she is spurned.

The film is full of fighting scenes and romance. Other critics complain that there is not enough fighting, but I find it a good mix. The plot twist towards the end will leave you gasping. My only problem with the film is that at times there is a lot of fast dialog, meaning that the subtitle screens changed too fast for me to read them. This is my personal problem as someone who doesn't speak Chinese. Overall, this is an excellent film that I highly recommend.

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