is the stuff dreams are made. However, in Ming-era China, it is not a
little black bird, but an ancient monk’s corpse—two halves of it to be
precise. While her Dark Stone assassin guild will kill or die for the martial
arts-infused body, one former femme fatale-killer opts to go straight and
responsible in Su Chao-pin’s Reign of Assassins (trailer
“co-directed” with the John Woo, which releases today on DVD, from
Weinstein and Anchor Bay.
to legend (and Reign’s cool
animated prologue), when the Bodhi monk came to China, he perfected the
practice of martial arts. So profound was his kung fu enlightenment, it
became ingrained in his very body. Hence, his divided cadaver was plundered
from the tomb for the sake of the power it might bestow. Wheel King, the
shadowy leader of the Dark Stone, is determined to find and unite the monk’s
remains. Yes, he wants that martial arts mojo, but he has other secret
motivations as well. However, Drizzle, one of his top lieutenants, has
gone rogue at an in/opportune time.
her features, Drizzle becomes the beautiful but mild mannered Zeng Jing, a
street vendor with a huge stash of silver under her floor. Naturally, she
turns the heads of all the men in town, but only the foot courier Jiang
Ah-sheng is worth a second look. It turns out he is worth marrying.
Unfortunately, when bandits strike close to home looking for the Bodhi body,
her façade starts to slip. Suddenly, Zeng’s former colleagues come
Reign has a
massive karmic twist that might be guessable, but still packs an archetypal
punch. It also has Kelly Lin as the before Drizzle, Michelle Yeoh as the
after Zeng (talk about twice lucky), and Barbie Hsu as the red-hot psycho Dark
Stone recruit, Turquoise Leaf. Indeed, Reign is blessed with a great action heroine in Yeoh, who is
still impressive in the fight scenes, as well as several memorably colorful
villains, most definitely including Hsu. Once again, Wang Xueqi does his
thing, making Wheel King one heavy old cat. Yet, Reign also has some nice quiet
moments shared by Yeoh’s Zeng and Jung Woo-sung as the apparently genial Jiang.
While Reign does not exactly reinvent fight
choreography, its execution is pretty spectacular, especially sequences
featuring Drizzle/Zeng’s “water-shedding-sword” technique. The symmetry of its
fight scenes is also cool and clever. Reign
might not display very many Woo-isms, but it has a well-crafted period
look. Plus, there are some stone-cold Buddhist elements, including Calvin
Li memorably playing a monk-to-be appropriately named “Wisdom.” It is a
relatively brief appearance, but he looms large. It is also fun and wonderfully
reassuring watching Yeoh bring it once again. She still has massive skills and
super screen presence.
Reign was on the
festival circuit several years ago, so its absence on home video has been
mystifying. It will be worth the wait for wuxia and Yeoh fans (presumably there
is a lot of crossover between the two). Recommended for those who
appreciate elegant, character-driven martial arts cinema, Reign of Assassins is now available on DVD, from the Weinstein Company
and Anchor Bay.
Labels: Barbie Hsu, Buddhism on film, DVD, John Woo, Martial arts cinema, Michelle Yeoh