The irrepressible Michelle Yeoh kicks all kinds of arse in Reign of Assassins, a swashbuckling martial arts actioner that has more than a in common with Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight.
What do these two films have in common, you ask? Well, you see, both films feature an ex-assassin trying to lead an ordinary life. In this case, we have Drizzle (Yeoh) who, as a member of the Dark Stone gang, helped steal a MacGuffin in the opening scene. Instead of handing it over to her master, she instead scoots off with it, hiding the precious item before finding enlightenment and giving up the murdering game. She opens a stall selling fabrics, and before long has attracted the attention of the dorky yet lovable messenger, Ah-feng. Romance blossoms, but the Dark Stone gang aren’t about the let Drizzle get away with it.
The first 15 minutes of Reign of Assassins is cluttered and near overwhelming. We have flashbacks within flashbacks stuck next to high velocity action scenes, and I really had to concentrate to take it all in. It soon slows down, however, as we settle in to watch Ah-feng and Drizzle’s relationship grow. The MacGuffin in question is the remains of an Indian monk that supposedly grant powers of… well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? All we need to know is that people are willing to fight for it. And fight they do.
John Woo co-directs with Chao-Bin Su (though IMDb doesn’t seem to realise this yet) and Woo’s influence is unmistakeable every time the action kicks in. Reign of Assassins is full of balletic (and ballistic) wirework and is wondrously edited. In this post-Bourne world, it’s nice to know that some action movies can cut together a comprehensible action scene. There are flaming swords, deadly darts and most importantly, Drizzle’s Floppy Sword. OK, so it’s not called the Floppy Sword, but that’s all you need to know. Deadly yet lightweight, it can warp to execute a killing blow around her opponent’s weapons. It’s gloriously silly but great fun to watch. The Blu-ray shows off the most exciting moments with aplomb, though the film stock can be a little grainy where shadows are concerned.
Yeoh is fantastic as always and you truly believe she is capable of such lethal manoeuvres (which isn’t bad for someone at age 48.) Woo-sung Jung puts in a perfect performance as the love struck Ah-feng, though the age gap between the two is a little distracting. The other assassins don’t really get nearly enough characterisation, though Turquoise (Kelly Lin) is a deliciously off-balance psychopath.
Reign of Assassins is good fun, though could have had a good twenty minutes chopped off the running time. The film slows down too much in the build-up to the final act and at two hours, it does test one’s patience. If it had been an efficient 100 minutes or so, it would have been much better.
Reign of Assassins is available now from Madman on Blu-Ray and DVD.Rating: