Reign of Assassins (Review)

Reign of Assassins

aka Jianyu

Directed by Su Chao-Pin and John Woo

Reign of Assassins left me angry, not because it is a bad film, but because it could have been an outstanding film. Reign of Assassins had the potential to be an awesome and unforgettable film experience. Instead, we have just a good film, with parts I remember more because of how they could have been and not what they are. Yes, there are some great sequences in Reign of Assassins (RoA for those of us who are cool), mostly the action sequences (which is where it looks like John Woo just completely took over), but there are many other parts that look great in screencaps and as stills.

Interesting characters are introduced, only to be barely in the film or have suspect motivations, while other characters get far far too much screen time. Why we had like 30 minutes of the land lady vs. five minutes of the Magician I will never know. The villain’s big secret reveal was a let down, as was his secret identity. Why does the undisputed master of the biggest circle of thieves need a secret identity? And it isn’t even a secret identity that he uses to get information no one else can get, he’s just… Gah!

One is tempted to compare this to John Woo’s Face/Off, what with all the face-switching, but he didn’t write the film and seemed to be just hanging around the set all day telling Su Chao-Pin what to do. I guess he just sort of took over and Su Chao-Pin was so impressed that John Woo is hanging around he just let him. John Woo’s daughter Angeles Woo even shows up near the beginning of the film! So we can say that Su Chao-Pin got Wooed. Big time.

Just imagine one day you are directing a film, and then Steven Spielberg walks in and says he loves the script and wants to hang out on set. Of course you’re stoked, you are in the presence of a master and probably learn a lot. Then the next day, Steven comes back. And that’s cool. And he has tips and helps out your crew. Then he comes back again the next day. And the next. Soon your crew starts deferring to him and he virtually takes over directing most of the major scenes. The press gets wind, and suddenly your film is now “Steven Spielberg’s…” and his daughter is suddenly cast in it. Soon, no one even remembers who you are. Your star asks you to go get coffee. Spielberg is sent on a ten city tour to promote the film, while you get yelled at for forgetting the hazelnut syrup in the latte. Bitter and dejected, you then log onto TarsTarkas.NET, only to find even he is making fun of you. Your life is ruined, and there is nothing left to do but jump off the Empire State Building. But don’t despair, I think they got suicide nets now. Try the Golden Gate Bridge, it is still net free at the moment.

Now, I’m not saying that’s what happened on this film, I’m just saying they need to get the barriers on the bridge built faster.

So let’s start the Roll Call for John Woo’s Reign of Assassins!

Zeng Jing aka Drizzle (Michelle Yeoh) – Change your face, change your life. Also steal half of a dead body and realize you can’t really leave the underworld unless it is on a trail of dead bodies. Michelle Yeoh is famous enough I shouldn’t have to explain who she is.
Jiang Ah-Sheng (Jung Woo-Sung) – Zeng Jing’s husband with a secret of his own. He’s a delivery guy who enjoys hiding from the rain and being rejected by Zeng Jing. Until she finally marries him because we’ve wasted enough time in the village and the plot demands we continue on. Jung Woo-Sung was in Musaand The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.
Wheel King (Wang Xue-Qi) – Leader of the Dark Stone, the super thieves gang that rules the Chinese underworld. He has a secret identity and a secret. He also has a goofy nickname. Just because he did awesome on Wheel of Fortune and even scored a date with Vanna White, he’ll never live it down….
Turquoise Leaf (Barbie Hsu Hsi-Yuan) – Barbie Hsu plays a good crazy woman, you almost forget she can play likable characters (cough cough Adventure of the King), or characters that are the living embodiment of a gloomy rainy day (cough cough Future X-Cops).
The Magician (Leon Dai Lap-Yan) – The coolest character who is completely ignored and quickly eliminated. That’s what you get for not being a boring guy who likes noodles!
Lei Bin (Shawn Yu Man-Lok ) – The needles guy likes noodles. This guy is pretty boring, and throwing needles is something that you usually see women doing in martial arts films. Another Dark Stone assassins. Did you know Dark Stone members are called “Dark Stoners”? Now you do! Shawn Yu has been in the Infernal Affairs trilogy and tons of other films I have seen but not written reviews of.
Drizzle (Kelly Lin Hsi-Lei) – Here is Drizzle pre-face surgery, because she was played by someone famous so we’re namedropping her. Largely because Kelly Lin was in Asian Charlie’s Angels.

Plot Time! The opening explanation in a flash animation is actually better than the stylized text opening from Detective Dee.

The body of Bodhi (insert Clue joke here) gives magic kung fu powers to anyone who can get his body and study how the veins and arteries all line up. Then they can rule the Martial World (aka Jiang Hu). The secret thieves group The Dark Stone kill and rob their way across ancient China and agent Drizzle gets a hold of half of the remains. She then bolts and a price is put on her head. So Drizzle goes to the Dr. 90210 of ancient China and gets her face changed via worms that eat cheekbones and gold thread. Hey, don’t complain, suddenly Kelly Lin turns into Michele Yeoh, so I guess it works!

Michelle Yeoh is now living the quiet life as a woman named Zeng Jing, and we spend a long time seeing her live the quiet life and her annoying land lady continuing to set her up with a parade of losers. That’s what I want in my action film, 30+ minutes of boring village time. Finally, Michelle Yeoh realizes she’s in love with the messenger guy Jiang Ah-Sheng who she was spending tons of time with hiding from the rain. It’s neat how ruthless assassins can all quickly fall in love and stuff.

But a foiled bank heist where Zeng Jing must kill a bunch of dudes exposes her when her kung fu style is recognized. The Dark Stone goon squad is sent out, including the replacement for Drizzle, a psychopathic girl named Turquoise played to crazed intensity by Barbie Hsu.

Drizzle makes a deal to get the other half of the body in exchange for her and her husband to be left in peace. But things don’t go quite the way they seem as not everyone on Team Dark Stone is happy and someone challenges the Wheel King, while Zeng Jing must fend off Turquoise and her crazy obsession with her husband.

But Jiang Ah-Sheng also has some secrets of his own. In fact, there are like a bajillion secrets in this film. Secrets (secrets) are no fun
Secrets (secrets) hurt someone
Let me tell you how it all began
A little secret got out of hand
Then a lot of people get killed in highly choreographed action sequences. The End.

Oh, I guess we should continue our complaints. Because where else on the internet can you find someone complaining? The Dark Stone seems all cool but they do some stupid things, and any member who doesn’t have a nickname will be dead in three seconds of screentime. So remember to have a nickname if you are in a gang of anonymous assassins.

Once we find out why Wheel King is all obsessed with finding the body, I felt sort of how Turquoise feels when she finds out, except about the movie not Wheel King. And then the movie tries to do to me what it does to Turquoise (which was awesomely disturbing, btw), but I kicked this movie in the neck because I am part of the Jiang Hu world…of the internet! e-Jiang Hu.

One thing I don’t recall from the film is why Drizzle ran off in the first place. Maybe they address it, but it isn’t memorial enough for me to remember it.

Reign of Assassins isn’t that bad. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is competent and parts of it work really well. But like that George Washington painting that was never finished, this movie is incomplete due to some flaws and pacing issues. And I don’t think Lisa Simpson will find a magic Director’s Cut hidden in a flute somewhere.

Did you know that John Woo directed an unaired pilot for a Lost in Space remake? Let me tell you more about this movie’s director, John Woo, and….Hey, GET OFF THAT BRIDGE!!!!

Oh, dear! Someone get a net!

Rated 7/10 (half-body, guy who won’t have any bearing on the plot at all, time waster, teeth haver, face puncher, robber in the wrong place, famous people out of nowhere!)

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