The Assassins Blu-ray Review
For five years, Ling Ju and Mu Shun were forced into vigorous and relentless training. They, like many of their age, were held to master their skills so that they could one day assassinate the tyrannical chancellor of the Han Dynasty, Cao Cao, before his power could strengthen any more. The key to Cao Cao’s downfall, it’s hoped, is Ling Ju (Crystal Liu Yi Fei), who assumes the role of one of his mistresses. That gives her enough of a position and time to learn more about the man.
It also allows to the viewer to do the same. Cao Cao has been portrayed many times before in both TV (the ‘90s series ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS; the more recent THREE KINGDOMS) and movies (2008’s THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON; John Woo’s 280-minute epic RED CLIFF). The main purpose of THE ASSASSINS, directed by Zhao Yiyang and written by Wang Hailin, is to explore this historical character and make him more human and complex than any previous interpretation. This allows for Chow Yun-Fat to give another strong performance worthy of yet another Hong Kong Film Award nomination for Best Actor (to extend his record to 14 nominations).
Still, the name and talents of Chow Yun-Fat may not be enough to churn up interest from Western audiences (who would know the actor best from the John Woo essentials THE KILLER and HARD BOILED, Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and his turn in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END). The story isn’t one that would have been studied often in textbooks and so is then just another ID-less Chinese historical drama to many.
With that classification, though, it does come with stunning locations (captured through the lens of director of photography Zhao Xiaoding, Academy Award nominee for 2004’s HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) and elaborate costumes (by Yee Chung Man, Academy Award nominee for 2006’s THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER). These are both admirable technical aspects and the best elements of the movie. But THE ASSASSINS can’t survive on just that.
In short, THE ASSASSINS is just not all that interesting. The title suggests action, of which there just isn’t all that much of. (The previous title, BRONZE SPARROW TERRACE, taken from a building Cao Cao had constructed in his own honor, was more accurate but apparently less marketable.) There should be more swordplay and bloodshed than in just the final twenty minutes (which sees a showdown shot and edited with a lot of intrusive close-ups). Also lumped in is a romance subplot between Ling Ju and Mu Shun (Tamaki Hiroshi) that does nothing but halt the overall point of the movie.
THE ASSASSINS, Zhao Yiyang and Wang Hailin have a solid premise and good intentions. But the movie loses its way and never proves itself to be what the filmmakers wanted it to be: the ultimate look at the penultimate chancellor of the Han Dynasty.
Video: 16:9 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Despite how gorgeous the locations and costumes of THE ASSASSINS are, the overall video quality on this Blu-ray is bit of a disappointment. As a whole, the picture lacks detail and has a very soft look to it.
Audio: Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Unlike the video transfer, the audio transfer is stellar, presenting clean Mandarin dialogue, a powering score and thumping sound effects throughout.
Behind the Scenes (13:45): This standard making-of featurette uses interviews, clips and on-set footage to give a brief look at the making of THE ASSASSINS.