In 418 CE during the Liu Song Dynasty (劉宋, 420-479 CE), Bodhidharma came to China from India. He was a former Brahman Prince of South India, who became a monk. Bodhidharma earned a reputation as a mystical martial artist during his stay at the JinHua Mountains. Following his death, it was believed his mummified remains have some sort of magical properties and whomever possessed it would control the martial art world. Soon after, the mummified remains of Bodhidharma was stolen from his burial site at Mount Xionger and split into halves. The remains mysteriously disappeared until a rumor surfaced that a high ranking official of Ming Dynasty (大明, 1368-1644 CE), Prime Minister Zhang HaiDuan (Lee Hing-Cheung) owned half of it.
The Dark Stone Guild, a brotherhood of deadly assassins, wanted the half of Bodhidharma’s mummified remains. Led by their merciless leader, Cao Feng (Wang XueQi), and his most ruthless assassin, Xi Yu (Kelly Lin) along with Lei Bin (Shawn Yue) and Lian Sheng (Leon Dai), they stormed Minister HaiDuan’s residence. Xi Yu killed Prime Minister Zhang HaiDuan and his households. She obtained half of the remains and fled amid the chaos. Xi Yu intended to use the half of Bodhidharma’s mummified remains for her personal gains.
Along the way over a bridge after Xi Yu seemingly dispatched Prime Minister Zhang HaiDuan’s son, Zhang RenFeng (Guo XiaoDong), Xi Yu met with Jian Hui (Calvin Li ZongHan). They left to an abandoned temple. Jian Hui gave a pointer to Xi Yu that her swordsmanship had four fatal flaws so that her master, Cao Feng, can manipulate her. Jian Hui trained Xi Yu for the next three months. He adored Xi Yu and hoped to enlighten her to the right path. Toward the end of her training, Jian Hui informed Xi Yu that he was going to become a monk. This turning of event angered Xi Yu because she had unintentionally fallen in love with him. Knowing Xi Yu would not change her way of life as he had wished, Jian Hui sacrificed himself in exchange for her repentance. The death of Jian Hui burdened Xi Yu with sorrow and guilt. It prompted Xi Yu to leave her old life behind.
Meanwhile at Feng Yang Restaurant, the Dark Stone Guild held a meeting attended by martial art world fighters. Cao Feng was enraged when he discovered Xi Yu had gone rogue. He offered 50,000 taels of gold as a bounty for Xi Yu’s head and additional 85,000 taels of silver for the mummified remains. The enormous reward for Xi Yu’s capture and Bodhidharma’s mummified remains practically drove everyone in the martial art world to search for her. Afterward, Cao Feng recruited a condemned prisoner, Ye ZhanQing (Barbie Hsu) as his new assassin to replace Xi Yu.
In order to escape the pursuing members of the Dark Stone Guild and the bounty hunters, she must do something drastic. Xi Yu sought the legendary Doctor Li GuiShou (Chin Shih-Chieh) to undergo an extreme facial surgery. She transformed to a new face and changed her name to Zeng Jing. Now with a different identity, Zeng Jing took the mummified remains of Bodhidharma to its rightful resting place at YunHe Temple in NanJing. At the temple, Zeng Jing received further guidance of Zen Buddhism by Master Xing Chi (You BenChang). Zeng Jing also learned that Jian Hui was actually a ShaoLin Monastery disciple versed in both Buddhism and martial arts. She buried the mummified remains at YunHe Temple and left to embrace a new way of existence.
Moving forward years later, Zeng Jing returned to the capital city, NanJing. She rented a house that used to belong to an imperial physician from Auntie Cai (Paw Hee-Ching). And thus, Zeng Jing began her new assumed life as a humble market stall keeper selling fabric. Soon, she attracted the attention of a shy courier named Jiang Ah-sheng (Jung Woo-sung). Apparently, Auntie Cai was not just managing properties but she was also a matchmaker. She tried to match Zeng Jing with Jiang Ah-sheng. Through their humorous courtship, eventually the two wed and began to live a peaceful normal life.
Six months later at an oil shop in NanJing, the owner was found murdered. The owner, Fatty Chen (Ma ShuLiang), handled bookkeeping for the Dark Stone Guild. According to one of the Dark Stone Guild members, this was the fourth member killed within the last six months. Cao Feng was not only investigated the matter by himself, but he was still searching for Xi Yu’s whereabouts and the mummified remains. He also discovered that Kongtong Sect had sent two of their disciples to make arrangement for the sale of the other half of Bodhidharma’s mummified remains to the owner of Tong Bao Bank, Zhang DaJing (You LiPing). The sales meeting would take place in a month time at the bank.
Days leading to the meeting between the Kongtong disciples and Zhang DaJing, Jiang Ah-seng and Zeng Jing were at Tong Bao Bank to exchange a bank note. All of a sudden, members of SongYang Five burst into the bank to rob. The SongYang members immobilized the bank customers including Jiang Ah-seng and Zeng Jing. The SongYang Five Leader (Hu XiaoGuang) asked the bank manager to direct him the bank’s vault. As he was searching inside the vault for Bodhidharma’s mummified remains, the local constables arrived outside Tong Bao Bank.
SongYang Five Leader signaled his members to begin killing all the customers. In the heat of the moment, Jiang Ah-seng sprung to his feet ready to protect his wife. But Zeng Jing was quicker than him and she easily disarmed one of the SongYang Five members. Zeng Jing placed the half immobilized Jiang Ah-seng to a chair and faced him away from her. She then swiftly attacked the SongYang Five members. Zeng Jing did not just overpower the SongYang Five members, but she also blinded them as well. She took Jiang Ah-seng by the arms and escaped from the back door just as the local constables gained entry to the Tong Bao Bank.
The confrontation at the Tong Bao Bank attracted the attention of Cao Feng. He dragged the SongYang Five Leader out of prison and brought him to Tong Bao Bank. Cao Feng demanded SongYang Five Leader to relive the confrontation and simulated the fight movements. Cao Feng right away recognized the martial art used against SongYang Five Leader. Xi Yu’s identity was unveiled and her past finally caught up with her. Cao Feng then summoned a trio of his top assassins – Lei Bin, Lian Sheng, and Ye ZhanQing – to hunt down Xi Yu.
The following day, Lei Bin located Xi Yu despite her changed in appearance. He revealed his arrival in NanJing on the top of the roof in front of Zeng Jing’s stall. Zeng Jing sprinted back to her house and found three black stones on top of a table. She knew what were those black stones symbolized. When Jiang Ah-sheng came home, she sedated him. Zeng Jing then waited for her former Dark Stones Guild members to show up. Lei Bin, Lian Sheng, and Ye ZhanQing entered the house first while Cao Feng made an entrance a moment later. Zeng Jing stated she just want to live a normal life. However, Cao Feng offered her choices of handing over the half remains of Bodhidharma and helped him in collecting the other half for Jiang Ah-sheng’s freedom and hers. Otherwise, the cruel leader of the Dark Stones Guild would kill those around Zeng Jing as a warning. Zeng Jing agreed to the terms and they would meet again at Yue Yang Lou Inn within three days.
Kontong Sect sent a husband-wife couple, Zi Jian (Yuan Zhi-Qiang) and Qing Jian (Pace Wu), as their representative to transact with Zhang DaJing for the half of the mummified remains of Bodhidharma. Zeng Jing, Lei Bin, and Lian Sheng watched their arrival from Yue Yang Lou Inn across the Tong Bao Bank. They planned to attack the bank at night. Meanwhile, Ye ZhanQing stopped by to purposely aggravate Zeng Jing by telling her she had been following Jiang Ah-sheng for three days. Zeng Jing ignored her and walked away to retrieve the buried half of Bodhidharma’s remains from YunHe Temple.
At the exchange, it was revealed that Zhang DaJing owned the other half of Bodhidharma’s mummified remains. Zeng Jing knew immediately the exchange was a trap. Zi Jian and Qing Jian killed Zhang DaJing for the remains. But in an unexpected ploy, Qing Jian dispatched her husband and escaped with the mummified remains. Lian Sheng pursued after Qing Jian to the outer wall of NanJing. By the time Zeng Jing arrived, Lian Sheng had neutralized Qing Jian and he was planning to take the remains for himself. Cao Feng and Lei Bin appeared just as Zeng Jing was about to prevent Lian Sheng from leaving.
Lian Sheng tried to persuade Lei Bin and Zeng Jing to band together against Cao Feng. Zeng Jing refused and decided to hand over the remains. But Ye ZhanQing stopped her from leaving and the two of them began to spar. Cao Feng instantaneously attacked Liang Sheng, who was betraying him. It proved Lian Sheng was no match for Cao Feng. After Cao Feng killed him, he reneged on his offer to let Zeng Jing free and tried to kill her. Barely escaping Cao Feng, Zeng Jing ran home in vain attempt to flee with her husband. She collapsed in Jiang Ah-sheng’s arms upon reaching home. Jiang Ah-sheng put his wounded wife to bed and began to dig the floor.
Lei Bin and Ye ZhanQing showed up at the house along with dozens of Dark Stones assassins in an attempt to eliminate both Zeng Jing and Jiang Ah-sheng. Jiang Ah-sheng calmly welcomed them while sharpening his rusty sword, which he retrieved it from the hole he dug earlier. Lei Bin attacked him with his needles and at once Jiang Ah-sheng fetched his second sword to defend himself. Lei Bin recognized the swords in Jiang Ah-sheng’s hands as those wielded by Zhang RenFeng whom he thought was killed years ago. In order to save his wife, Jiang Ah-sheng revealed his true identity and he managed to kill Lei Bin while wounding Ye ZhanQing.
Zhang RenFeng took Xi Yu to Doctor Li GuiShou to treat her injuries. Doctor Li GuiShou performed facial transformation surgeries on both Xi Yu and Zhang RenFeng in the past. Both had their own reasons for wanting to change their appearances. Doctor Li GuiShou told Zhang RenFeng that everything was pre-destined. Zhang RenFeng survived because he had his heart in reversed position, which explained why he could withstand Xi Yu’s lethal strike. Now that both of their identities had been revealed, Zhang RenFeng returned to NanJing to track down Cao Feng to take revenge for his father’s murder.
Cao Feng was actually the Palace’s eunuch and he wasn’t a highly ranking one. He wanted Bodhidharma’s mummified remains in believing it had magical power to restore his sex organ. Ye ZhanQing discovered his deficiency and mocked him. Cao Feng was infuriated and he buried Ye ZhangQing alive under a bridge. Zhang RenFeng knew the whereabouts of Cao Feng’s residence and took Bodhidharma’s mummified remains. He challenged Cao Feng for a duel at YunHe Temple.
At the YunHe Temple, Xi Yu found Zhang RenFeng, who was waiting for Cao Feng. Zhang RenFeng knew Xi Yu’s identity. After his facial surgery, he followed Xi Yu to NanJing. He told Xi Yu that he could had killed her at his disposal. However, Zhang RenFeng wanted to take revenge at the Dark Stone Guild first. An emotional Zhang RenFeng told Xi Yu that he could not bring himself to kill her and told her to leave. But in a swift action, Xi Yu immobilized Zhang RenFeng. She administered a sedative pill that made Zhang RenFeng to appear to be dead. Xi Yu then used his dagger to stab the right side of his chest.
Cao Feng arrived at YunHe Temple and found lifeless body of Zhang RenFeng. He wasn’t expecting to see Xi Yu at the temple. She ridiculed him that it was useless for him to learn the secret of Bodhidharma’s mummified remains. Cao Feng was infuriated and attacked Xi Yu. Using the martial art taught by Jian Hui, Xi Yu fatally wounded Cao Feng. However, Xi Yu was also seriously injured. The next morning Zhang RenFeng revived from the sedation and approached Xi Yu’s motionless body. He witnessed everything. Zhang RenFeng understood Xi Yu’s motive on avenging his family with her life. He was overjoyed when he found her still alive.
Reign of Assassin is a top notch and breathtaking Wuxia genre movies that aptly captures the classic Hong Kong martial arts movies. Su Chao-pin and John Woo did not need to rely heavily on CGI effects to bring forth the action scenes. The result is a nice blend of classic and modern Wuxia style movies with interesting visual patterns that don’t let the viewers to become bored. Everything is filmed straight to the point and left a long lasting impression.
The characters are well developed and the story line itself has its twists and quite entertaining from the beginning to the end. It’s a mixture of Kill Bill and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Michelle Yeoh and Jung Woo-sung both give convincing performances as ordinary married couple where the wife is unaware the hidden secret of the husband. In the past decade, Michelle Yeoh has moved away from martial arts movies, but she does not seem to have any trouble with returning to the demands of a mostly physical role. The Malaysian-Chinese star is still the international queen of martial arts cinema. Michelle Yeoh shows us how powerful and stoic she plays the guilt-ridden person who was once a cold hearted assassin and it’s given a second chance of life. South Korean’s Jung Woo-sung plays outstanding role as the naïve looking husband with secret vendetta in mind. His fluency in Mandarin is well practiced with dubbing.
Without a doubt, the supporting characters play great performances in their respective roles. They actually have rich identity of their own beyond the usual one dimensional character, which gives the movie richer and more depth. Wang XueQi looks menacing enough as the ruthless leader of assassin’s brotherhood, while Shawn Yue is perfect as the suave assassin. Taiwanese star Barbie Hsu is striking with her pure evil nymphomaniac role and Leon Dai adds variety as flamboyant magician.
Reign of Assassins may not seem as epic or groundbreaking wuxia genre movies, but it’s entertaining enough to keep viewers glued to their seats. The combination of good narrative storyline and excellent action sequences set Reign of Assassins apart from the average martial art action flicks. Fans of classic wuxia will find Reign of Assassins as appealing old school style of Hong Kong’s most celebrated movies genre.
Michelle Yeoh … Zeng Jing/Drizzle
Jung Woo-sung … Jiang Ah-sheng
Wang XueQi … Cao Feng (The Wheel King)
Barbie Hsu … Ye ZhanQing (Turquoisie Leaf)
Shawn Yue … Lei Bin
Kelly Lin … Xi Yu (Drizzle)
Leon Dai … Lian Sheng (The Magician)
Guo XiaoDong … Zhang RenFeng
Paw Hee-Ching … Auntie Cai
Calvin Li ZongHan … Jian Hui/Lu Zhu (Wisdom)
Jiang YiYan … Tian QingTong
Pace Wu … Qing Jian (Kongtong Teal Sword)
Yuan Zhi-Qiang … Zi Jian (Kongtong Purple Sword)
Matt Wu … Killer Bear
Chin Shih-Chieh … Doctor Li GuiShou
Angeles Woo … Eater Bear
You BenChang … Master Xing Chi (Delusion)
You LiPing … Zhang DaJing
Hu XiaoGuang … SongYang Five Leader
Han Zhi … SongYang Five Member
Xing HanQing … SongYang Five Member
Che Kim-Fai … SongYang Five Member
Shi ZhanJie … SongYang Five Member
Qin WeiDong … Butcher Zhu
Ma ShuLiang … Oil Shop Boss Fatty Chen
Peter Kam … General Huang
Lee Hing-Cheung … Zhang HaiDuan
Qi YiMing … Little Flying Chivalrous
Chinese Title: 劍雨
Director: JOhn Woo, Su Chao-Pin
Screenplay: Su Chao-Pin
Producer: John Woo, Terence Chang
Director of Photography: Horace Wong
Action Choreographer: Stephen Tung
Art Director: Yang BaiGui
Image Designer: Emi Wada
Composer: Sa DingDing, Peng Bo
Soundtrack: Sa Dingding, Wu Tsing-Fong (Sword, Rain, River)
Filming Locations: Shanghai(SongJiang Soundstage), HengDian, China, and Taiwan
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
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