From the acclaimed director of Farewell, My Concubine comes THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN a visuallystunning epic, exploring the devastating price one country pays for peace and one man pays for power. Ying Zheng, the King of Qin, has one driving ambition: to unify China's seven kingdoms into one magnificent empire. Impressed by her lover's convictions, Lady Zhao (Gong Li) helps Ying Zheng concoct an assassination plot that would justify the conquest of Qin's most powerful enemy. When Ying Zheng's peaceful mission explodes into a brutal holocaust, a disillusioned Lady Zhao is forced to question her loyalty and her lover's destiny.
Set in 221 BC, The Emperor and the Assassin
tells of Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian) and his obsession to unite seven Chinese kingdoms and become the first Emperor of China. The film mixes spectacular battle scenes with court intrigue, counterpointed by the King's complex relationship with the only woman he has truly loved, the Lady Zhao (Gong Li). From protocol-ridden palaces to wide open grasslands, this is a visually striking film, both beautiful and at the same time burdened with the horrors of the period.
Though this was the most expensive film ever made in China, director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) nevertheless retains a tight reign on character and psychology, recalling Kurosawa's Ran (1985) and Kagemusha (1980). The cast, particularly the two leads, are magnificent and both production design and score are first rate. While the unfolding story has similar appeal to Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it can be as confusing and jarringly edited as the original (pre-director's cut) version of The Last Emperor (1987), and for the same reason--despite its 154 minutes--the film was cut by approximately 30 minutes prior to release. The full version may eventually reveal a masterpiece, though in its present form it is still an exceptionally powerful and compelling drama.
On the DVD: The Emperor and the Assassins original 1.85:1 image is transferred anamorphically, and while not up with the finest DVDs is still sharp and detailed. Strangely, despite the film being presented in DTS theatrically, the DVD offers mere three-channel Dolby Pro-Logic. No more than adequate, this is a serious disappointment when at least Dolby Digital 5.1 would be the accepted norm. The film can be watched with the original Mandarin soundtrack, with or without English subtitles, or dubbed into English. The extras are a 4:3 trailer and a serious, comprehensive commentary by director Chen Kaige. For anyone wanting to know how to mount such a large-scale production, there can be few better guides than Kaige.--Gary S. Dalkin