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The Emperor and the Assassin

The Emperor and the Assassin

Chinese director Chen Kaige wove an elegant, vivacious tapestry into his poignant Farewell My Concubine. The vibrant film maker vents his views in a more grandiose style with his latest, The Emperor and the Assassin, reaching back to 3rd Century B.C. China with an epic luster to depict a telling, yet violent time in history.

Chen is obviously influenced by the likes of Kurosawa and DeMille as his ambitious picture blends elements of Ran and Ben Hur.  With the talented Zhao Fei (Sweet and Lowdown) as his lenser, the glory of a multitudinous crowd is enhanced while the director insinuates humanistic touches from some of his earlier, perhaps, more taut, works.

China's unification comes to the fore with Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian), conspiring to be its inaugural ruler.  Yet, his means to justify his honorable goals are rather cruel, suggesting some of the early communistic forces of the 20th century.

Chen's somewhat convoluted, but enveloping tale revolves around Zhao, the lovely Gong Li, and Ying's persuasion to have her return to her native land to seek out a terminator type, played with malicious might by Zhang Fengyi.  The plot is to have the executioner fail in an apparent attempt to kill Ying, therefore, the forces against Ying would perceive him as a potent force who can't easily be thwarted.  So Ying becomes more implacable, while Zhao and the "hit man" hit it off and have an effect on the aspiring emperor's vision of a dynasty.

Set in the Qin era of Chinese history, non scholarly viewers may have to work hard to discern the struggles of this period, but that's not the important focus.  Just rely on the camera of Fei, as Chen works cogently with the man who showed much of his dynamic style in Raise the Red Lantern.  Though a bit long, one may have trouble forgetting moments such as a blind girl, the comely Xun Zhou, reacting resolutely after the anarchistic assassin destroys her family.

While The Emperor and the Assassin doesn't rank as Chen's strongest achievement, in terms of storytelling and psychological development, almost all of his shots follow through on his designs to make a lasting impression from its machinations of war to attain peace.

The Emperor and the Assassin

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