Review: THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN 荊軻刺秦王 (1999) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Review: THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN 荊軻刺秦王 (1999)



RATING: 4.5/5

Hailed as the most expensive independently produced Asian film to date, writer-director Chen Kaige’s historical epic THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN is a monumental achievement of great artistry and a superb grand scale that boosts with massive sets, a casts of thousands and packed with enough star power to set this outstanding film ablaze.


A huge critical hit worldwide, the epic revolves around the third century B.C., in which the unification of the Chinese Empire is strongly ruled by Yin Zheng (Li Xuejian), King of Qin, who gained an empire but lost his soul. Sworn to uphold the mandate of his ancestors, the king pursues on a brutal campaign to unite all seven Chinese kingdoms to form as one big country. His sights are set on the northern Yan kingdom, and Lady Zhao (Gong Li) who is Yin’s devoted lover and a native of the Zhao kingdom suggests he hire an assassin from Yan to stage an attempt on his life; invading Yan would then appear just retaliation. She even offers to do the sacrifice, having her perfect face branded with the mark of a criminal to make her exile to Yan look convincing. Once there, she tries to persuade sword-for-hire Jing Ke (Zhang Fengyi) to “murder” the would-be emperor, but things quickly getting out of hand. Jing Ke has apparently sworn off killing, Yin Zheng in the meantime has growing total menace day by day, invading every kingdom he wants, and while Lady Zhao dutifully sorts out on her assassin, Yin Zheng’s brutal army advances toward her own beloved homeland.

Chen Kaige, who returns to his familiar root after the baroque psychological melodrama of 1996’s TEMPTRESS MOON, set this film meticulously. Technical credits are perfectly executed, which includes elaborately staged battle sequences and historical detail from the period set pieces to spectacular landscapic cinematography by Zhao Fei. 

The cast is superbly acted, with the great Gong Li at her best while Li Xuejian anchors an excellent performance as a ruthless and emotionally unstable King of Qin and Zhang Fengyi adding another top notch as a redemptive, yet vulnerable former assassin Jing Ke.

While the human drama on each character’s point-of-view is rather restrained if to compare by the detailed technical achievement, this epic is nevertheless a cinematic grandeur not to be missed.

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