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Movie Reviews

The Emperor and The Assassin  

Director: Chen Kaige

Actors: Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) Li Xuejian (The Blue Kite) Zhang Fengyi

Country: China

This is a really big film. It sprawls across the movie screen as only a big historical epic can, a bit like a luscious Reuben-esque woman on a couch. To start with, it deals with story of the first Emperor of China, Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian), and his obsessive ambition to unite the seven kingdoms under his rule. Gong Li plays his lover, Lady Zhao, who goes to rather extreme lengths to put into motion a convoluted plot to subjugate the Kingdom of Yan. However, Ying Zheng's ruthlessness shocks even Lady Zhao, and she falls in love with a reluctant assassin, played by Zhang Fengyi. In the end, Ying Zheng achieves his ambition, but at high personal cost.

The vastness of this film almost covers up its flaws - not that there are many, but the motivation for the characters' actions are rather obscure and the story is a bit confusing. There is much here that is alien to a western audience - not necessarily bad, but it does serve to muddle the story a bit when you have these other flaws together. But - this is a really big film. Physically, it is sumptuous - the battle scenes are spectacular, creating a sense of movement and emotion that only hundreds of real people in ancient armour (recruits from the Chinese army) bashing each other, can really create. The research gone into the costumes, buildings, customs, etc serves to create a world as unfamiliar and strange as any sci-fi or fantasy world ever seen on screen.

The First Emperor looms large over subsequent generations because of his profound influence on China. He standardised the Chinese written script, weights, measurements and created a powerful government over a vast land filled with a myriad of different cultures, and also built China's most identifiable monument, the Great Wall. However, he was one of the most hated rulers in China's history as his neuroticism, paranoia and ruthlessness, at the very least, put off some people. Li Xuejian's Ying Zheng here is portrayed as a very human man who seems inadequate on the surface, but hides the kind of steel which can order the slaughter of hundreds of children to force an enemy state to capitulate. Unlike the First Emperor portrayed in "The Emperor's Shadow", this First Emperor is perhaps not quite right in the head. Gong Li's Lady Zhao gives the melodrama

needed for her role, and though generally excellent, it seems that sometimes even she wonders what she's doing. Zang Fengyi's transformation of his character is perhaps one of the more better performances in this film in terms of character development. Overall, this is an epic film, hardly disappointing, but its flaws make it a less than perfect film.

Eden Law

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