In the year 198 BC, Cao Cao, Prime Minister of the Han Dynasty, ventured to the east and defeated China’s greatest warrior Lu Bu, terrifying every ambitious warlord across the country. Several years later, after taking the Han Emperor under his wing, Cao crowns himself King of Wei. He built a magnificent Bronze Sparrow Island to symbolize his power and rumors spread that he would replace the Emperor. Meanwhile, young lovers Mu Shun and Ling Ju are taken from a prison camp to a hidden tomb, where they spend five cruel years together, training as assassins for a secret mission. This is Cao Cao in his twilight years, who remains firmly a believer in his mission of unification.
Director Zhao Linshan’s The Assassins is a drama about royal court intrigue, fighting for power and a woman torn between two lovers. Yet viewers won’t be able to relate to most of the characters, and even the confusion experienced by the woman in question is inexplicable. It’s as if she was forced into that position. The emperor’s sycophants see Cao Cao as a threat to them wanting to keep the former in power, so they devise many ways to assassinate the latter. One way is by snatching kids whose parents were killed in wars by Cao Cao. Cao Cao, meanwhile, must contend with hordes of assassination attempts against him, including that of his concubine’s, but he wins her over with the milk of his human kindness. He’s not as bad as he’s portrayed to be. You can see why taking on this role isn’t a stretch for Chow. This next line might sound silly but fans of the Dynasty Warriors or Romance of the Three Kingdom games will get the most out of this film. If you do some reading up on the three kingdoms first before you watch the move, you will find the characters and plot intriguing and enjoy the movie as much as I did.
With Cao Cao increasing in power, Emperor Xian is nothing but a puppet monarch. Without real power in his hands, he spends his days searching for pleasures and entertainment instead. But he secretly harbors intentions to kill Cao Cao and to retrieve the power that truly belongs to him. Chow told reporters: “Every time I saw these (characters) in the movie, I was terrified, because I was wondering when they’d come to kill me.” He added jokingly: “You’re all horrible people in the movie, there isn’t one of you who doesn’t want to kill me.” The main roles depicted did not stray too much from the original historical characters in Cao Wei. The first movie of a planned trilogy, The Assassins is a fictional retelling of Cao Cao’s mysterious death. All of the characters in film only have one mission: to kill Cao Cao. With the slogan “Love, Lust, Power, Plot,” the characters in the film have different purposes to murder the great warlord. The tension is there, and yes, it is effective.
I love the beautiful and intricate costumes and the stunning sets, and also to be taken back in time to that period. So yes, it’s overall a story about intrigue of powers that uses the template of historical China, but the side romance is an intricate storyline that is the tint in his emotions. A beautiful historical drama, but unfortunately deceive viewers who expect a full-on action title. Also, shame on the advertisers who use Chow Yun-Fat’s name to sell the film. Without him, sadly, this wouldn’t be nearly as good as I am making it out to be, so please take my grade with a grain of salt. In the end, this comes recommended!