The Emperor and the Assassin (1998)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2005-08-24
Summary: Solid and lengthy epic...
The historic story of the Kin of Qin and his grand plan to unite China's warring states under one rule is the subject of Chen Kaige's 1999 epic. Driven by a near obsession to rule all of China, Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian) takes over province after province, until his dream stands on the brink of completion. With only 2 provinces remaining, Zheng launches a grand scheme to justify his plan and seem invincible to his followers. He schemes to have an assassin try to kill him and to foil the plan, seemingly single-handedly defeating the trained killer. His concubine, Lady Zhao (Gong Li), decides that her recruiting the assassin would be the easiest plan, and so she leaves to hire the killer, the legendary Jing Ke (Fengyi Zhang). However, with Lady Zhao absent Zheng becomes increasingly harsh in his strategies to defeat the provinces, including killing women and children. Lady Zhao begins to resent Zheng and his tactics and falls in love with Jing Ke and his eventual cause. Although she warns him that Zheng will know that he is an assassin, Jing Ke sets out anyways, resolved that his destiny lies in this final, futile act.

The Emperor and the Assassin is operatic in many ways, with an epic story, scheming, plotting and tragic characters (and a 3 hour length). Chen Kaige has a very stylistic and beautiful approach to filmmaking, which tends to set him apart from the other kinetic directors in Hong Kong. His films are slow, deliberate and quite striking, with a Hollywood-type feel to them. Although extremely long, The Emperor and the Assassin does manage to hold one's interest for most of it's length, with the film being split into three distinct parts. Both Li Xuejian and Gong Li are excellent in their roles. Fengyi Zhang is decent, but seems to try too hard to fit into the role of the eternally calm Jing Ke. Look for the director himself playing the role of Lu Buwei, Zheng's advisor. The Emperor and the Assassin will be enjoyable for anyone who is interested in Chinese history and likes a solid epic, but get comfortable and plan on doing nothing else for quite a long time.
Reviewer Score: 7