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The Emperor and the Assassin, sure, but don't forget Lady Zhao!
This is an excellent film. No, it's not Mel Gibson in "Braveheart," but then, it's not trying to be. Actually, "The Emperor and the Assassin" probably has (thankfully) more in common with a Shakespearean production than a Hollywood blockbuster.
In the third century BC, the King of Qin is attempting to unite (in other words "conquer") the seven kingdoms of China. He has already overthrown the Kingdom of Han. Now he needs an excuse to invade the Kingdom of Yan.
This is where the Lady Zhao comes in. She and the King have been friends since childhood. They are obviously very much in love, but cannot marry for political reasons. Together they devise a plot. She will pretend to have fallen into disfavor with the King and escape to Yan. Once there she will convince the Prince of Yan to send an assassin back to kill the King. When the assassination fails, the King will have his excuse to invade Yan.
Once in Yan, however, Lady Zhao begins to reconsider. Hearing and seeing more and more examples of her old childhood friend's ruthlessness, she begins to wonder if the King may need to be assassinated for real.
One sure sign that you're not watching a Hollywood production is the final encounter between the King and the assassin. Unlike a Hollywood movie where the hero and villain are clearly defined and the final outcome already predetermined, this is a fight that could truly go either way.
This is a well crafted and well acted story of a tumultuous time in Chinese history. There is a mixture of both incredible beauty and incredible ugliness. Most beautiful of all, however, is Gong Li as the Lady Zhao. I grow more and more convinced every time I see her that Gong Li is the most beautiful woman in the world.
I must say, however, that she does have one unintentionally funny line in this film. Early on Gong Li asks one of her servants "Do I have a beautiful face?"
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