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(2012)

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8/10
Densely plotted period thriller both gripping and unexpectedly poignant, and a must-see if only for Chow Yun-Fat's portrait of pure magnificence
moviexclusive26 September 2012
Not content to be left out of the 'Three Kingdoms' after falling out from what became the phenomenal success of 'Red Cliff', Chow Yun-Fat returns to the era to play Cao Cao. Often cast too simplistically in most adaptations as the power-hungry villain whom noble strategists Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang as well as nobler warriors Lu Bei and Guan Yu plot to overthrow, co-screenwriter/ director Zhao Lin Shan's 'The Assassins' thankfully does not resort to the same narrative conventions.

Instead, Zhao paints a much more intricate portrait of the astute warlord in telling a very specific story of his planned assassination by various factions on a night when the four elemental stars align. That phenomenon signals, according to an ancient prophecy, the dawn of a new dynasty, and Cao Cao's enemies have seized upon that sign to coordinate an attack on him within the imposing structure of his known as the 'Bronze Sparrow Tower'. The titular tower of the movie's Chinese name, that lofty structure is despised by his enemies as a symbol of his ego as well as his thirst for power.

And to the reigning Emperor Xian (Alec Su), it is also a frustrating reminder of how his minister Cao Cao's authority has grown, relegating his monarchy even more ineffectual as the latter grows increasingly popular amongst the people. Xian will be one of those who take advantage of that purported opportune time to hatch a plot to kill Cao Cao, even though Cao Cao snatches the element of surprise from him by inviting him to a hunting game on that very day.

A popular Chinese saying goes something like this – 'a wary heart is critical', and Cao Cao's wariness is all the more heightened following an earlier assassination plot by the empress (Annie Yi) and her father, a powerful Han official named Fu Wan (Ni Dahong) – of which his very son, Cao Pi (Terry Chiu) was even complicit to. Yet perhaps the most eminent danger to Cao Cao's life is Lingju (Liu Yifei), whom Cao Cao takes in as his lover. Not only were her parents slain by Cao Cao when she was young, the fair beauty was also subsequently trained under imprisonment with but one mission to kill Cao Cao.

Besides bringing out the softer aspects of Cao Cao during their private interactions together, Lingju also serves as the narrator of the movie, adding the element of a tragic love story in the midst of the palace intrigue. Her only wish is to run away with Mu Shun (Tamaki Hiroshi), a fellow assassin like her who has infiltrated Cao Cao's army – though you can pretty much guess how their fates will end up. Instead of distracting from the main plot, their romance lends a surprisingly human touch, illustrating with poignancy the price of vengeance on something as pure and beautiful as love itself.

Zhao exhibits the same flair throughout the film, and even though a plethora of supporting characters are at play, their motivations for plotting against Cao Cao never left ambiguous. Particularly well played out is the very first elaborate assassination depicted in the film – of which Fu Wan is mastermind – both in how Cao Cao confronts the perpetrators in front of Emperor Xian as well as how he subsequently deals with the betrayal by his very own flesh and blood, Cao Pi. Bear with the slow pacing at the start as Zhao develops the intertwining plot threads, and you'll appreciate the genius in Zhao's plotting later on. For a first-time filmmaker too, Zhao is a master at tension and suspense, keeping his audience at the edge of their seats as Cao Cao's life hangs in the balance.

The same can be said of Chow Yun Fat's peerless performance. This is without a doubt his best in recent memory, surpassing that in which he played Confucius if we might add, with the veteran clearly relishing one of his meatiest roles of late. Yes, Chow clearly understands the demands and complexities of his character, conveying conviction, intellect and even empathy at different points. This is Cao Cao in his twilight years, who remains firmly a believer in his mission of unification but who has come to recognise the bloodshed and strife it has brought, and is therefore no longer the tyrant he may have been in his younger days. Chow is sheer magnetism in the role, and it is, we dare say, one of the best performances we have seen this year.

Next to Chow, the other actors unfortunately pale in comparison. Worthy of mention however is Liu Yifei, who in the span of a few years, has come to hold her own nicely as an actress worth her weight. The role calls for her to be the symbol of humanity, and she registers a tender and heartfelt performance as her character grows to understand and even respect Cao Cao more over the course of the film. Evocative too are Yee Chung Man's costume and production design, as well as Shigeru Umebayashi's score, combining to accentuate the film's alternately tense and tragic mood.

Indeed, at a time when every new period war epic tries to outdo the last with grander spectacle, Zhao should be applauded for adopting essentially a character-driven approach to the material. There is depth and deftness to the storytelling, especially how he slowly reverses his audience's preconceptions of Cao Cao and casts the oft-misunderstood character in an entirely different light. But of course, the movie wouldn't be what it is were it not for Chow Yun-Fat's commanding performance, which even without grand battle sequences turns this period thriller into an epic in its own right.
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5/10
Watchable but isn't the powerful movie it tries to be
KineticSeoul25 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those movies that tries to incorporate a good story with emotions but comes out less than mediocre. It's a watchable movie but it just lacked in a lot of areas and just isn't as effective as it tries to be. It's just poor film making done by amateur writing. I liked how it didn't have flashy kung-fu stuff to add to the realism but everything else just lacked the substance it tried to achieve. And it might have worked sorta but felt like a mix of other movies. Like it's a combination of "Russian Coffee" and "The Concubine". But not as dark or humanistic. The tragic romance elements just isn't needed in this movie and felt it just there to have Crystal Liu Yi Fei's pretty face on screen. Maybe it's to bring out a bit of the human side to Cao Cao but overall it just wasn't needed. This is basically about the last days of Cao Cao going in a what if direction. The main thing that stands out about this flick is Chow Yun-Fat. He can play a strong and domineering leader exterior wise and interior wise. And he did a great job of playing Cao Cao. Cao Cao is portrayed in this as a strong and domineering character that is forceful and yet has a bit of wisdom and a gentle side to him. And Cho Yun-Fat can really pull off those kinds of presence. Overall it's a watchable movie but isn't a powerful of a movie it tries to be.

5/10
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7/10
Story of one of the Greatest Antagonist Hero in Chinese History
ebiros26 February 2013
This is a beautifully produced movie both from the story, and production stand point. A production that's second only to the "Red Cliff" which is another story that puts Cao Cao at the focus of the story. China's production of historic movies in recent years are very high quality, and this movie is no exception.

I wonder if China these days are following the Hollywood style casting that casts compatible astrological sun sign actors in the leading role. This method seems to ensure good chemistry between male and the female lead. In this movie, three earth sign actors plays the lead (Chow Yun Fat - Taurus, Yifei Liu - Virgo, and Hiroshi Tamaki - Capricorn).

This is an unusual story that explores the inner life of Cao Cao, the main antagonist in the first half of the story of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Why is it unusual ? It's because although many stories about Cao Cao as a tactician has been mentioned, hardly any mention of his private life has been written. This is the first story I've ever seen that attempts to shed light on the private life of one of the greatest tactician China has ever produced (perhaps only second to Kon Min), who've conquered Northern China with his military might, and posthumously been promoted to the rank of an emperor after his sons usurped the Han dynasty.

The story of course is fictional, but the weight of the character Cao Cao makes this an interesting story. For a long time I'm sure many people have wondered what would Cao Cao have done in this situation, and that situation. The movie takes an artistic license to showcase his actions in many different situations that in some ways answers to the age long questions people had about Cao Cao. What is intriguing about Cao Cao in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is that he has style even as a villain, and also shows romantic side, not to women, but in the way he writes poems, makes decisions, and regrets few things he's done. A shadow of his such personality is shown in this movie,

Yifei Liu plays the part of the assassin who's mother is hinted to be one of the four great beauties in Chinese history Diaochan (貂蝉).

Perhaps one movie is too small of a space to tell the story of Cao Cao, and although this is a very good movie, it still leaves a huge blank area that's not covered about one of the best and the worst hero China has ever produced. Yifei Liu has matured enough as an actor to play the romantic partner of Chow Yun Fat. She did a really convincing act in her role. Although incomplete, the movie deserves an A+ for its effort to put Cao Cao on the big screen.
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5/10
Historical intrigue dragged down by listless romance
Leofwine_draca23 April 2015
THE ASSASSINS should be a good film, but it isn't. It's an expensive, expansive Chinese historical drama, featuring the great Chow Yun-Fat in a role which must be a given for him: he's playing the ruthless general Cao Cao, a guy who engaged in and won plenty of battles in the famous Three Kingdoms period. And yet the film chooses a moment at the end of his life to tell a sluggish and rather dull story of a love triangle and hidden romance.

The film looks lavish, for sure, and Yun-Fat gives a solid turn as always. The costumes and sets bring to mind the sumptuous nature of Zhang Yimou's CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, but there the similarities end. The problem is that THE ASSASSINS isn't really about assassins at all, because these characters achieve very little in the storyline. The main character, played by Liu Yi Fei, is completely dull and goes around moping and crying all the while as she falls in love with Yun-Fat's character. Come the end you realise she's made no impact to the storyline and could easily have been excised with no ill effect.

In a bid to counter all this sentimentality, the film-makers throw in a handful of decent action sequences in which the heroic general fends off various attacks by his rivals, including the Emperor. These moments mean that the film isn't bad as a whole, but it's a far cry from what it could have been with a script re-write. There are also some ludicrous scenes which drag it down, such as the one where a horse happily jumps off a cliff.
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not better, not worst
Kirpianuscus13 June 2021
I love the stories around Three Kingdoms period. And I appreciate Yun - Fat Chow performance. So, this film is only conformation of what you know. No, better, no worst, it reminds the power of prophecies , the substance of politics, the difficulties of parenthood, the impressive Mandarin cinematography, the sad love stories. Nothing special, indeed. But good gift for fans.
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5/10
It was missing a key ingredient...
paul_haakonsen21 December 2015
If you enjoy the Chinese period epic drama for the battle and martial arts, then "The Assassins" (aka "Tong que tai") is not something for you. But if you enjoy the period dramas for the deeper storytelling then you will definitely enjoy this movie.

For me, it was a growing difficulty to sit through this movie, because I enjoy the epics with mass battles, which hardly wasn't in this particular movie. "The Assassins" is driven by its storyline and its brilliant performances put on by an impressive cast.

Speaking of the cast, then Chow Yun Fat really did shine well in this movie, and it is great to see him in the period drama genre movies. But also Yifei Liu stood out in this movie as she does in just about everything she stars in.

The sets, wardrobes and props were amazing for the movie. I really did enjoy the garments and armors shown and used in "The Assassins". There were so many details and fine touches everywhere.

Although a bit too slow-paced for my liking, there still is something astounding to be said about this movie.
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8/10
Excellent period drama
dworldeater9 January 2013
The Assassins is a epic drama in The Three Kingdoms period in ancient China. Centering on Wei Kingdom warlord Cao Cao played wonderful by Chow Yun Fat. This film focuses on military tactics, politics ,and relationships of Cao Cao in his later years. This deals with Cao Cao 's relationships with his son, the emperor as well as a love triangle between his would be assassin /concubine and her lover. Really, a good character study of Cao Cao and well done drama . The sets, cinematography, costumes and acting are excellent . While this is 'nt an action piece, the action /battle scenes that are included are well done.People who only want action are better off sticking with The Three Kingdoms ROTD, and Red Cliff. I love those movies too, but I did enjoy this film also. Great drama from Chow Yun Fat . Thumbs up.
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8/10
A Nutshell Review: The Assassins
DICK STEEL30 September 2012
Just when I thought films based on the the Three Kingdoms era had gone out of fashion, here comes a lavishly produced movie from China that stars one of Asian's most well known actors in the lead role of Cao Cao, the de-facto ruler of the Wu Kingdom, toward the tail end of his ruler-ship. But first things first, for a film like this, don't expect too accurate a historical lesson, because dramatic license is there for the taking to spice a film up. We've seen how John Woo's Red Cliff went, from what should be an attempt to make it accurate, to lapsing into his trademarks in an all out battle fashioned out of the imagination in the finale. This one doesn't try too hard to reference from historical records, but didn't go too much into the fantastical like how Daniel Lee's Resurrection of the Dragon film did.

Often depicted as a cunning schemer, and the villain amongst the three kingdoms, debut director Zhao Linshan's film seemed to be take on a neutral stand in being none too judgmental on what Cao Cao did, and more often than not, the man is seen to react to his plotters' plans to rid him of power, rather than to be on the warpath to persecute his enemies. It's also something of a reminder for ruthless leaders, that it makes it all the more attractive to depose one from power, and the inevitable twilight in one's years are just natural opportunities to do so. We get introduced to such attempts early on in the film, but as the movie progressed, we get a different perspective of the man, especially on his unwavering principle of not usurping the throne for himself, which he can, but won't, much to the detriment of his power hungry and ambitious son Cao Pi (Qiu Xinzhi).

And Chow Yun Fat's charisma meant his portrayal of Cao Cao was what would be the most interesting of the lot in the film. His presence swallows up the screen, and effortlessly steals the thunder away from his co-stars. However, this is a role that he's played a number of times before, with the latest being the Emperor in Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, which may bring some sense of deja-vu as a ruthless leader on whom assassination attempts have become a dime a dozen. In fact, his charisma meant we remember more of his scenes than the titular assassins', and this film could have been named "Cao Cao", which is a more accurate depiction of the movie, or should go by the Mandarin title which refers to a watchtower of sorts in Cao's fortress, which of course was built for a reason.

The assassins here referred to a pair of lovers in Ling Ju (Liu Yifei) and Mu Shun (Hiroshi Tamaki), who have been trained with countless of others since young to build that natural killer instinct in them, before sent to infiltrate Cao's camp and to wait for a signal that will trigger their Manchurian Candidate like characteristics. Mu Shun drew the shorter end of the stick, and became a eunuch, thus physically ending any hope of intimacy with Ling Ju, while she becomes a concubine, and a very emotional one at that, to Cao. There's a reason for all these of course, and credit has to go to the scriptwriters to pay attention to detail in order to enrich this Three Kingdoms story. Liu did what she does best in her recent period outings, playing that virtuous, at times token, beauty, while Tamaki as Mu Shun was totally wasted in the film, doing little and at best, a guest star who can lament at being left out of the fun and critical junctures.

What I liked about this movie, even if it's centered primarily around Cao Cao, is how it so easily brings in other elements and characters from the Three Kingdoms era into the narrative. We only get glimpses or mention of others, but that is sufficient to enhance the scope of this epic wannabe. While there's evergreen characters like Guan Yu, even earlier ones like Dong Zhuo, Lu Bu and Diao Chan got mentioned, since it's about that timeline when Cao's influence grew, and to have this film broach the topics, made it a little more expansive. And you can tell how the storytellers decided from the onset to do so, rather than haphazardly thrown in as an afterthought in the final act.

Then there's Alec Su's portrayal as the puppet Emperor Xian, which provides some light hearted moments against the heavier politicking backdrop where ministers and generals of the court have to face up to their failed attempts to rid Cao of his influence amongst them. The central part of the film had a gripping and intense court session that allowed Chow's Cao to show just how influential and cruel he can be, and the amount of power wielded despite not wanting to seize the throne for himself. And Alec Su was always in the thick of such action, and probably playing against Chow had also made him raise the level of the game in his character's interaction with Chow.

The Assassins provided more of a character study instead of lapsing into action sequences for the sake of. There's a distinct lack of war scenes and blood being shed if compared to the previous Three Kingdom related movies, but it is the power of the mind, the complexity of the primary scheme which took years of gestation, and its execution in the climax, that makes this movie an engaging watch. For those weaned on the earlier film interpretations, you probably won't see Cao Cao in the same light again.
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4/10
Chow Yun-Fat plans to take the thrown in The Assassins
rgblakey24 December 2012
Over the years Chow Yun-Fat has transitioned from his signature John Woo style gun toting action films to these period style epics. He has always brought a presence with him to every role that delivers something special. His latest film The Assassins continues with these period pieces to attempt to deliver something new.

The Assassins follows the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history and focuses on the warlord Cao Cao in his old age and the relationship between him and his son, while planning to take the throne and avoid assassins. Visually this movie, much like the others that come from this film market, is beautiful to look at. The performances are all great, with Chow Yun-Fat in top form, but nothing that really stands out to take this film to the next level. With the focus of these young people being trained as assassins and the amount of corruption showcased in this film, you would expect a decent amount of action, but sadly that's not the case. Everything from the box art, the synopsis, and the look screams action, but is a bit misleading. This movie focuses more on the political side of things and the family drama leaving a fairly uneventful film. It's not boring or anything just tends to creep along with little to nothing really happening. There are a couple of characters that are rather annoying, but it's hard to tell if it is the actor's performance of the dubbed voice.

This isn't a horrible movie; it just didn't deliver much as a whole. If you go into it ready for a dialogue driven political drama then you will not be disappointed, but just know that it does get a bit convoluted at times. Fans of Chow Yun-Fat will want to give it a view as he is the best part of this whole film.
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4/10
Contrived, confusing, boring film
imdb-783-50784717 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The Review: The Assassins tells the tale of Chancellor Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat), who in the early stages of the Chinese Han Dynasty mercilessly defeated China's greatest warlord and crowned himself King of Wei. Twenty years pass and Cao Cao's son urges his father to overturn the despot Emperor and snatch total control for himself unaware that the children of Cao Cao's victims have been kidnapped and trained as assassins to take their bloody revenge.

On the face of it, The Assassins looks like it is in the same vein as Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers and Red Cliff; it cannot be further removed from these classics if it tried. My main issue with the film is that it is extremely difficult to follow as there are so many flashbacks and cutaways, poor editing also contributes to a linear shambles of a film.

Chow Yun Fat has slowed down in the past dozen or so years and seems to be quite picky about what he stars in as it looks like he is trying to re-invent himself somewhat by appearing in historical films, Crouching Tiger aside, he has made the wrong decision.

I was waiting to see beautiful opulent visuals and stunning scenery, sweeping camera shots, seasonal changes, fantastic wire work and a sweeping love story at its core, sadly, this failed on all counts. The action, when it comes shows nothing more than close ups of 3 or 4 people fighting instead of thousands, the scenery (what there is of it) is cold and barren (like Chow Yun Fat's performance) one on one swordplay is badly choreographed and sped up to a ridiculous degree in that I thought that the disk was skipping in my player!

Do not go into this expecting a visual feast of a film interspersed with frenetic swordplay, at most this is a slow burning political drama with a love story badly tacked on, in short this is a contrived, confusing, boring film that looks as tired as Chow Yun Fat's career.

Reviewed By: Matt Duddy

THE ASSASSINS is out on home release now. Join the debate on our Facebook group… http://www.facebook.com/groups/filmsploitationpodcast/

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9/10
Exceptional historical epic
m-a-elsewhere12 March 2013
A stark, brilliant, uncompromising tale of imperial intrigue and self- fulfilling prophecies, with a star cast helmed by Yun-Fat Chow and Yifei Liu, TONG QUE TAI (THE ASSASSINS) is one of the better Mandarin films in recent years, and easily ranks with such lush historical epics as CHI BI (RED CLIFF) and MAN CHENG JIN DAI HAUNG JIN JIA (CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER).

A fictionalized account of the events leading to the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty in 220 CE, as seen primarily from the point of view of Gong Ling Ju—one of many refugees abducted as children, then brutally trained for a decade solely to murder the powerful Duke of Wei, Chancellor Cao Cao. A military genius, adored king, scholar and poet, Cao Cao has been unswervingly loyal to the Han, even feckless current Emperor Xian. But an astrological prediction cast years before foretells that Cao's destiny is to end the Han era—and Xian's courtiers will stop at nothing to thwart "heaven's will". Might their sneak attacks and murder plots only push Chancellor Cao into the rebellion they want to prevent? Or might Cao's growing affection for and trust in his concubine, Ling Ju, prove the weakness that gives her an opportunity to kill her lover?

Solid performances, gorgeous cinematography, and a taut script weaving spectacle with reflection make TONG QUE TAI a skillfully wrought Asian history-based drama.
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5/10
Watchable but confusing at the end. 5/10
leonblackwood26 February 2016
Review: This us another one of those confusing Oriental movies that are hard to follow but the main concept is quite simple, everyone wants to murder Cao Cao (Chow Yun-Fat). There's also a love story running throughout the movie which is pretty straight forward but the rest of the storyline, went straight over my head. When the true reason, why Cao Cao is so evil, is revealed, I honestly didn't understand what the movie was truly about but it scores top marks for authenticity and cinematography, like many of the other Oriental movies I have watched lately. The costumes are truly amazing, especially Cao Cao's detailed armour and I'm happy to say that the DVD carries a dubbed version, so you don't have to worry about annoying subtitles. The action scenes were also impressive because they seemed real for that day and age but I really don't know why the director had to over complicate the storyline. Anyway, it's a watchable film, mainly for the great performance from Yun-Fat and the fear that he put in the people around him but the ending was a right mess. Watchable! 

Round-Up: This is the only movie directed by Linshan Zhao so it's hard to compare her other projects to this one but the writer, Bin Wang, also wrote House of Flying Daggers and Hero with Jet Li. I'm beginning to realise that a lot of these Oriental directors, certainly like to over complicate there movies with pointless detail which is, usually unnecessary. Maybe it's because I'm used to basic concepts from the Western market, why I'm finding it hard to get to grips with the these detailed story lines and I must admit, my mind does switch off once I have to read subtitles and try and keep up with movies. Anyway, I was expecting this to be an action movie, with a name like the Assassin's but it turned out to be an intense drama which I'm am in two minds about.

I recommend this movie to people who are into their history/drama starring Chow Yun-Fat, Yifei Liu, Xinyi Zhang and Hiroshi Tamaki. 5/10
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10/10
Chaotic Era
blackmamba9997130 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I found this to be a wonderful look at the end of the Han Dynasty. Chow Yun Fat who plays the famed General Cao Cao for the emperor Xian (Alec Su)falls into despair when he learns of a coo against him. Seeing as the emperor has enemies all over China, in his paranoia included General Cao with his delusions. Yet in the middle is a young girl who along with another was kidnapped in order to be honed into an assassin.

Taught by an evil doctor named Doctor Yuen (Roy Cheung) to kill a friend or die. Seeing as this presented many complications to this girl Gong Ling Ju (Yifei Liu), she tried to keep her resolve in assassinating Cao Cao, but with the driving force to live, held deep in her heart, that the general is not all that is told about him is true.

With the royal courts and the emperor against the general, Gong Ling comes to realize he was only protecting Xian all along. But with growing troubles in the hierarchy it became impossible to kill him. I found this to be a great representation of an old story of the past.

It was known that the Han dynasty held a very troubled king, and how his growing paranoia led to his abdication. To see such ways of creating assassins to carry out an order to kill, was also a unique expression on just how bad it was back then. To use human lives in the name of royalty. The doctor was evil, even though he played the part of the kind physician he was actually beyond help in his own delusions from the emperor. Great music, wonderful acting on everyone's part.

Most of which goes to Chow Yun Fat who I have admired for years. Plus one other person who I thought played the son of Cao to the letter. A troubled lad who didn't know where his loyalties laid. To become the son again through a warning, and to live on for his father's sake.

Cao Pi(Qiu Xinzhi) lived up to his father's name and became emperor just after Xian, another great actor I think. All in all, it's a love triangle,full of betrayal, paranoia both in the courts, and in the minds of those around Cao Cao, the emperor, and the people. A very turbulent time, a very dark past in China's history. Highly recommended to those over 17.
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3/10
Killed by the boredom in period drama
jefflouvre-435-773676 October 2012
I'M a big proponent of non-violence in movies and am critical of movies such as The Expendables 2, Taken 2, The Raid and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

However, after watching the painfully dry and laborious Chinese period piece The Assassins, I may have to reconsider my views. It's weighed down by its own importance and can't get out of a maze of drudgery.

Even the presence of Chow Yun Fat, the Gerard Depardieu of Chinese movies, isn't enough to save the movie.

Chow instils charm, charisma and integrity in his emperor-like roles, so he can play a ruthless leader who exudes compassion for his lover in his sleep.

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.

Cao Cao (right) tells the killer concubine that they can pin the blame on the many subplots in the film. Chow is chancellor Cao Cao, who rises to the No. 2 position in the Han Dynasty by virtue of his ruthlessness in wars. The numero uno is effeminate Emperor Xian (Alec Su), who sings songs of male lovers.

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.

As teens, Lingju (Liu Yifei) and Mu Shun (Tamaki Hiroshi) are forced to attend a camp that trains them to be assassins. Mu Shun is castrated so he can join the emperor's group of eunuchs, while his lover Lingju becomes Cao Cao's concubine to get close to him and to kill him.

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.

Mu Shun realises that his lover is falling for Cao Cao, and tells her that Cao Cao can provide many things for her that he can't. A man needs a lot of balls to say that to a lover.

www.jeffleemovies.com
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1/10
Unoriginal and Brutish Film
nmorales31428 March 2013
Let me just say, don't waste your time with this film. How many cheesy lines and how much boring, inane dialogue can you handle? Try watching this movie if you care to answer that question. The story is stunningly unoriginal. The character development is nonexistent. The relationships between characters are about as deep as watching two dogs mate. When the action isn't scripted to hell, its blatantly ripping off other movies. It goes to show, that just because you can throw money at something, doesn't mean it will turn out good. Cinema has evolved over time; if this film had been released 60 years ago, it would have had a better chance of succeeding, but to a modern audience, this is garbage. If I could give this zero stars, I would.
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6/10
Cheesy and confusing
guisreis21 February 2022
Not really bad but certainly not good either and very generic. Confusing story and quite cheesy dialogues and slow motion action scenes. Costumes and armors are very nice, but it does not make a great film.
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10/10
Fantastic Movie
namathieu4 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This movie depicts a fantastic representation of the Three Kingdoms era of China. Not only does it have a good compelling story, great camera work, Chow-Yun Fat, and an amazing way of telling said great story, it also shows a good side of Cao Cao, the portrayal of him is just perfect. Most works usually make him out to be a villain, but this shows his true self. It throws in a few characters who may or may not have been real. But that adds to how much one can perceive the characters actions. This movie is truly worth a watch. If you like ancient China, Chow-Yun Fat, or real neat movies, this one takes the cake. So to anyone reading this, you will not make a mistake by watching this grand movie.
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6/10
Not bad but flawed
ghent11 August 2015
Not a bad film but not in the same league with the very best in the genre. For that the film builds too much on overblown (Asian) sentimentalism and shock surprises. Many things about this movie are not bad but could be better. For instance, I found the music a bit too cheeky to make this a genuinely stylish and balanced film: at times it was more of the quality of soap opera's, a trap the movie itself sometimes is in danger of falling into as a whole. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching the movie but only because I love the genre more in general. If you want to see something better, and without resorting to the classics by Zhang Yimou, watch The Banquet, a movie which gets the sort of things right with which this piece is struggling.
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10/10
nice movie
q-7135514 August 2021
Liu Yifei's performance was so good that I couldn't help being obsessed with her.
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