Jan 20, 2011

Reign of Assassins: Wuxia Alive & Well

It's been a little while since I've sat down and watched a recent wuxia movie from China.  It's interesting when I say "from China" because back in the 90's and before, one could more clearly differentiate who was making the film in terms of whether it was Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China.

Many of the imports to the West like Jackie Chan or Jet Li films were previously products of Hong Kong or Taiwan, but with the emergence of the mainland in the past 10-20 years we're starting to see more fusion wuxia productions with actors, producers and crew being from two or more places.  That being said, I was pretty pleased with "Reign of Assassins," which has several Hong Kong stars, but judging from the credits, also mixes in mainland production studios and crews too.  In the past few years the technical quality for wuxia films has vastly improved in my opinion to the point of being on par with Hollywood. 

What's saddened me though has been the tendency like their Western counterparts for wuxia movies to sometimes lean on special effects instead of character-building and good old-fashioned storytelling.  Tsui Hark from Hong Kong, for example, has had some good films in recent years, but he's also produced a few bombs in my opinion with wonderful graphics, but stories somewhat lacking.  He's returned a bit more to form with "Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame," so I can't penalize him too much.  He's still a great director and I would consider him the Steven Spielberg of Chinese films.
Truthfully, I didn't go into "Reign of Assassins" with high expectations and that's probably why I liked it.  It's a movie that has several typical wuxia topics, but is done well with a good mixture of martial arts and personal moments.  Michelle Yeoh as always is superb, bringing a wonderful level of class and elegance to her characters.  As always, there is a villainous plot afoot using the classic Macguffin technique.

Overall, I give this film two thumbs up.  It didn't take my breath away, but I came away from it feeling like I could kick some badguy butt on my own, if only with the kung fu I pretend I know.

Wuxia is alive and well.