Time for romance in a sword-fight: Reign of Assassins

4 10 2010

Having lived through the era of the One Armed Swordsman in the late 1960s and early 1970s which spawned the many neighbourhood wannabes swinging a paper swords that must have been picked up whenever the wayang came around, with one arm tucked behind their backs, I have always taken a rather comical view of Sword Fighting movies – giving them a miss whenever one was screened at the cinemas or on television. So, with the recent release of the latest addition to the genre, the “Reign of Assassins”, it have probably been one that I would certainly have given a miss to as well – if not for the opportunity that presented itself during an exclusive preview of the movie at GV Plaza on Friday – not so much for the free movie pass and popcorn, but to catch the highly acclaimed producer and director John Woo in person.

John Woo made an appearance together with Director Su Chao-Pin at GV Plaza on Friday to interact with the audience.

The screening of the movie was preceded by a session during which the audience were given an opportunity to interact with Woo who was the Producer for the movie in which he was also the Co-Director, and the Director, Su Chao-Pin from Taiwan. The Sword-Fighting and Martial Arts movie, set in the Ming Dynasty, besides featuring an international production team, also features an international cast which includes leads Michelle Yeoh who plays the heroine Zeng Jing and Korean actor Jung Woo Sung who plays hero Jiang Ahsheng, as well as the likes of Taiwanese actress Barbie Hsu who plays an Assassin, Turquoise.

The Sword Fighting movie Reign of Assassins which features an international cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo Sung and Barbie Hsu, opens in cinemas in Singapore on 7 October 2010.

Woo, who represents the pinnacle in Asian film direction, mentioned how fruitful and enjoyable the 16 years in Hollywood were for him where he directed the likes of Face/Off and Mission Impossible II. During the session, he revealed that it was time for him to return to Asian cinema to bring to Asia what he had learnt in Hollywood to enable him to share it with young Asian directors. He described working in Hollywood as a dream, and made particular mention of working with Michael Douglas whom he said gave him a lot of creative freedom. He also said that he had during his time in Hollywood had the chance to meet some of his idols who include the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Cuppola with whom he is now good friends with.

John Woo described his 16 years in Hollywood as a dream.

It was also during the session that both Woo and Su revealed that what sets the movie apart from the typical movie from the Sword Fighting genre of its heyday some 30 to 40 years ago were that they wanted to also portray the human aspects of the sword fighters – giving each of the characters an ordinary life in which they went about their daily lives in very much the same way most folk do. In doing so, Su mentioned that he wanted the audience to see that there was indeed a human and emotional side to the characters, and that while time and circumstances have changed, people back then were very much like people are today. In previous Sword Fighting movies, for the sake of keeping the movie moving, most had their characters employing their skills throughout the movie, leaving very little or no time for the characters to display a human that would certainly have existed.

Su Chao-Pin describing how emotions were examined as part of the effort to portray the human side of the characters in the movie.

Watching the movie after the sharing session, I guess I was able to appreciate this fact. The treatment of the human aspects of the characters was indeed expertly handled, with just about the right mix of action and suspense, emotions and even a little tinge of humour mixed in, that I was able to sit riveted to the screen throughout the length of the two hour long movie, even as I felt that the story was a little predictable at the beginning – that is, until the main antagonist’s motivation was revealed in a comical moment.

The human aspects of the lives of the Sword Fighters were very much in evidence throughout the movie.

Another thing that came out during the session was a discussion about how difficult it was to work with an international cast. During the discussion, Su made particular mention of his experience working with Jung who did not speak a word of Mandarin. Jung he felt was very professional in how he went about playing the role, painstakingly memorising every single line even though the voice of his character was to be dubbed over. That effort perhaps showed in the movie where Jung’s performance was quite convincing. Overall the movie did not disappoint – perhaps because I did not expect much in the first place, but I did feel that for someone like me who really isn’t taken by the action sequences of a Sword Fighting movie, it did offer something more than that and perhaps provided me with an appreciation for such movies that I had not previously had. The movie opens in cinemas in Singapore on 7 October 2010.


Set in ancient China, the film stars Michelle Yeoh as a skilled assassin who is on a mission to return the remains of a mystical Buddhist monk to their resting place. The remains are believed to hold a powerful secret. Along the way, she falls in love with a man named Jiang, whose father was killed by her gang. Unaware that he also is a trained martial artist, their love blossoms but tensions arise as the truth of her past unravels. Soon, a lethal triangle surfaces between her, Jiang and the team of assassins that are after the monk’s remains.



7 responses

5 10 2010
Chris Moseley

Although my wife and I speak no Chinese we went to a small cinema to watch a film in Chinese. Chinese films were supposed to be very good and I guess many of the ones that were shown in Malacca where we lived were by the Shaw guys from Hong Kong. I have no recollection of what the film was now but the locals must have thought it very strange to see two white people going into their cinema.


5 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

🙂 You might have been one of the more adventurous white people then … were there were sub-titles back in those days? There were lots of these small cinemas in Singapore – some without a roof and you would have been able to get in for a small fee and sit on hard wooden benches in the screening area which would have been bounded by zinc sheets – I am not sure if this was the experience that you might have had!

5 10 2010
Chris Moseley

I don’t remember if there were any sub-titles on the film we watched but probably there were. The name of the cinema I have now forgotten but it was a proper building with a normal screen, although the whole place was quite small. I remember the cinema was on Jalan Bukit Bahru, not far from Sin Hoe Gardens where we used to live.


5 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

Can’t say that that is an area of Malacca that I am familiar with … might the cinema have looked like the one we had in Chong Pang Village – the Sultan? In many of the rural areas in Singapore, the area around the cinemas were usually came alive in the evenings with food vendors on push carts – and the thing I always remember about these places is the wonderful aroma that came from the street vendors – particularly that of sweetcorn or peanuts being steamed …

5 10 2010
Chris Moseley

From what I remember the cinema on Jalan Bukit Bahru looked a lot like the old Sultan cinema at Chong Pang Village. In fact it may no longer exist.


6 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

I guessed it might have … and it probably does not exist. What is nice in Malaysia is that there are some of the old single screen cinemas that are still around … we do have the old Rex Cinema in Singapore that has been revived as a small multiplex showing Tamil movies …

7 10 2010
REIGN OF ASSASSINS 《剑雨》: Sharing Session with John Woo (吴宇森) & Su Chao Pin (苏兆彬) « OMY BLOG CLUB

[…] Jerome Lim: Time for romance in a sword-fight: Reign of Assassins […]

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