Rating: 2 stars out of 5
The stars: Chow Yuen Fatt, Liu Yi Fei, Tamaki Hiroshi
The story: During the Three Kingdoms era, Cao Cao (Chow Yuen Fatt) finds himself under suspicion of plotting against the Emperor Xian, in order to gain the throne himself. A group of assassins infiltrate his court, awaiting the order to carry out their mission.
The buzz: Yet another lavish medieval Chinese costume drama, this epic wastes good performances from the cast with sloppy storytelling and having far too many characters for its own good. There's an awkward love story that aims for ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’-style pathos, but falls far short in terms of subtlety.
insing.com says: Essentially an account of royal intrigue during Cao Cao's last days, ‘The Assassins’ stumbles with confusing confrontations and often fails to establish who is doing what to who and why it matters.
Gong Ling Jui, played by Liu Yi Fei, has infiltrated his inner chamber, despite Cao Cao's awareness of her nature, and she finds herself drawn to the man despite her mission.
Chow Yuen Fatt portrays Cao Cao as a man aware that his final days are near, and who can outplay all those who try to bring him down. Racked by painful headaches and surrounded by scheming officials, as well as his son's own ambition, Cao Cao tries to maneuver for his own survival, and Chow plays the schemer with his usual suave and cool.
However, the characters surrounding him are underdeveloped, and some earlier culling might have lent the film more coherence. The love story, between assassins Gong Ling Jiu and Mu Shun (Hiroshi Tamaki) feels tacked on, and the action scenes are so badly put together they're barely coherent. Director Zhan Lishan should have dispensed with the lavish costume and production and focused more on telling a tighter, more compelling story.