Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Emperor and the Assassin

Chen Kaige, 1998, China (8.1*)
This is another spectacular looking Chinese historical epic, similar in scope and look to the films The Last Emperor and Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Running over 2 ½ hours, this story concerns the emperor of Qin, wonderfully played by Li Xuejian, before the kingdoms of China are unified in 220 B.C. His consort, beautifully played, as usual, by one of the great Chinese actresses Gong Li, has an idea to return as a traitor to her province, at war with Qin, and get that king to send an assassin back to Qin in order to provoke a war that will allow Qin to take over Yan, where she is from, without the other kingdoms interfering. She ironically finds an assassin, whose story we also are shown, who has vowed never to kill again.

This is a long, complex plot that keeps you guessing, as no one seems trustworthy or loyal, everyone has a reason to kill the other. This has some terrific shots of ancient armies and attacks on cities, but spends a lot of time in the courts, and the acting is all superb, creating a Shakespearean level drama. Everything looks beautifully opulent, from the sets to the costumes. Any fan of epics, Chinese films, or historical costume dramas will not be disappointed.

Also check out Kaige's epic Farewell, My Concubine (1993), a three-hour epic that covers 50 years of Chinese history


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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