Well Go USA has managed to fill the asian cinema void that Dragon Dynasty and the Weinsteins had started a few years back. Now, their first entry in their 2013 catalog is certainly a benchmark and one of the best films they’ve put ever put out. Zhao Linshan’s The Assassins stars Chow Yun Fat as Chancellor Cao Cao of the Han Dynasty, the King of Wei and vassal to Emperor Xian. With his cunning intellect and fierce demeanor, Cao Cao is the most feared man throughout the entire empire, more so than the Emperor himself. Liu Yifei and Hiroshi Tamaki are the titular assassins, that have been trained by a very young age, to kill the Chancellor, with Liu posing as a Courtesan and Hiroshi posing as soldier in the palace. The young couple, having only each other to rely on, try to find a way to carry out their mission, but get entangled into a web of romance, treachery and political conspiracy, that makes The Assassins an incredible period piece and a fantastic drama.
Chow Yun Fat gives an impeccable performance as the famous historical figure and one the strongest ones in his career. While I’ve typically favored his work as an action star, in things like John Woo’s The Killer or A Better Tomorrow, his ability to carry the role in both tenderness and brutality proved to me that he’s come a long way. The roles of Liu Yifei and Hiroshi Tamaki are also portrayed very well and do a fine job at highlighting a central romance and an integral plot line of the film. Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding brilliantly outshines his previous works of House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower to show us his most beautiful work to date and a gorgeous looking period piece. Both the costume and production design are some of the best that recent Chinese films have offered and make the Han Dynasty look both vibrant and elegant in style.
The Blu-Ray of The Assassins comes with some solid video, flawless audio and a minimal amount of extras, that make for a somewhat solid release. The video comes in an AVC encoded, 1080p HD transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The video at times looks a little soft and grainy, but still does an incredible job at showing how good looking this film is. The audio comes in two DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, the original Mandarin and the English dub. These tracks are phenomenal, in both languages and are some of the audio tracks I’ve ever heard on a Blu-Ray. While the film is dialog heavy, the action scenes are bristling with activity all over the surround and LFE channels. The clarity, the sound effects and the overall mix are nothing short of greatness and should be heard by audiophiles that want to test out their surround sound set. The only extra on the disc is a short 15 minute, EPK style behind the scenes, that didn’t really show much of the making of the film, but more of the making of certain scenes and interviews with Ms. Yifei.
The Assassins is one of the best offerings that Well Go USA has and an awesome first release for the beginning of the New Year. Anyone that loves a good period piece, a great romance story or a solid action film, should most certainly check this film out. Highly Recommended!