Reign of Assassins
Starring: Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng, Jung Woo-sung, Kelly Lin Hsi-lei, Barbie Hsu Hsi-yuan
Directors: Su Chao-pin and John Woo Yu-sum
Category: IIB (Putonghua)
It may be marketed as 'the first martial arts actioner from John Woo' - and the director does conduct some secondary directing alongside Su Chao-pin as well as producing this film - but Reign of Assassins comes across less like a typical Woo film and more like a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon wannabe.
The presence of Michelle Yeoh (right, with Jung Woo-sung) is the most obvious similarity.
And the sight of the star in a night fight scene that involves flying up a vertical wall and over rooftops definitely brings to mind one of the Ang Lee film's most exciting segments - all the more so as Yeoh's chief female opponent is a stubborn young thing in the mode of Zhang Ziyi's Crouching Tiger character.
This time around though, the MacGuffin in the picture is not a treasured sword but the sought-after remains of a mystical Buddhist monk, literally one half of which comes into the possession of a female assassin known as Drizzle (Kelly Lin) after she executes a hit on an imperial minister.
But rather than pass the precious relic to the Wheel King (Wang Xueqi) - head of the Dark Stone gang of killers and the man who taught her the deadly 'water-shedding' sword-fighting technique - Drizzle decides on a drastic change in lifestyle that involves having surgery to change her appearance so that she can lead a life of peace rather than violence.
For a time, Drizzle (now known as Zeng Jing, played by Yeoh) manages to live quietly.
But after she is forced to spring back into martial action one fateful day, her distinctive fight technique enables the Wheel King to track her down and unleash three assassins (Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue Man-lok and Leon Dai Li-ren) on her and her loved ones.
After a lightning-fast beginning, (complete with illustrations to further hurry the exposition along), Reign of Assassins settles down for a period during which Yeoh and lead actor Jung's dramatic and comic talents are allowed to reveal themselves.
However, this is a film that would have benefited from being leaner and meaner than the approximately two-hour running time.
Reign of Assassins opens today