I don't know if it was just because it was late, if it was because I'd already watched two films or if it was actually just the film... but I felt the full two hours of Reign of Assassins. With a title like that, and with a cast including Michelle Yeoh, this film promised so much. And I just felt like it didn't deliver. I knew we were in trouble at the start when, during the opening scenes, the voice-over narration describes something that has just occurred on-screen! It adds nothing to the telling of the tale and just serves to slow things down. Which is not something this film needs.
As is usual for this sort of kung-fu film, events begin in non-specified ancient/medieval China. A mummified corpse of a kung-fu master is said to grant whoever possesses the two pieces of it ultimate control of all kung-fu. Or something. As you would expect, many nefarious folks are after it. One such gang of assassins kills a local governor and his son to gain possession of one half of the corpse. In the midst of all the hacking and slashing, young female assassin Drizzle makes off with it. She disappears with a sizeable bounty on her head and so undergoes dramatic facial reconstruction surgery (!) to become Michelle Yeoh. She moves to a small village and begins a new life. There are moments of broad comedy as her new land-lady tries to set her up with various rich, ugly suitors. Instead, she falls for one of the other tenants: The Good, the Bad and the Weird’s Jung Woo-Sung as Jiang A-sheng. He’s a kind-hearted, somewhat bumbling man who appears to be a hopeless romantic. They get married and eventually trouble comes a-calling, in the form of her old assassin mates. Wire-fu ensues.
Michelle Yeoh, as great as she is, never really gives a hint of once being a cold-hearted assassin. Oh sure, there are a couple of fight scenes helping to point this out, but she doesn’t seem to carry any of the baggage of her old life. And her husband is also carrying a secret with him, a secret that is barely hinted at previously in the film but is easily guessed at because, well, it’s a fairly predictable affair. This would be fine and good if it was still enjoyable. But things drag out and crucially, what this film really lacks is a sense of fun. This could of course just be my perception of a film I watched late at night, after a long day at the day-job and two intense films. But I did feel the full run-time of it, though there were plenty of crazy kung-fu set pieces and wildly veering tonal shifts (thriller, romance, broad comedy, kung-fu action) to keep me on my toes.