`Emperor and the Assassin' is lovely, slow Chinese history

Movie review

March 03, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"The Emperor and the Assassin," a sprawling history of China during the third century B.C., is a stunning motion picture, but of interest only to those who are familiar with the events it depicts, or have a burning desire to learn about them.

The story of King Ying Zheng, the emperor who dreamt of unifying China's seven provinces, doesn't lack in sweep or visual beauty, but it's not as compellingly watchable as director Chen Kaige's earlier films ("Yellow Earth," "Farewell My Concubine"). Nor does it compare to the Shakespearean samurai epics of Kurosawa to which it aspires.

Filmed with an eye for exquisite color and detail, "The Emperor and the Assassin" co-stars the lovely Gong Li as Ying Zheng's mistress, who arranges a false assassination plot to give the king a rationale for invading a recalcitrant province. Gong is marvelous, as usual, and the movie's battle scenes rank among the best for pure spectacle and grandeur, but glacial pacing renders the film curiously inert, as if "Richard III" were being re-enacted in molasses.

Still, aficionados of Chinese history will revel in Chen's meticulous attention to detail in "The Emperor and the Assassin," which benefits from a spectacular production design by Tu Juhua and sumptuous costumes by veteran designer Mo Xiaomin. If its nearly three-hour running time makes "The Emperor and the Assassin" a bit hard on the posterior, it is definitely easy on the eyes.

`The Emperor and the Assassin'

Starring Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, Li Xuejian

Directed by Chen Kaige

Rated R

Running time 161 minutes

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Sun score * *

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