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The Emperor and the Assassin

"The Emperor and the Assassin" on DVD

Epic, in the Grand Tradition

If you're a fan of movies like "Ben-Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia," Columbia Tristar Home Video has a DVD that's right up your alley.

"The Emperor and the Assassin" is a grand epic the likes of which aren't seen too often nowadays. Directed by Chen Laige, who also helmed "Farewell, My Concubine," it's the visually gorgeous tale of conquest and intrigue in ancient China.

Ying Zheng, King of one of seven Chinese kingdoms, is driven by the burning ambition to unite all of China into one grand nation - with him at its head. He dreams of bringing peace to all the warring factions and of ruling benevolently over his subjects.

Impressed by his altruistic goal, his lover, Lady Zhao (Gong Li) hatches a scheme by which the king can conquer his most powerful enemy with a minimum of bloodshed.

Circumstances, including a coup attempt that involved some of his closest confidantes, conspire against Ying Zheng's altruism, unfortunately, turning his supposedly peaceful mission into an orgy of revenge and subjugation and carnage.

The movie isn't just about war, and the multi-layered plot goes beyond the epic and into the inner selfs of the major characters. In the end, you're left with the feeling that you've just seen one of those special films that come along rarely - a film that's far more than just the sum of its parts.

The battle scenes, which depict thousands upon thousands of soldiers and their gigantic war machines being unleashed upon enemy cities, are simply amazing, though unfortunately the really spectacular shots are also very brief. This is your "cast of thousands" picture, except that it looks as if they really used thousands of extras rather than resorting to the "digital fudging" so common today. Likewise, the sets and locations are appropriately spectacular, as befitting the royalty and the city fortresses being portrayed.

"The Emperor and the Assassin" DVD is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio and with digitally mastered anamorphic video and two channel Dolby Surround audio. Audio and video quality are terrific, though we would have loved to see a full Dolby Digital treatment. Still, we'll take a movie's original soundtrack in a pinch any time.

One thing you don't get with "Emperor" is an English soundtrack. You can choose from either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, and then access subtitles if you so desire. We so desired, and coupled the Mandarin soundtrack with English subtitles.

The result was an extremely satisfying experience.

Other extras include a director's commentary (in English, fortunately for us), talent files, trailers, and production notes.

"The Emperor and the Assassin" may not be your mainstream title of choice, but it's a must see movie in the grand tradition of epics of old.

The Emperor and the Assassin, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
161 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Surround
Starring Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, Li Xuejian, Sun Zhou, Lu Xiaohie, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige
Produced by Chen Laige, Shirley Kao, Satoru Iseki
Written by Wang Peigong, Chen Kaige, Directed by Chen Kaige


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Updated May 13, 2006