In the third century BC, King Ying Zheng (Li Xuejian) is bludgeoning the Chinese empire into shape. Originally a ruthless but well-intentioned man, he gradually tips over the edge into brutality and his disillusioned lover plans an assassination. But it will only work if she can lure master assassin Jing Ke (Zhang Fengyi) out of retirement for one last job.
This could have been a snappy 90-minute, chop-socky flick, but Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) has a different agenda. More Shakespearean tragedy than Jackie Chan actioner, it has all the epic stateliness of opera - but also much of the distance.
Despite some bleakly impressive visuals, it never really comes to life, remaining a feature that's easier to admire than enjoy.