DirectorChen Kaige Initial DVD releaseJune 13, 2000 Duration LanguageMandarin
Release dateOctober 8, 1998 (1998-10-08) WriterKaige Chen, Peigong Wang CastGong Li (Lady Zhao), Zhang Fengyi (Jing Ke), Zhou Sun (Dan, Prince of Yan), Xiaohe Lü (General Fan Yuqi), Wang Zhi-Wen (Marquis Changxin), Chen Kaige (Lu Buwei) Similar moviesBlackhat, Salt, Shrek the Third, You Only Live Twice, The Kingdom, From Russia With Love
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The Emperor and the Assassin, also known as The First Emperor, is a 1998 - 1999 Chinese historical romance film based primarily on Jing Ke's assassination attempt on the King of Qin, as described in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian. The film was directed by Chen Kaige and stars Gong Li, Zhang Fengyi, Li Xuejian, and Zhou Xun. The film was well received critically and won the Technical Prize at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. It was the most expensive Chinese film made at the time, costing US$20 million.
The film covers much of Ying Zheng's career, recalling his early experiences as a hostage and foreshadowing his dominance over China. It depicts him essentially as an idealist seeking to impose a peace or unity on the world despite various betrayals and losses. Its story consists of three main incidents: the attempt by Jing Ke to assassinate Ying Zheng in 227 BCE; the (fictitious) rumour of a Chief Minister's having sired the latter before transferring his concubine to become the Queen Dowager; and the story of an official having sired children by the Queen Dowager herself. The first incident is the climax of the film, with earlier scenes foreshadowing it; the other two incidents occur between the fictional genesis and historical manifestation of the first.
In the film, Ying Zheng sends his concubine Lady Zhao to the Yan state as a spy to enlist a Yan assassin to attempt to assassinate him, intending to use that as a casus belli to start a war against Yan. Lady Zhao persuades Jing Ke to perform the assassination. After learning of Ying Zheng's massacre of the children in her home state of Zhao, Lady Zhao desires the assassination in earnest. The attempt fails, but Ying Zheng expresses his fury when his associates make no attempt to stop the assassin and he is forced to kill Jing Ke himself. He is further saddened when Lady Zhao returns to Qin only to retrieve Jing Ke for burial.
Gong Li as Lady Zhao
Zhang Fengyi as Jing Ke
Li Xuejian as Ying Zheng
Gu Yongfei as Queen Dowager
Wang Zhiwen as Lao Ai
Lü Xiaohe as Fan Yuqi
Sun Zhou as Crown Prince Dan of Yan
Chen Kaige as Lü Buwei
Pan Changjiang as prison official
Zhou Xun as blind girl
Cong Zhijun as old official
Li Longyin as shop owner
Li Qiang as Han messenger
Zhao Benshan as Gao Jianli
Ding Haifeng as Qin Wuyang
Hu Yang as young official
Zhang Shen as dwarf
Li Hongtao as Li Si
Wei Chao as Doujiyan
Han Dong as Qin cart driver
Li Zhonglin as Qin prison guard
Liu Tielian as palace ritual eunuch
Kong Qinsan as face tattooist
Xie Zengran as younger Wang brother
Chang Tao as older Wang brother
Zhang Jinzhan as Yan ambassador
Zhao Yanguo as artist
Lin Luyue as warrior
Liu Jiacheng as warrior
Chu Xu as warrior
Liu Bo as warrior
Liu Liang as warrior
The Emperor and the Assassin won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and was in competition for the Palme d'Or. Zhao Fei was awarded the 1999 Golden Rooster Award for Best Cinematography.
Chen Kaige noted upon the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that he hoped The Emperor and the Assassin would hold relevance to the events of the time, notably the Yugoslav Wars.