An ambitious historical epic of espionage, artifice and combat in the imperial courts of ancient China, "The Emperor and the Assassin" vividly fictionalizes the brutal, third Century B.C. unification of that nation by the psychologically unstable King of Qin (Li Xuejian), the most powerful of the region's of seven kingdoms.

A complex, manifold narrative from Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine," "Temptress Moon"), this wildly cinematic, Homeric endeavor juggles a lot of information in its sprawling 161 minutes, and is sewn together by a few key performances.

Gong Li is Lady Zhao, the King's lover and a royal from another kingdom, who is assigned to arrange an assassination attempt on the King, so Qin will have an excuse to invade the kingdom of Yan.

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