A Chinese historical drama set in the latter days of the Han Dynasty can’t seem to balance its various character arcs, resulting in a film with little sense of depth. The Blu-ray release is similarly mediocre, with some problematic elements in the video transfer and a spartan collection extras. The Assassins Release Date: January 8, 2013 Studio: Well Go USA Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover Year: 2012 Rating: NR Running Time: 1:47:07 MSRP: $29.98 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video AVC: 1080p high definition 2.40:1 Standard and high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: Mandarin 5.1, English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: Mandarin 2.0, English 2.0 Various Subtitles English, Chinese English The Feature: 2.5/5 The vassal king Cao Cao (Chow Yun Fat) is a man to be feared. His defeat of China’s greatest warrior and his latest display of power in the form of a magnificent palace structure has Emperor Xian (Alec Su) and his court anticipating a bloody coup. To prevent such an uprising, an army of assassins composed of the orphans from the Cao’s many victims are trained and embedded in his kingdom. The two closest to Cao is Ling Ju (Crystal Liu Yi Fei), posing as a newly acquired concubine, and her childhood friend and true love Mu Shan (Tamaki Hiroshi), disguised as a eunuch. Together they have the means and opportunity to do what has so far proved impossible, but being so close to the notorious figure they begin to see him not as a bloodthirsty tyrant, but as a warrior, scholar, and even a patriot. But the forces continue to build against the man regardless of such revelations, making Cao’s demise at the hands of his enemies seem inevitable, a thing two powerless orphans have little hope of changing. Even with international superstar Chow Yun Fat involved, Zhao Linshan’s “The Assassins” never gets better than mediocre. The film can’t seem to decide between expressing the struggles of the star-crossed, orphan lovers and exploring King Cao, the man behind the legend. In one sense the former serve as a framing device for the political machinations and intrigue surrounding the latter, but the editing just makes the storytelling seem indecisive, with no characters ultimately receiving their due. Even with Cao’s story standing dominant in the end, viewers will be hard pressed to say if they really learned anything of significance, either about the man or the tumultuous period in which he lived. Video Quality: 3.5/5 Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the picture quality is inconsistent, at times featuring deep, inky blacks and great looking contrast levels, but at others looking slightly washed out and flat. Detail is similarly variable, with close ups often showing every pore, but then medium and wide shots showing a noticeable loss of resolution and clarity. Colors are a little more consistent, shifting between warm and cold tones depending on the setting, but because of the black level and contrast issues, color depth and saturation are also affected. Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Dialogue in the Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear and detailed. Surround activity is restrained, rear channels going mostly toward soundtrack support with only a handful of moments where environmental or atmospheric cues come into play. Use of LFE is similarly measured, showing up in only a few critical scenes, though the track’s overall sense of depth never seems lacking. Special Features: 1/5 Pre-Menu Trailers Tai Chi Zero (1:09, HD, Dolby Digital 5.1) White Vengeance (1:40, HD, Dolby Digital 5.1) Let the Bullets Fly (1:53, HD, Dolby Digital 5.1) Behind the Scenes (13:45, SD): A collection of production vignettes that appear to have been produced for online viewing, the pieces include actor commentary on key scenes, a montage of the various phases of the production, and interviews with the principal cast members about their time working together. Trailer (1:40, HD, Dolby Digital 5.1) Recap The Film: 2.5/5 Video Quality: 3.5/5 Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Special Features: 1/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3/5 Well Go USA turns in a complementary presentation for its mediocre historical drama starring Chow Yun Fat as the legendary King Cao. The special features provide some glimpses behind the scenes, but do little to elevate the release beyond its middling status.