The Emperor and the Assassin

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The Emperor and the Assassin
Emperor and the Assassin.jpg
DVD release cover
Traditional 荊軻刺秦王
Simplified 荆轲刺秦王
Mandarin Jīng Kē Cì Qín Wáng
Directed by Chen Kaige
Produced by Han Sanping
Chen Kaige
Kadokawa Tsuguhiko
Furukawa Hiromitsu
Written by Chen Kaige
Wang Peigong
Starring Gong Li
Zhang Fengyi
Zhou Xun
Li Xuejian
Chen Kaige
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Zhao Fei
Zheng Hua
Shang Yong
Edited by Zhou Xinxia
Beijing Film Studio
Distributed by China Star Entertainment Group (H.K.)
Sony Pictures Classics (U.S.)
Columbia Pictures (U.K.)
Release dates
  • October 8, 1998 (1998-10-08)
Running time
162 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin

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.[1] It was the most expensive Chinese film made at the time, costing US$20 million.[2]


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 in the main of three incidents: the attempt by Jing Ke to assassinate Ying Zheng in 227 BCE; the rumour of a Chief Minister's having sired the latter before transferring his concubine to become the Queen Dowager; and the (possibly fictitious) story of an official having sired children by the Queen Dowager herself. The first incident plays out only at the end of the film, but earlier scenes foreshadow 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.[3][4] 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.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "China's Festival Winners". Variety. 2005-05-17. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  2. ^ Yang, Jeff Once Upon a Time in China (Atria, 2003) p.204
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Emperor and the Assassin". Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  4. ^ a b "The battle for the Palm d'Or". BBC News. 1999-05-17. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 

External links[edit]