This movie was very well made but it isn't anything that it appears to be at first glance. I was expecting a traditional action flick with lots of fight scenes but that was totally incorrect.
To summarize, its a story about assassins who were trained from childhood and what it is like to be a pawn controlled by the crown. Meanwhile, these assassins are assigned to quell a rebellion against the crown and they face a mission that might be too tough for them to complete.
If you have seen the movie "The Last Samurai" this is a similar story. The movie is more about building up to an emotional conclusion than anything else. The story is somewhat cliche and because the characters were very well portrayed I could predict what was going to happen. I was still surprised at some of the plot developments, but there wasn't any big twist to the movie.
The first scene of the movie is a fight scene that suffers from poor executing, including CG that doesn't blend in well and a few camera shots that are poor quality. If you can get past that part, the rest of the movie is very well made.
There is not much fighting in the movie, it is just plot and character development. There is still some action in the later parts of the movie, but it is mostly big battles with lots of explosions going off. The explosions are really well done overall and the final action scene was the best, though it is tempered by the emotional nature of the storyline.
So how good is the acting and storyline then? I would say it is pretty good. There are only 3 main characters that get focused on, and they are all pretty shallow but still interesting to watch on the screen because of the situations they are put in. Wolf, the leader of the rebels, was the most interesting. The two "Royal Guards" did an okay job but the theme of brotherhood was a little overbearing. The female actress, Li Yuchun, has a very small role that is more of a plot hook than a real characterization.
It sounds like a mediocre movie then... doesn't it? Well it is if you want a traditional martial arts movie. If you want a movie about empires and rebellion, about philosophy and standing up for whats right, intrigue and betrayal, politics and racism...a timeless human story... then you will probably enjoy yourself. The costumes, scenery and the picture quality are all excellent and while I got bored at times waiting for the story to advance I would still watch it again.