The notion that the Emperor must be ruthless to consolidate the nation (and his power) is a recurring theme in Jang Ymou’s films: Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers and even in The Great Wall. He’s not going to abandon this theme. One may disagree with Ymou’s view, but you have to respect himfor his consistency. I found this to be a wonderful movie with, as always with this director, outstanding production design and cinematography. In case you can’t guess, I like him very much.
I don't feel this movie sold the idea of "One China" convincingly. It was all contrived via the husband assassin telling his wife that he's relenting his goal and he somehow convinces Jet Li's character to tell the Emperor of this. That ONE act somehow changed the directory of the story and somehow we were suppose to buy into the Emperor's actions being based on an ideal of unity rather than conquest.
You could make the same story about Hitler and spin it as a romanticized story about a lowly Austrian citizen rising up to power in Germany and uniting all German speaking peoples and rebuilding a country and taking to greater heights. All that military buildup, nation conquering, and murdering of selected peoples were just a necessary trade-off.
Hitler dindu nuthin' wrong!