Published Oct 30, 2015Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's latest film, The Assassin, feels like the cinematic equivalent of a Claude Monet painting. It's a purposeful picture, filmed with an impressionistic flair that lets the natural elements both obscure and enhance any given scenes, like allowing billowing curtains to block the movement of its key players, or capturing a rolling fog for perfect dramatic effect.
It's a visually striking film to say the least, but fans and followers of more traditional wuxia releases may find the pacing and all-around action a little unnatural, even while the settings and scenery prove otherwise. That's because, for a film focusing on a trained killer, The Assassin has little death or dismemberment to speak of.
Set during the Tang Dynasty in ninth century china, the film concerns itself primarily with Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a woman who was taken away at a young age and raised by a nun (of all people) to become a political assassin. But when she purposefully botches a recent mission by showing mercy on her target, the assassin's master tasks her with a far more deadly and morally taxing assignment — killing the current leader of her home province Weibo, who just so happens to be her cousin and former fiancé.
The road to their confrontation is an arduous one, filled with mostly silent forays in the countryside with only canopies of chirping birds and the occasional pounding drum providing any sort of backing track. For even the average martial arts fan, The Assassin will surely be a test of patience; this film feels closer to Barry Lyndon, with its drawn-out, near Kubrickian shots, than something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a movie that was paced perfectly for Western audiences and lead to critical and commercial success. But for those able to adjust to the stillness, The Assassin will reward viewers with some of the most beautiful shots seen in the cinema this year, and the overwhelming sense that someone is always lurking in the shadows.
(Well Go USA)