The countdown continues!
The Assassin is the first foray, by the legendary Taiwanese art-film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Millennium Mambo, Three Times, Café Lumière, Flight of the Red Balloon) into the “Wuxia” (aka “martial hero”) genre, conceived in the Far East by China and popularized globally by films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero. And yet the film almost serves as an antithetical rebuttal to the genre. The Assassin achieves the ethereal and sought after cinematic sublime that very few filmmakers are capable reaching, but it doesn’t make much traditional sense. Hou could make a great martial arts epic if he wanted to, but he’s after more rarefied game in this remarkable and challenging film. Shu Qi (The Transporter) plays a mysterious female assassin whose heart and soul gets in the way of her deadly art. Her journey is instead used by Hou to directly confront Taiwanese and Chinese myth, landscape, and genre conventions head-on. It has few and fleeting bursts of lightning-fast swordplay and balletic combat that interrupt long, still stretches of misty moonlit landscapes and follow a pure literary style more interested in soul-searching and interpersonal drama amid political maneuvering. The detailed period costumes and art direction make the film extraordinarily beautiful to watch (it’s one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen), but the refinement may weigh against it for fans hungering after spectacular kung fu. The plot and characters are also hard to follow due to the substantially opaque narrative ambiguity from which to reap the riches off like a more poetically-inclined mind. The Assassin is a martial arts movie for philosophers, scholars, poets, painters, sculptors, artists, gourmands, and other hard-core sensualists. Fans of martial arts movies will probably hate it through no fault of their own. The Assasin is for those who wish to expand their movie palette beyond traditional “entertainment.” Continue reading “The Assassin” is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Anti-Action Masterpiece