ASIAN FILM - Review
10:59 - 7th April 2016, by NEO Staff

The Assassin

Known for his contemplative and modern approaches to both storytelling and cinematography, Taiwanese New-Wave director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s probably isn’t the first name you would expect to see on a wuxia epic. The Assassin, his first film in the genre, nonetheless made a big impression at Cannes last year, earning Hsiao-Hsien the award for Best Director, and a Palme d’Or nomination to boot.

The film centres on a female assassin (played beautifully by frequent collaborator Shu Qi) in 9th century China, kidnapped and trained by a nun from the age of ten to take down corrupt government officials. However, when she falls prey to her emotions on assignment and allows one of her targets to live, her mentor tests her loyalty by asking her to kill the ruler of a rebellious outer region who just happens to be the man to whom she was previously betrothed.

As with many of Hsiao-Hsien’s films, dialogue is sparse and the story slow moving. The drama unfolds gradually and carefully against a backdrop of beautifully constructed and evocative shots. The meditative stillness of these longer takes is delicately contrasted with action sequences whose balletic choreography adds a graceful burst of movement to otherwise tranquil proceedings.

While its slow pacing and relative lack of action make The Assassin a different proposition than the usual wuxia fare, it is nonetheless a must-watch for fans of the genre and cinema lovers generally.

A visually resplendent addition to the wuxia canon with a distinctly modern twist.
SCORE: 4/5
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