Movie review: The Assassin is a gorgeous, unusually intimate martial-arts costume drama | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movie review: The Assassin is a gorgeous, unusually intimate martial-arts costume drama

Posted by on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 1:45 PM

click to enlarge Made in brocade: Shu Qi plays a deadly killer with a soft spot in The Assassin - PHOTO COURTESY OF WELL GO USA
  • photo courtesy of Well Go USA
  • Made in brocade: Shu Qi plays a deadly killer with a soft spot in The Assassin
The Assassin
★★★ ½
Opening Friday


Listen, I’m not going to mince words: Good luck finding out what the hell is going on in The Assassin. Renowned Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s first movie in seven years, which earned him the best director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is an epic martial-arts period piece that’s beguiling, ambiguous and—for some, at least—frustrating in its storytelling. Good thing it’s also one of the most visually breathtaking films you’ll see this year.

Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi, a ravishing Hou regular) is an assassin in 9th-century Tang Dynasty-era China. She’s ruthless and efficient, taking out corrupt government officials who never see her coming, though she can’t help but draw the line when children are in the room. After she fails to take out a leader for that very reason, her master orders her back to her homeland to kill Lord Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), who leads the largest military region in North China. He also happens to be her cousin, whom she was supposed to marry at one point.

Once she returns, Yinniang discovers she’s just one of many forces out to get this dude—and that’s when things get complicated for her and the audience. As she becomes conflicted about her duties, gradually turning into more of a protector than a dispatcher, don’t be surprised if you end up just as on-the-alert as she is, trying to determine which entities are gunning for both her and the lord.

If you know Hou’s films, you already know that cohesive narrative isn’t his strong suit. (I had a DVD of his memorably meandering Flight of the Red Balloon. I stopped watching it halfway through because, shit, life is too short!) Luckily, The Assassin is so impeccably made that you might give up on the plot and just take in the splendor of it all.

But Hou is not an action filmmaker, so don’t expect the fight scenes to crackle with gory flashiness. He’s more interested in the mood and atmosphere of a situation, the awkward silences and unspoken words between people. He captures them in this tale, where repression and oppression run wild, and people are at risk of getting exterminated if they actually say how they feel. With longtime cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin holding down the camera and Wen-Ying Huang handling the colorful production and costume designs, The Assassin is an epic, emotional story that speaks volumes beyond its elusive plot. Leave it to Hou to make a majestic, gorgeous wuxia costume drama that feels subdued and intimate.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

by Drew Rhys on Full Frame: An Avetts Agnostic Finds Some Faith in May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (Arts)

She made me a peanut butter and banana sandwichwithout bread. Now that's art.

by Geoff Dunkak on ADF Review: Queering Objects and Decoding the Body in Cherdonna's Clock that Mug or Dusted (Arts)

Maybe the lack of young people in attendance is partly because of the way the NC Gay and Lesbian Film …

by Jonathan H on A Twenty-One-Year-Old Finds a Welcoming Space at the Twenty-Two-Year-Old N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation