Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin is a stunning film. With beautiful costumes, sets and exquisite fight scenes, packed with a wild original soundtrack. Unfortunately the confusing plot and lack of emotion causes the story to drag and almost feel like a chore at times.
Nie Yinniang(Shu Qi) is a deadly female assassin who has been raised and trained as a killer by a nun Jiaxin. After failing to kill her target out of sympathy during a mission, Yinniang is punished by receiving the ultimate test from Jiaxin. She is sent to Weibo to kill the military governor Lord Tian Ji'an(Chang Chen) and send the region in to chaos. This is no easy task as Yinniang was originally arranged to marry Lord Tian before her disappearance.
This sounds like a basic plot, and it should be. But with the story telling and dialogue that HHH uses in his film, the story ends up extremely muddled. Rather than flashbacks, we are treated to more dialogue of characters explaining previous events, which doesn't make the story any clearer.
If that was all the problems The Assassin had, it would be still great! But unfortunately the slow pacing is a real issue in this film. The marketing probably hasn't helped, with reviews, trailers and posters stating this is a martial arts or Kung Fu film, when it is actually quite far from it.
Yes, there are a few great fight scenes in this film. Excellently choreographed. With an interesting style which sometimes is so quick it takes you a second to release who has the upper hand or dealt the last blow.
That is the juxtaposition of The Assassin. The fight scenes are so quick and finish almost instantly, yet the pacing and story telling is so slow the film almost grinds to a halt on a couple of occasions.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien's way of film making uses lots of long cuts. Sometimes these are of wild beautiful scenery. Or of people staring without dialogue. This can be a useful tool in film making, but it feels that it's used so often in The Assassin that sometimes you might wonder if your DVD has stuck.
The Assassin was a bit of a disappointment. It's one of the most talked about and exciting films of the year and it ends up falling a little flat. The film looks gorgeous. And Shu Qi is a fantastic lead. But the film has many flaws which unfortunately ruins the experience.
This is one that I think everyone has to see for themselves and make up their own mind. Many love it. And many hate it. It won best director at Cannes! Give it a watch but just don't expect a House of Flying Daggers.