Hou Hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin was all the rage at the Cannes Film Festival where he won Best Director. However, the direction is about all you’ll be able to appreciate about this film since enjoyment is few and far between.
By Kenneth Shipp
The premise of the film is fairly straightforward, the title character Yinniang (Shu Qi) has been raised as an assassin since she was 10. When she shows leniency to one of her marks, her master forces her to return home and kill her the man she was previously betrothed to. This creates an interesting dynamic as she interacts with members of her family, her encounters with various people in the house of Ji’an, and finally her repeated sparing moments with Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen) himself.
Visually, it was quite stunning and I loved the set pieces that Hsiao-Hsien put together and/or scouted. There is just no getting around how stunning some of the shots were. While most of the locations spoke for themselves. it didn’t hurt that the filming was top notch in a few of these moments as well. The production values in Governor Ji’an’s court were stellar as well and as were many of the characters and their clothing. Everything felt right about this area of the movie.
Now, let’s get to what actually drove me nuts about this entire production. The pacing is abysmal and can’t be overlooked. I would usually agree with the film festivals, but I have to differ on this point. A film’s’ pace is squarely on the director’s shoulders; they are expected to handle those rough moments. For a film that is only an 1 hour 45 minutes, you may be looking for the exit pretty early on. And it not like the script was lacking material or interest because I genuinely desired to enjoy the movie, the pacing kept me from doing that to a severe degree. There are a few moments in the middle as Yinniang is infiltrating the house, that while they give us insight to her and Ji’an’s previous relationship, they take entirely too long to keep our interest.
I will note however, despite the pacing issues, if Hsiao-Hsien was looking to excite us when the better moments occur, then he did succeed partially in that regard. If you like beautifully crafted movies, this one will definitely wet your pallet. Just don’t expect to have a great experience, you’ll have to save that for another adventure.
The Assassin: 7.5 out of 10
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