8th century China. 10-year-old general’s daughter Nie Yinniang is abducted by a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors.
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I confess that I was rather impressed with the premise, in the sense of an artistic, and formally interesting martial arts film. Not many directors ever attempt to make an artistic action or horror film, but sadly although the colours and scenes are exquisite, thematically it is boring as hell. If this was actually a fusion of a martial arts work with this form, I would have been in love, but there is little action.
Needless to say, it will never do to bring the same criteria to bear when assigning stars to different sorts of cinema. Early Hou shakes me up, its stillnesses jittering until they shatter. Subsequent films assumed an ornamental zen serenity, but retained a saving ambiguity that granted dimension to their almost-too-beautiful surfaces. Here, from beneath the audacity of his conceit, Hou emerges as a master-mortician.
This is some serious jaw on the floor shit. My God. None of Hou's subsequent movies have quite risen to the level he maintained in the 90s. The Assassin steadfastly does. This movie is so meticulously mapped out and rigged up that the only suitable way to respond is to surrender wholly to awe. This is a work of art on par w/ anything currently being done in any medium. One finds oneself absolutely immersed.
The Assassin is a contemplative gem featuring rich cinematography and an understated martial arts tale full of symbolism. Both the costume design and set design are immaculate, but I know I wasn't the only one in the theater who felt restless from the abbreviated fight scenes. Even still, Hou Hsiao-Hsien has crafted an absorbing film that showcases his attention to detail in every frame.
A cold blooded killer with a heart of a gold in a story told through the treachery of images. Contrary to popular opinion the film does have, in fact, narrative depth and quite a vibrant pulse. Its storytelling techniques may challenge the viewer but also comprise what makes Yinniang's decision-making process so compelling. It's a methodical, cerebral and extremely calculated mood piece.
A martial arts movie only as far as Two-Lane Blacktop is a car racing movie—that is, it's "un-genre" cinema. It may take another viewing to figure out just who the hell everyone is, but I'm not sure that confusion is unintended: this is a film that sets up the realpolitik of a classic "wu xia", but is about the decision to opt out in search of beauty instead. Its desire to disengage couldn't be more urgent.
Here is an existential film that focuses on mood and dilemma over story and character, resulting in one of the most challenging and confounding experiences I have had in a long time. Either you go with it or you don't, I went with it and loved it!