This Hou Hsiao-hsien arthouse wuxia drama, set during the Tang dynasty of 9th century China, centers on an exiled princess-turned-assassin (Shu Qi) assigned to kill her cousin Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), a military governor in the province of Weibo.
It may be unusual for a filmmaker as meditative as Hou to compose a wuxia feature; indeed, The Assassin eschews much of the action and stylish editing traditional of the genre in favor of the Taiwanese auteur’s deliberate directorial style of long-takes and expressive vast rural landscapes and candle-lit interiors. The Assassin’s setting is gracefully constructed through Mark Lee Ping-bing’s lush cinematography, reconstructing the grandeur and immenseness of imperial China; it’s amongst the most beautifully produced films Hou has made. This attentiveness to scenery and realism however results in a film whose allure is primary its elegant production rather than its admittedly opaque narrative, and I found it less engaging and more difficult to follow than The Puppetmaster or Flowers of Shanghai (although future viewings may alleviate this fogginess for myself).
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