"The experience of seeing this film on the big screen is one of the true joys of a film festival."
The Assassin was in the making for nine years, and it shows. Hou Hsiao-Hsien recently won the Cannes Best director prize for this immaculately detailed take on the eighth century Chinese epic — the experience of seeing this film on the big screen is one of the true joys of a film festival.
The eponymous assassin is Yinniang (played with calm intensity by Shu Qi), a young woman taken from her home as a child and trained to kill by a 'princess nun'. Yinniang is sent to kill her cousin as a punishment for failing to assassinate a man in front of his young son. The main story is simple, but set against a backdrop of politics and scheming that can be hard to follow, ensuring that the audience is kept at arm's length from the world of custom and ceremony that has been painstakingly created here. Often slow, even stationary, The Assassin is in no way a gory martial arts film — the fight sequences are impressive but brief — and flashes of Yinniang's unparalleled talent for killing stand at odds to the gauzy dreamlike beauty of much of the rest of the film, as well as the serenity of the mountainous setting. The audience is always the voyeuristic outsider in this deliberately impenetrable film, but it's a pleasure just to watch.