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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Assassin

Maybe it was because it was the end of a hard day, but I found The Assassin, Hsou-Hsaio Chen's martial arts film, extremely soporific. It has garnered many great reviews, and was Taiwan's official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, and it's omission created the most hubbub. I found it beautiful but dull and incomprehensible.

The assassin in question is Yinniang, played by Shu Qi. She was given away to a "nun-princess" and trained to be a killer. At the beginning of the film she is told to kill some kind of noble who has killed both his father and his brother. "Take him down like a bird in flight," the nun tells her. And she does.

Qi is then returned to her home with the assignment of killing her cousin. This is where I quickly got lost. We get a title card at the beginning of the film stating that we are in 8th-century China and the empire is so large that garrisons have been formed to defend it, but these garrisons have become semi-autonomous and have started to rebel. But I never quite got who was on who's side.

In any event, Qi, who apparently can get in and out of any place without effort, infiltrates her cousin's palace. She does not kill him, as she has a nasty case of a conscience, which is a bad thing for an assassin. She does fight a woman in a mask, whose identity I have no idea. For a martial arts film there is very little action and very little death.

Sometimes a critically-acclaimed film just doesn't gel with me, especially those that are very slow moving. The Assassin is a very beautiful film, with terrific photography and costumes. Qi uses to be fashion model and it shows, as she is not required to emote on any level and mostly stand still. The other actors are fine, not resorting to some of the over-acting that Asian genre films are known for. But I just couldn't get into it. At a certain point I gave up following the plot and just let the film flow over my senses. Perhaps that is what was intended.

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