440,000 feet of film was used to shoot Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s glacially paced “martial arts” film. It is a wonder to behold, a feast of painterly landscape shots and meticulously staged interior shots, often filmed through gauzy curtains to give the impression of candlelight. The context for The Assassin is ninth-century Tang Dynasty China. Its main character (Shu Qi) is a would-be princess exiled from her home province, Weibo. Now a trained assassin, she is sent to kill her cousin (Chen Chang), a sovereign of Weibo, to the quell insurrection he’s stoking, and to rid her of “human sentiments.” Unpalatable to someone expecting to be spoon fed information, The Assassin is a difficult movie; as ever, Hsiao-Hsien’s storytelling is subtle and elliptical. Yet the plot, a tangle of machinations, is secondary here, like filigree adorning a perfect statue. The marvel of The Assassin is its artistry: credit the teamwork of DP Ping Been Li, editor Liao Ching-Sung, production/costume designer Hwarng Wern-Ying, and sound designer Lim Giong.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White