For Reel

The Assassin (2015)
January 8, 2016, 7:44 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
4 Stars
The AssassinHou Hsiao-Hsien’s foray into the traditional wuxia genre involves a nearly impenetrable narrative, so evasive in its plot specifics that the viewer is invited to simply let the beauty of the images soak over them. On these grounds, The Assassin is undoubtedly a visual masterpiece, among the decade’s best arguments for the primacy of the image in cinema. In moments, the framings allow the audience information that is not exchanged through dialogue–in one sequence, for example, it is clear that those involved in the scene are being spied on due to the placement of the camera behind billowing curtains. In many other scenes, however, the visuals seek to perplex all the more, going so far as to elevate The Assassin to the level of the mythical. When fog rolls over a mountain and leaves what once was a vast landscape a hazy white glow, one feels that The Assassin is removed from time, a sort of unknowable artifact with transcendental power of its own. None of this is to say that the film completely falters on narrative grounds–the struggle within Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu) in identifying where her loyalties lie is clear, and the picture does succeed as a morality play in which the purity of one woman’s values are tested. But Hsiao-Hsien does not seem particularly interested in this narrative framework as much as he is in setting a mood, distinguished by long, languid takes that are punctuated with moments of rapid violence.

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