Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, the most visual a poet of human existence to have ever made movies, has been working for almost a decade to produce this ravishing distillation of a vanished world. Winner of the Best Director Award at Cannes.
“Nominally a martial arts film of the swordplay genre, The Assassin, inspired by 9th-century Tang Dynasty fiction, is actually a breathtakingly contemplative historical drama. Filmmakers including Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, and Bernardo Bertolucci can eat their hearts out, because The Assassin involves the most extravagant, intricately detailed, extraordinarily beautiful recreation of the interiors, decor, dress and manners of imperial China that has ever likely been put on film…
Yinniang (Shu Qi), a general’s daughter exiled since childhood, is assigned by her martial arts master to kill the cousin to whom she was once betrothed, as punishment for failing to complete the political assassination of a corrupt governor. This is played out as an intricate cat-and-mouse game of stalking, and its pleasures for the viewer are not the ordinary ones of pursuit and capture, but the quality of living completely in each moment through Hou’s vision.” — Barbara Scharres, RogerEbert.com
“Whether shooting through wafting transparent curtains or mountain mists, or using muted or saturated colours, holding for a long time on a static tableau or delivering a quick montage depicting Yinniang despatching her enemies with deadly ease, Hou constantly makes us feel almost as if we’re watching something we’ve never seen before.” — Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound