In 8th century China, 10-year-old general's daughter Nie Yinniang is handed over to a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors. One day, having failed in a task, she is sent back by her mistress to the land of her birth, with orders to kill the man to whom she was betrothed - a cousin who now leads the largest independent military region in North China. After 13 years of exile, the young woman must confront her parents, her memories and her long-repressed feelings. A slave to the orders of her mistress, Nie Yinniang must choose: sacrifice the man she loves or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins.Written by
A Never-Ending, Sleep-Inducing Period Piece Disguised As A Martial Arts Flick
There is absolutely no denying that The Assassin is one of the most beautiful looking films ever made for every frame of it qualifies as a masterwork of breathtaking photography. But there is also no denying that it is an insufferably boring film for just being able to sit through this picture is no mere achievement in itself.
Set in 8th century China during the Tang Dynasty, The Assassin follows Nie Yinniang; an exceptionally skilled assassin who was raised by a nun from the age of ten and kills on her command. But when she fails to perform her duties on one occasion, she is tasked with a ruthless mission that requires her to kill the man she was once betrothed to.
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin may give the impression of a martial arts movie but in actuality, it is more a period piece than anything else. Hou's direction is impressive when it comes to staging the shots, choosing the locations & capturing every image in an aesthetic, artistic & intimate manner but as far as story goes, this is cinema on a standstill.
The plot relies on minimal dialogues and is visually narrated. And although there is nothing wrong with that method, the immensely slow pace at which its events unfold is going to infuriate many. Nothing happens in the movie for the most part as camera simply pans from one end to another and whatever little action does exist, it's all very short-lived & scattered all over.
From the technical standpoint, The Assassin is virtually flawless. Throughout its runtime, the images retain its sharpness, clarity & piercing quality. Cinematography is truly a highlight for every moment is expertly staged, beautifully shot & the colour composition is wonderful. The camera may appear static but it's almost always in motion, the lighting is ideal, and I've got nothing but praise for this particular aspect.
Even the costumes, make-up & production design exhibit a meticulous amount of research that went into the period it tries to bring alive on the screen. Coming to the performances, the only one worth a mention is Shu Qi who plays the eponymous assassin in an incredibly calm, composed & balanced manner and manages to express her character's inner turmoil really well plus she's finely supported by the rest of the cast.
On an overall scale, The Assassin deserves full marks for its mind-blowing cinematography alone but the stillness of its plot, lack of action, tranquillising pace & lifeless characters turn it into an excruciating viewing experience. While I'm certain that there's an audience for this kind of storytelling, I'm equally sure that I'm not one of them. All in all, it is difficult to not fall in love with its imagery but its sleep-inducing narration that goes on for eternity ultimately destroys it for me.
P.S. On an unrelated note, this could actually cure my insomnia!
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