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Painfuly slow, but so beautiful
infoalwaysacritic28 September 2018
The camera lingers on a woman, sitting on a bed, partially obscured by silk sheets that blow gently in the wind. The sheets drift apart and for a moment you see her face, contemplative. In a word, this is this film in a nutshell - contemplative.

To dispense with any misunderstanding, perhaps brought about by the title, or the brief description and the intense looking protagonist on the cover art, this is not a martial arts action film. The story contained within is a twisted intrigue of politics intertwined with an ill-fated love story and a young woman in emotional turmoil. There are a handful of beautifully choreographed scenes of combat, but in between lie long partitions of setting, silent physical drama and awkward monologues.

Making use of some of the most spectacular scenery in cinema, parts of the film have the feel of a cultural documentary. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to think that probably a third of the movie is setting shots of forest, lakes, trees, mountains, hills, goats, people's faces while they do something with their hands off camera, people walking, more people walking, people dancing, buildings at night, buildings in the day, buildings at sunset, buildings at sunrise, grass, person walking in grass, unknown person standing in trees, person looking surprised, then walking away... It's boring, it's beautiful and features some impressive mastery of camera work, lavish costumes and sets that are beautiful but it's also tedious. If viewing a film of this kind for the first time, a person may find it difficult to follow, not because the story is complex but because the story is thinly exposited between lengthy shots that establish very little if anything at all. Subsequently it is easy to lose interest between the action scenes and get lost in the cultural documentary that parses several critical events.

There is an audience for this type of a film - who is looking for something without hollywood glitz, who's tired of the over-the-top melodrama of western politics, who want something beautiful and slow and most importantly is familiar with enough Chinese culture to be able to infer the significance of seemingly pointless scenes. For example, there is something deliberate in seeing a random woman you're sure you've never seen before, standing in a forest, doing nothing. Maybe there's some significance to her gait, because she's a well known actress, and that's supposed to reveal an important relationship to another character. Is that exciting to you? Then sit back and get ready to watch a lot of people who stand there and say nothing, or participate in mundane everyday life events without an explanation. If you can decipher such curious camera angles and what's not shown or even talked about, you too can infer the meaning of this film, which isn't that mind-blowing when you do, but it's fun to participate along the way. While you're doing so, try not to be distracted by the film ration spontaneously switching from 4:3 to 16:9, that just happens... or does it?
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sublime depiction of the way of Tao
ghent12 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I have no trouble understanding why this esoteric movie gets such an underrated score here on IMDb. The film is not for a lay Western audience.

To fully appreciate it you need some background in Tao and in martial arts, and you need to crack some codes. Once you have done that, the film opens up its delicious flavor.

I have seen dozens of martial arts films, and some of them are quite good. I'm referring notably to the Zhang Yimou movies and to the long version of "Red cliff". But none of these great productions capture the mood and the inner core of Tao and the path of martial arts quite like this movie. This movie is a character study of finalizing Tao or the way of nature.

It is essential to understand a couple of things when viewing this film: (1) the camera takes the view of the assassin's inner state. So, when you see her fighting guards filmed from afar, it is because the heroine is engaged in a fight which is not important to her. She prefers to remain immersed in nature. Fighting the guards is something far off. When she's engaged in a fight with emotional importance, the fight is filmed up close. If you hear natural sounds all the time, even during inside scenes, it's because Nie Yinniang melted so much with nature and the natural state, that even when inside her razor sharp ears keep on detecting all what is real beyond human affairs. When you see things through a screen, that's how Nie Yinniang sees them. That she is at one with and no longer separate from nature is nicely depicted by her absolute stillness, her silence and the way she melts naturally with her environment. (2) the story is about how Nie Yinniang is almost a Tao master, but she still hasn't transcended the wounds of her youth, when she was of royal descent and scheduled to play a primary role in Weido. But because of reasons discussed by the film, when she was still small she was taken to a nunnery. For this reason, even if she comes out of school very advanced in the Tao, she didn't really have to confront her past yet. That's by and large where the movie starts. Nie Yinniang is also still struggling to transcend her own master, the nun abbot who taught her everything...except the way of the heart as integrated with the way of the sword.

As the movie progresses, we see how Nie Yinniang transcends the last remnants of her old self, symbolized by two pivotal fights: first she transcends her old royal self by winning from the royally-clad assassin, her duplicate and old self, in the woods, then she transcends the shortcomings of her own teacher symbolized by a short fight with the nun at the very end. And so Nie Yinniang has finally fully merged with Tao and she is now free to lead an anonymous but, in all silence, an intensely vibratory life with common folks of good heart. The moment she lets all the fuss of common humanity go is nicely photographed, when at the end you see how the court in Weibo is engaged in still novel intrigues, but as the camera takes the perspective of Nie Yinniang's deeper feelings, we see how, bored and disinterested, the camera drifts away from the whole show. Nie Yinniang is no longer intrigued by all this political fuss.

Much more can be written about the movie, but I don't want to make this review too long. For me, this movie is the best character study of the spiritual way of martial arts I have seen to date.
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On the slow side
euroGary20 October 2015
Hou Hsiao-Hsien is one of those directors the mere mention of whose name sends filmsnobs into paroxysms of pleasure. 'The Assassin' is the first of his films that I myself have seen, and I've got to say I have mixed feelings.

I was attracted to the film by the set designs featured in the trailer, and these are fantastic: lush, richly-detailed, lavish reproductions of nobles' palaces and peasants' hovels. The costumes are similarly splendid. The natural scenery is spectacular also, with Hou taking full advantage of the endless steep wooded hillsides of his Far Eastern filming locations.

But oh, the pace of the film is slow. Far too often, Hou allows his camera to linger, unmoving, on a particular subject that is doing nothing - certainly not adding anything to the story. This may be because of the sparse nature of the plot - a young woman in ninth century China, raised from childhood to be an assassin, is sent back to her native Weibo to assassinate her cousin, the region's governor. Once there she gets caught up in some palace intrigue, but it's all sketched out very lightly and, to be honest, for some of the time I was having trouble staying awake.

But those sets *are* gorgeous...
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A Never-Ending, Sleep-Inducing Period Piece Disguised As A Martial Arts Flick
CinemaClown14 December 2015
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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You are going to need a lot of patience to finish this one
KineticSeoul19 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Now I personally like some art-house movies, even the ones with hardly any dialogues. Even the ones that are slow moving, but leaves a lasting imageries. That just isn't the case for this movie. Now I am an audience member that has a deep passion for movies and this of it has one of the most effective and impactful art form out there. But this movie was so bland and boring to sit through. There just wasn't anything that left a lasting impression. I think everyone is entitled to there own opinions, but I just don't see how anyone could enjoy this movie. Despite the well shot scenery and stand out costumes. This movie is super boring and will take all the patience you have to sit through. I have never given up on a movie, but I really really wanted to give it up on this one. The story isn't anything special and has been done before. And it's difficult to follow despite it being a very simple story. And that is almost always not a good thing. Like I said, I respect other people's opinions on films. But it seems like pretentious film academics just feel the need to like this movie. Now, just because a film is not rewatchable, doesn't make it a bad film. However most of the viewers that praise this movie will not want to sit through this overly long and dragged out movie again. Some art-house movies has characters that just blankly stare each other or objects for a long period of time. Let's just say that is really overdone in this one. There is this one scene where the camera is behind the see through curtains while shooting the characters, but it just doesn't have any significance. So even the cinematography doesn't make much sense and just comes off more pretentious than meticulous or immaculate. The trailer has just about all the fight sequences combine into it. Although the fight sequences seem to be getting a lot of credit, I just don't see anything special about it. It's not even realistic, I say this because I think they were trying to go in a realistic direction. But it falters in that area. The music is composed of drum beats was bland to listen to as well and didn't add to the experience nor was it stimulating. Now I don't mind reserved and quite movies, but this was so boring. Overall this is a really boring movie that only super art-house movie fans will probably like for the scenery or pretend to like this movie as a whole. I give this movie a 2/10 because I have seen worse. Now I try to see the good in art house movies and try to at least respect it for what it is. But I just can't for this one.

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Beautiful movie but no so viewer-friendly
alianiara3 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The first impression of this movie was nothing but viewer-friendly; they tried to present the beauty of the ancient Chinese language and made it intelligible to modern day Chinese people, but I don't think they managed either of these. I could still go on until I realized more than three names were used simultaneously for some of the main characters, which might be historically accurate but could not be more improper in a movie that would end within two hours. That is when I, a great fan of traditional Chinese culture, stopped to download an English subtitle, in which at least only one name was used for each character.

Then the beauty of the movie unfolded. People of the Tang Dynasty were much less introverted than modern day Chinese, which the movie did well to capture. It was not a time that the Confucius or other ethics prevailed; people were much more conscious about themselves rather than play their part in the social machine, of which the heroine was certainly a representative. She was rebellious all along, though at first we seldom saw her speak; others spoke for her. She remained silent while we looked from her perspective and guessed her feelings. Then at last she broke away from the people, the land, once and for all.

It was also the time when the Tang Chinese were heavily influenced by their Persian and Turkic neighbors. One of the dance scene where the Lord and his concubine danced in partly Turko-Persian styled dancing(which was all the fashion at that time) was particularly delicate, because they did not go too far as to make it too Turkic, which would seem odd in this film. Also I am grateful that they did not use a Turkic costume in the dance; even the turks at that time were much Sincised and preferred Chinese dressing on many occasions. Though it might be too subtle for I don't see any other viewer noticing that.
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if you're only interested in fighting and killing, this might not be the film for you
itsuki0431 July 2015
I'm surprised by the bad reviews on IMDb. I think the problem is that a film titled "The Assassin" happens to attract a certain type of audience--people who are only interested in martial arts flicks, or who walk in expecting an action-packed adrenaline ride. You might be disappointed in this film, but I don't think this movie was meant for you.

A previous review mentioned the "depressed, stilted tones" of the actors.

I don't know what you were expecting ... an assassin during the Tang Dynasty to burst out into song about her inner anguish and emotional turmoil? I watched an interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, the director who won the prestigious Best Director award at Cannes for this very film. He used a tennis analogy to explain it perfectly, so I'm just going to paraphrase below:

"If you watch the tennis greats like Federer or Nadal battling it out, there's not much expression on their faces. The speed that they're going at, the power in each exchange, there's no room for emotions."

The director, Hou, actually instructed Shu Qi (The Assassin) to tone down her expressions. The crew filmed the fight sequences again, and again, and again, until the actors were all bruised up and the fight flowed naturally, by instinct. By this point, there was really no need for dialogue or excessive expressions.

If you're an assassin fighting for your life, kill or be killed, are you really going to be thinking "let me get my blue steel pout ready for the camera"?

If you can get over the need for overly dramatic expositions and go into a film knowing the main character only has approximately nine spoken lines, and if you can enjoy a film for how starkly beautiful it is.... this might be the film for you.
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unique and breath-taking
tianwaifeizhu909096028 August 2015
Many of the audience will not find this movie to be much flattering. Even in China, where the cultural barriers are not supposed to be a big problem, lots of people fall into sleep in the cinema. But there are still some fans of this movie, just like me.

1). Actually it has a quite complete story, which is about politics. In history of China, the tension between the central control and the local force has always been a problem for thousands of years. Weibo, the place where the story happens, has witnessed two different political forces fighting with each other. One group, inclined to make peace with the central court, includes Nie Yinniang and her family. The other group, inclined to the strengthening of local power, includes the wife of the lord (their marriage is a political alliance at the beginning, the same with the marriage of the lord's princess mother). As a fan who always love dramas of political fights, I quite fancy this story.

2). Tang Dynasty has always been a fantasy to most Chinese people. With a frequent communication with different ethics and civilizations, Tang's culture was quite inclusive, and even a little bit exotic for Chinese people. While most shoddy TV plays and films fail to represent Tang's lifestyle, this film presents not only the dazzling costumes and dances, but also original Tang Style's architecture. All those elements make the film attractive.

3). The film's pacing is very slow, and the actions of characters are very simple. The dominance in the shots is shared by natural elements, such as wind, smoke, fog, etc. The way how natural scenes are unfolded, as well as how people are embedded in the space, follows a pattern of classical Chinese poetries and paintings. People who love Chinese poetries and paintings would certainly like this film.
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Completely lacking energy...
planktonrules30 January 2016
Assassin is a Taiwanese film that I can appreciate even though I didn't particularly like it. This is because it's obvious that the filmmakers worked hard on the film but it still isn't a movie I'd want to see again. How, exactly, did they work hard? Well, the film is set in 7th century China and instead of using modern language, they actually had the actors speak in this dead Chinese language! This means that everyone watching the film will need to use the captions that accompany the movie...much like what they did when they used ancient Aramaic when the film The Passion of the Christ was made. Additionally, the sets and costumes are lovely...and the hairstyles and people look much like they do in old scrolls of the era.

So why was I so lukewarm about The Assassin? Well, you'd think that considering the film is about a female assassin that it would have a lot more energy. Instead, the energy only occurs on occasion...and not often enough. While I have watched thousands of foreign films, this one was one of the most difficult to watch because of the low energy and very deliberate pacing. In fact, I actually kept falling asleep and had to force myself to keep watching. A box of No Doze pills and a pot of coffee clearly would have helped! This was made worse because often instead of seeing things happen, you heard them described. Overall, it's a hard film to love and one that is easy to skip. Not a bad film, but certainly one I did not enjoy. If you care, the film is out this week on DVD through Netflix.
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Confusing and mostly boring
nicholls_les3 October 2016
I think the title is misleading and should be changed to overly arty piece of nonsense because that would better reflect the experience of trying to watch this without sleeping.

The story is pretty much impossible to follow and jumps around to much.

It is rare that I get fed up with watching a movie so early on but this one is so dull. Beautiful scenery but almost every boring scene is lingered on for ages.

The action is sparse and not very well choreographed, in fact the fight sequences are themselves pretty dull and overly arty.

It is hard to find anything positive to say about this movie and I am puzzled over those who gave it a good review.
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exploring spirituality
kazanipouvrazei29 December 2015
Almost eight years after his last film, acclaimed auteur Hou Hsiao- Hsien was named best director in the last Cannes festival. This is a Tang Dynasty-inspired historical drama, taking place in the ninth- century China, with a woman called Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) acting as the called Assassin. She is very capable with martial arts and knives and her last mission (ordered by her nun mentor) is to kill her beloved cousin. To be honest, I couldn't exactly follow the story, as the script was empty of meaning and character development. Hou is an absolute minimalist and fond of repeating patterns, giving its film a poetic premise. The cinematography is great (Ping Bin Lee/ In the Mood for Love) and only the visuals represent the bitter emotional complexes of the movie. The pace is sleepy, the actors do not have much to do and the director describes the whole story as if he was in a dreamy delirium: presenting to us multiple versions of the same scene, that seem to happen with no logic and in undefined time.
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Moving Picture
najania4 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Moving Picture

A Japanese mirror-polisher (Satoshi Tsumabuki) stranded in China is awakened from his slumber in a cave by the whistle of an ember in a dying fire. It reminds him of the strains of a "sho" (mouth organ with many reeds of various lengths), and immediately we are transported to the scene in his memory of a performance of "gagaku" ritual music, originally introduced from China, with dancing maiden back in what I take for ancient Kyoto. But the beautiful episode ends without going anywhere; there is nothing to tell the audience what it is, and absolutely no connection with the plot.

In the way it lacks any melody the listener could sing, carries no particular message, doesn't exactly rise to a climax, and moves along in a languid rhythm that would be better likened to the ebb and flow of long-wavelength swells spilling onto shore than any tempo, "gagaku" provides a nice metaphor for the cinema of Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

"The Assassin" was inspired by "Nie Yinniang," a "chuanqi" tale of the strange set in the later part of the Tang dynasty. The eponymous heroine (played by Shu Qi) is taken away from her family by a mysterious Daoist nun who molds her into an invincible assassin before sending her back with the mission of killing a lord (Chang Chen) who is her cousin and was formerly promised to her in marriage. It is also a re-pairing of Shu and Chang, who played opposite each other in "Three Times," Hou's 2005 offering.

While one would assume from the title and summary that it is sword-fighting fare, the movie is sure to infuriate lovers of the "wuxia" genre, because any outbursts of martial arts action are indeed short, few, and far between. On top of this, it moves at a snail pace, with a thin narrative that can barely be followed and next to no character development or even interaction. What's going on here?

In his 2014 book on Chinese painting, Japanese author Bunri Usami articulates his theory that the works are depictions not of their ostensible subjects but of their "qi," a slippery word that lacks a good English equivalent because the very concept is absent. It is variously translated "life-force," "spirit," "energy," "essence," etc. A prime example is the 11th-century landscape masterpiece "Early Spring" by Guo Xi. Perhaps Hou's cinema could best be understood by applying the same idea to it; it is driven by neither narrative nor characters, but by the "qi" animating them and their times. This explains the overwhelming emphasis on atmosphere that also stamps his other works, and particularly "Flowers of Shanghai." Asked at a press conference in Cannes (where Hou took Best Director for "Assassin") if she thought he was trying to portray a woman's perspective, Shu replied in the negative, insisting that he attached as much importance to things like lantern light, wind, clouds, and trees as to the acting.

Hou is trying to film the way the great Song landscape artists tried to paint. His approach is nothing less than a new cinematic paradigm that likewise requires a new way of watching from audiences, much as cool jazz and ambient music once required a new way of listening. The sluggish pace and lack of focus resemble those of Lech Majewski's "The Mill and the Cross" (which also has a lot of livestock footage, BTW), but to continue the analogy, if Majewski aimed to make a painting (Bruegel's "The Procession to Calvary") into a movie, Hou aspires to make a movie into a painting, to put it crudely. This is to say that, to be appreciated, perhaps his films are not to be watched so much as to be looked at, listened to, and felt. On these terms, "The Assassin" is a triumph.

Although the duration is less than two hours in reality, I felt as if I had sat in the seat for something between three and four when the credits finally rolled around. But I was savoring it for the most part. Then again, I like "gagaku." - J. Koetting
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Great if you are a film student, rather lost on you if you are not
siderite6 December 2015
Birdman was a weird movie that was filled with stellar performances and nuanced scenes. It won at the Oscars because it was a film about film and theater makers, but few regular people actually got it at the level it was meant to. Even so, it was a great film on several levels.

I say this because The Assassin is kind of the same, but not giving a damn if you understand or not what is going on. The scenes are beautiful and I am sure filled with significance that grows the more Chinese you are or the more versed you are in the "art of the scene". For the regular viewer, though, is a very slow story related to Chinese characters that kind of dress the same, look the same and rarely say anything. When they do say something, they choose the minimal amount of words to convey nuanced meaning - which are then translated to English.

An adaptation of a Chinese story that has little to do with anything but the beginning of the film, this is more about the inner world of the girl assassin as portrayed by beautiful scenery and slow, calm, cricket noise filled sound. Or at least I think it is. I might be wrong.

Bottom line: great action scenes, all 4 or 5 of them. They all last for a few seconds each. Great dialogue, the 20 or so lines in all the movie. Fantastic nature shots and historically accurate decor, in the rest of the film. Not a film you will hate, but imagine you are watching people you can't distinguish one from another and that are prone to fight for a minute before they say anything... if they even do.
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Slow Boat From China
writers_reign22 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It would be great to be a fly on the wall should this movie ever play a Multiplex; the kick would be to watch the auditorium fill up with forty-year-old schoolboys, the target audience of Run Run Shaw and Bruce Lee, and watch them exit en masse around the forty minute mark when they realise what they've let themselves in for and the more thoughtful of them - if that's not a contradiction in terms - wonder if there might be something, given the title, to take to the Trades Description people, for what we have here is something to please specialists in 8th century Chinese History with lavish illustrations. We have an odd melange of exquisite water colours, lavish interiors, long takes and old and middle-aged men looking like contestants in an Inscrutability Chang Contest, the whole punctuated every thirty minutes or so by rapid bouts - none lasting more than twenty seconds - of martial arts against a virtually silent background with what little music almost always emanating from on-screen instruments. I watched it at the pseuds' natural habitat, the National Film Theatre and they did themselves proud; at the end of the film the end credits, all in Chinese characters, are printed against a black background, unintelligible by definition and yet none of the audience moved a muscle for the several minutes it took them to unspool. They could, of course, have been fluent in Chinese to a man; on the other hand ...
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A different kind of Wuxia
murtaza_mma19 October 2015
Probably the best way to watch "The Assassin" is to play it as 1.5 times the speed. On a serious note, the film takes Wuxia to an entirely different level. If Ozu had made Wuxia films then probably those films would have looked something like "The Assassin". Watching the film is like studying a life in slow motion. While the detailing is meticulous, the storytelling style can best be described as tedious. The action sequences, although beautifully choreographed, are minimalistic in style.

In her third collaboration with the master Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Shu Qi delivers a mesmerizing performance while playing a part that's tender and feral in equal parts. It's difficult to detest the ferocious killer she has become. It's difficult not to fall in love with the assassin who once was a princess. It's difficult not to be in awe of Hou Hsiao-Hsien after watching the film. It's difficult to wipe off the images from one's mind long after the end credits begin to roll. It's difficult to watch it just once.

For more on the world of cinema, please visit my film blog "A Potpourri of Vestiges".
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Someone must have disliked it too!
carlos_kagemane10 December 2015
i'll start off by saying I like slow movies. I like movies that tell stories through cinematography, editing, sound design. I like to watch movie and feast in the details and bits that the movie carefully exposes. But this movie... I mean, I know there was a history in there, in the middle of the odd editing and weird characters and dialog. But did I care at all? Did I, at any point, looked for the meaning, the motivations? Well... I tried too. I started the movie with a piece of paper and a pen, taking notes, writing the names of characters, trying to make sense of this good- looking mess. But at 30 minutes, I just gave up. It's not the Mallick type of movie, where you don't know exactly what's going on, but you feel that it's okay, it's a subjective experience. The Assassin is like that pretentious friend that uses a colorful, bright, beautiful prose to talk about something you don't get it, and you don't want to get it. You admire its beauty, but... you just don't care. It's not a beauty that touches, it's a beauty that dares, but you just don't get anything. I don't like to say something is pretentious, but I wouldn't be able do find another word. The Assassin is neither style or substance. I don't see a reason to watch it again, or recommend it.
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Black Nothingness. ♦ Grade F
nairtejas29 November 2015
Every year there will be at least one title that is on my year-end Worst Films list which will be on the Best Films list of famous critics. For year 2015, it is going to be The Assassin.

Maybe because I do not understand Mandarin, honestly, I did not understand a single thing about the plot. Wikipedia told me that there is this obedient assassin (Qi) who is sent to kill her cousin (Chen), who is now a political bigwig in some Chinese province. The fact that she was supposed to marry him may have caused the international critics to take note and add this boring film into their year-end lists.

I was so bored with the film, it took me great patience to sit through those 100 minutes and I am writing this minutes after I finished it. The degree of pain is immense and it makes me sad that I chose this film to kick-start 2015's Awards Season.

Looking on the brighter side, yes there are few action sequences that may entertain you, but nowhere could that direction (which won the Cannes Best Director award) be seen. If people standing or sitting doing nothing but breathing is to be seen as a factor to call something a masterpiece, I don't know what films in future be like.

BOTTOM LINE: Do yourself a favor and skip Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's terrible period drama which is arguably the most-hyped film of 2015.


Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES
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Very very confusing
svanholm-359-68451128 January 2016
I consider myself a person who usually does not have a hard time understanding what is going on in movies - even the ones that require some thought from the viewer :) But during this movie, I almost never knew what was going on. It sounds absurd when I say it - but in many of the later scenes of the movie, I really did not know who the characters were or what they were trying to accomplish.

The pace of the movie is extremely slow, that could have been acceptable if it was made in a good way - which unfortunately is not the case.

The action sequences are well done and I cant fault the acting, but that does not save this terrible movie.
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Ancient Chinese Secret Not Revealed
marsanobill5 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The Assassin Review

Maybe If You Were Born in China?

I say that because there's the distinct possibility that native-born Chinese might have the background necessary to comprehend this over- dressed political tale, which is only 105 minutes long but sure seems longer. There are a few splendid visuals—mostly nature scenes— but after that comes the big problem: it's very hard to figure out the who, what, and why. (And sometimes even the where.) The Assassin of the title is Yinniang, a young ninja-like superwoman sent by the nun who raised her to kill the governor of a province that is restless under the emperor's control. Turns out this governor was betrothed to the Yinniang but forced to marry someone else for political reasons. In short, it wasn't his choice, so why does she want to kill him for it? Why does the nun want him killed? No answer. As for the province's conflict with the emperor, that doesn't seem to go anywhere and nothing seems to happen. What's with the mistress faking menstruation? What's with the shaman-type who tries to kill her and then gets six arrows buried in his chest from close range but hardly knows it happened? What's with the guy who is almost buried alive? How long will it take you to realize that the governor's wife and mistress are not the same person? Political Incorrectness Warning: I saw this film with an Asian woman I've known well for more than 40 years. Neither of us could figure out what was going on, in part because, as she said, 'I hate to say this, but they really do all look alike.' That's because with almost no dialogue, few close-ups and most faces overwhelmed by costumes, individuals simply do not emerge. (Yinniang is uniformed in a severe, all-black outfit and the nun is always in white, but everyone else is wrapped or tented in a riot of rich, multi-colored finery.) On top of that, the story is not about people but politics, although there is a obligatory sword fight on the roof. Which brings me to my final question: What's with Chinese directors and swordfights on rooftops, huh?
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Incomprehensible and terribly slow
rubenm29 February 2016
I tried. I really did. And I wish I could write that I enjoyed this film. But I didn't. To be honest, I was annoyed by it.

Because this could easily have been a film I liked very much. The only thing director Hou Hsiao-Hsien had to do was to use a decent screenplay. In that case, I could have understood what I was looking at. Instead, I have been watching incredibly beautiful scenes without understanding the meaning of them.

And it's not me. I am certain about that. Because Hou himself admits the screenplay is not his priority. 'Screenplays are overrated' is one of the quotes from a recent interview. I disagree.

A good screenplay had been able to prevent my being frustrated. I saw beautiful scenes, but the sparse dialogue didn't give me enough information about the storyline. I had a vague idea about an assassin sent out to kill someone important, but lots of scenes don't fit into that scheme. There has to be more to it, but what? The cinematography in this film is stunning. Every scene is constructed with the utmost care. Every camera movement is subtle and deliberate. The Tang-dynasty costumes, the landscapes in rural China, the fog over the mountains, the sun coming up above a lake - it's all breathtaking. The problem is not only that the screenplay is a mess, but also that the film moves forward at a snail's pace. For long periods, you are literally watching nothing happening or moving at all. I don't mind slow movies, in fact I rather like them. But when slowness doesn't seem to serve any purpose apart from slowing down a story that isn't even there, I give up.
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how honour can change one's life mission
jawneyfloros5 November 2018
Review: I really enjoyed this movie because it is more of a case study than a movie about how to save face and survive. The direction and screenplay are both really good. Both the casting and acting are really good also. The use of great cinematography and other great camera angels really help make this movie hit all of its basis. All in all I would give this five out a possible five stars. The assassin's code
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An art film with a dash of martial arts
manuelasaez25 October 2015
Based on the trailer, I thought this movie was going to follow along with some of the great martial arts films China has pumped out over the last 20 years. But what we get is a beautiful to watch film that is slow, complicated and not particularly interesting. Yes, everyone is beautiful, the acting is superb, the locations are stunning, & the few (emphasis on the "few") segments where they fight are well choreographed. But everything moves in such a plodding pace, that even the most seasoned art-film buffs will find the tedium a bit....much. It just seems like they focused more on making a film that is beautiful to watch than one that is interesting to watch, and that is where the film fails, in my opinion. I would only recommend this to anyone who enjoys films like they enjoy their retirement; a time of leisure, with very few moments where anything happens, but things are beautiful just the same.

To summarize; You can pause any moment in this film and make a painting out of it. Too bad the movie is such a bore when it's in motion.
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Killing time
Alenbalz8 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Fantastic scenery, makes you want to visit China, and that,s about all there is to it. Can't really say there was any acting in this overly drawn out lullaby, 2 hrs to tell a 15 min storyline, is really meant for those practicing advanced meditation. If you're looking for action then don't bother with this one, you'll fall asleep before your 2nd yawn. The heroes are women, and they don't quite draw you in. A female assassin, is sent on a mission to kill her cousin, because she failed to complete her earlier mission. And of course she doesn't perform any better on her second chance. I have to write another four our five lines To get this past the editors. Not sure if I can really say much more Other than it was a very big disappointment, Don't know how it got a rating of 6.6, boy was I fooled! I gave it a 2 because really there was some very nice scenery, But that's not why I or anyone else would get attracted to this movie in the first place.
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The Emperor Has No Clothes
chaedy29 November 2015
I adore Eastern Cinema. Japanese horror, Korean action, Wuxia, Magical Realism, I love them all. OK, I'm not a huge fan of "wire-fu", but for the most part eastern cinema is a visual feast that I love to gorge on. Exquisite costuming and hardcore female protagonists thrill me – whether it's science fiction or a historical drama, it rocks my world. So I was all set to be wow'ed by Taiwanese Auteur Director, Hsiao- Hsien Hou's latest work, The Assassin; The true story of Nie Yunniang, a female assassin that lived during the decline of the Tang Dynasty in 9th Century China (are you listening Ubisoft?).

Nie Yinniang, played by Qi Shu (The Transporter) was betrothed to marry her cousin, Tian Ji'an, played by Chen Chang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) she was given to a Taoist Nun when she was ten because, "reasons". Since then, she has spent the rest of her life learning from the Nun how to become an assassin. When Yinniang fails to kill her target, the Nun believes she needs to toughen up and sends Yinniang to her to her childhood province to kill the man she was betrothed to 13 years ago.

Hou has dreamed of making a wuxia film since he was in High School, and now that he's 68 his childhood dream has finally come true. The Assassin is obviously a labour of love for Hou, but it is a Herculean labour to watch this film through to the end.

I love that Hou used minimal wire-work so that the grace characters display as they leap into action is presented as effortless ability rather than the obviously fake hovering through the air that dominates many wuxia and magical realism films. But sadly, that's one of the only good thing I can say about the film.

The Assassin has received a lot of rave reviews from critics that talk about the reverie of seeing landscapes and characters that strike static poses like they're characters in a painting, and these reviews have in turn been criticized by the public for being a case of "the Emperor's New Clothes". Hou's directing style is to storyboard his film first and to then make his script fit the locations where he wants to shoot. In theory, this should give a story that is grounded in the "show don't tell" philosophy of filmmaking, but instead it has resulted in a film where landscapes more important than the story and what little story there is feels weak and underdeveloped. Perhaps the Cannes Jury wanted to reward Directors that take new approaches to filmmaking, but what I saw was a film with a weak premise that was dominated with; shots that were poorly lit, shots that were out of focus, shots with glacial pans for no foreseeable reason, followed by a cut to another angle (just to prove to us that the pan was indeed pointless), shots with background noises that stood out more than they should have, and fight scenes with jarring sound effects to tell us when a decisive strike was made because otherwise there would be no way to tell why people were suddenly no longer fighting each other.

I'm not sure why Hou thought that I had to look at a balcony while a guard walked on, walked off, then came back and then walked off again. There was a pretty roof in the background, but seriously, 45 seconds to show all that, with no clue as to what he was doing or looking at seems disrespectful of the audience's time rather than masterful directing.

I walked out of the cinema feeling like I'd watched a four-hour film, only to be told by the rest of the world that only two hours had gone by. Is Hou a Time Lord? Did I just have a Time And Relative Dimension In Space experience and not realise it?

I started to wonder if I was unfairly placing my western film literacy standards on an eastern film, but then I thought about the countless examples of Asian films that are beautifully lit, framed and in perfect focus.

500,000' of 35mm film that was used to shoot the Assassin, which bloated the budget to $15M USD – and not all of this has been made back in box office sales. The Assassin has had record number of walk outs during screenings in China – which was a hard sell to begin with given the animosity between Taiwan and Mainland China. However, The Assassin's opening at the Toronto Film Festival also resulted in walk outs (in Canada, a country renounced for having the most polite people in the world). It's pretty telling when a film's total Box Office takings from screenings in North America was reportedly little over $390,000 USD gross. To put this in perspective, The Big Lebowski also had a budget of $15M and it is considered to be a Box Office Flop for only bringing in $5.5M in its opening night.

I didn't see the trailer until after I had seen the film, and now that I have I can't help but feel that maybe the trailer contributed to the large number of walk outs the film experienced; if people were expecting a wuxia film called The Assassin to feature a heroic story that is packed with action as featured in the trailer, then it's no wonder that they were disappointed because that is not what the Assassin is.

If you're familiar with Hou's previous works than you may appreciate The Assassin. I wanted to like it, but my unreasonable western desire to see a film that is in focus means that the Assassin really wasn't my thing. Buyer beware.

This review was published by The Northsider: review-the-assassin/
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You will be assassinated by boredom...
paul_haakonsen11 November 2016
I had been looking forward to getting a chance to watch "The Assassin" (aka "Cìkè Niè Yinniáng") ever since 2015. Why? Well, because I am fan of Shu Qi, and the synopsis of the movie did sound appealing, and having Shu Qi play an assassin, what's not to like?

I will tell you what's not to like. The soul-crushing slow pace of this movie. It takes director Hsiao-Hsien Hou ages to get from point A to B, and even then there are detours and more slowed down cinematography. Even something as simple as panning the camera down from a ceiling to the street takes ages!

I managed to get about 22 minutes into the ordeal that was "The Assassin", then I just simply gave up from a combination of frustration with the slow pace of the movie, the equally slow storyline, and the fact that the movie was just entirely disheartening.

There were some really great shots and some display of fantastic cinematography in the little of the movie I managed to suffer through. And they really managed to establish a good environment and a believable atmosphere to the age in which the movie was set to take place. And the costumes and props were also quite good and realistic, adding so much detail to the scenes.

As much as I enjoy Shu Qi and her movies, then I am not even going to bother with returning to "The Assassin" to give it a second chance and finish the remaining 80 minutes. This was just too artsy on an excruciating level. This movie leaves you bored to tears. I really like the movie cover, because it looks so nice and makes this look like an interesting movie, but covers can be deceiving.

This ordeal of a movie scores a meager two out of ten stars, solely based on the impressive visuals and because Shu Qi was in it.
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