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?
There are two overwhelming problems. First, is the gripping space rescue of Apollo 13, which was in addition to the movie Real Life. 'The Martian' is not real life and it ain't real interesting, neither. In the face of Apollo 13, that, you need something better than a fairy tale. Second, this movie is grossly unrealistic. For example, the killer storm has barely scratched the team's base. OK, there's lots of dust and communications with earth are out, but everything else is tickety-boo: lots of tools, a truck with a crane, more solar panels than Solyndra ever dreamt of, yada, yada. Now Mark is a specialist--botanist, in fact--so we can accept that he figures out how to make water from chemicals and dirt from his own feces, and that he uses potatoes from his small food supply to grow a healthy and presumably organic crop. Problem solved! But this happens over and over and over; no challenge too great for our Mark. This botanist patches together a system so he can contact earth; digs up a plutonium- isotope canister to provide extra battery life; finds the escape module left by a previous mission and drives nearly 2000 miles to it in his souped up Mars truck. Does he ever fear? Despair? Give up? (He has no friends or family save his parents, who are mentioned in a throwaway paragraph.) Not our Mark. He just tackles and solves problems one after another, and there are so many of them that the problems themselves become a problem: they're mere busy-work. That is, none of them ever becomes truly critical; we always KNOW they'll be solved. When a second storm destroys his potato crop, Mark should be truly desperate and afraid, but he simply brings out the plastic tarp and duct tape (!!), utterly unfazed (and extremely unconvincing), as if he were assembling Legos. On earth it is not as it is in the heavens. NASA & Co. try to gin up some drama, but their problems too, just melt away. Actually, they're blown away by lots of Macho Management: "But it'll take 6 months!" "You've got 3!" And of course they do it in 3. When the rescue rocket blows up, here comes the Chinese Space Agency with a spare rocket in its pocket. Is there not enough time/fuel/whatever? Enter the team's most junior member; he has a whole new plan on his laptop! In space, where the original team HAS turned around to go back to Mars, there's more Macho Management: "Just work the problem!"
OK, there is some drama when the rescue mission almost loses Mark at the last second, and when the whole business is broadcast live on Jumbotrons all over the entire world. But that's at the end. By then it's too late.