The Assassin 刺客聶隱娘

A polarising film that is very much typical of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien 侯孝賢; so in other words, it should not surprise those who are familiar with his works. However, it is a bit of a Western-misnomer to call this a wuxia film, when in actual fact, it really was more a political period piece. 

Hou won the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it really is not surprising that he did. Hou's favourite single-frame shots - whether tight close-ups or wide-angled landscape - are peppered throughout the film. As are long moments of silences and stillness. 

Hou is a master in the arts of show-not-tell. And he very seldom belittles the intelligence of the audience. 

The biggest let down were the actors. Most of them could not live up to the immense subtlety that is required of them amidst the stillness of Hou's direction. Eyes and body language become more important than speech and intonation. 

Shu Qi 舒淇 did a commendable job in an unflattering role, but her eyes looked more dulled rather than passive and jaded.

Chang Chen 張震 broods well, but beneath his broodiness we do not see the supposed intelligence and scheming ruler.

The standout was the wife of Chang Chen's character as played by Zhou Yun 周韵. Now, she was interesting to watch. 

Ethan Juan's 阮經天 and Satoshi Tsumabuki's 妻夫木聰 roles seemed to have been edited out to be just glorified cameos.

If you are looking for a mindless, martial-arts flick of love and revenge, then this is definitely not for you. But if you have patience and do not mind using your brain, then you will definitely be rewarded by the directing and at least the beauty and some-what intelligence of this film.


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