Plot bailer

If Hou Hsiao-Hsien hadn’t binned the plot then The Assassin would be a fine film. As is, it’s just a very pretty one. Here’s the Sunday Indo review. 

***

The Assassin
Cert: 12A

IF WE take it that making a feature film is a little like baking an elaborate cake, you’d imagine then that the cast would be the flavour, the cinematography is the icing, and the editing might be the oven temperature. The batter would surely therefore be the story, the fundamental building block upon which the entire recipe will either stand firm or collapse.

On the back of The Assassin, you’d also have to assume that lauded Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien wouldn’t win many bake-offs. While extremely deft at presentation – The Assassin‘s enigmatic visuals and breeze-blown pace are undeniably striking – he drops the ball when it comes to telling its tale of combat and honour in 8th Century China.

As an exercise in “wuxia” (a genre of Chinese period martial arts adventure), it very much looks and sounds the part. Shu Qi is still waters running deep as Yinniang, a deadly hitlady of few words who is set a test by her doubting mistress. To prove her worth, Yinniang is assigned to take out her cousin and former fiancé, now a powerful military leader back in the region where she herself originated.

The brief action scenes are the only punctuation between lots and lots of beautiful, meditative atmospherics and mood shots that are in no hurry to go anywhere. Similarly, the colour palette that Cannes-winner Hou works off – metallic blues, golds and deep terracottas – is magical to behold. If only we had a clue what was going on in the glacial, disjointed plot which is treated as an incidental.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

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Published by

Hilary A White

Dublin-based arts journalist and reviewer, specialising in film, books, music and human-interest stories. Sunday Independent / Irish Independent / State.ie / RTE Radio 1 / Today FM

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