Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Assassin

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This new release from StudiocanalUK is from renowned auteur, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's, his first feature film released in UK for eight years. The Taiwanese director was awarded the Palme D'Or in Cannes last May for Best Director for this picture.

The Assassin is based on a 9th century legend about a woman who had to kill her cousin, a man she was promised to in order to bring peace to a warring region, Weibo, in medieval China. Does she sacrifice the man she loves or break from the ways of tradition synonymous with the righteous assassins.

The film stars Shu Qi as the eponymous Assassin, Yinniang, who is instructed by her master to kill the reigning ruler Tian Ji'an, played by the brooding Chang Chen.

The film is very much the work of a director working on his vision of cinema, embracing the changing tide of production and incorporating his influences heavily into the narrative.

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Shu Qi is Yinniang, the Assassin

The plot is explained in the film's black and white prologue a la Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1 setting up the vengeance mission between master and pupil, and showing her unique skill set which is a match for any man.

Following this the full colour spectrum is on display and at Hsiao-Hsien's disposal with pin point period detail incorporating exquisite costumes to the accurate production design bringing a sense of scale to proceedings.

The film evokes the heritage of Asian cinema and the rich tradition of the Wuxia (Martail arts) film, from Ang Lee's genre bending Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the latter harking back to the work of Yasijurō Ozu (Tokyo Story) for the former, there is a stillness reminiscent of his Ozu's finest family dramas with not a wasted movement within the frame.

As the camera moves in landscapes, nature is very much at the forefront as we hear the whistle of the wind and the creak of the forest when our actors fall silent.  This at times feels very deliberate in tonal shift from a political revenge drama to a more meditative film that may have been a result of an edit - the plot becomes second to the lush photography on display.

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'Your skills are matchless. But your mind is hostage to human sentiments'
This does a disservice to the martial arts which at times is out of the blue, in stark contrast to the stillness before it, perhaps that is the point to wake us up suddenly and that the work of an assassin is both sudden and swift.

The evocative use of a repeating drumbeat helps build up moments of tension and is in keeping with the predominantly brilliant use of sound design in the film.

While the film may meander at times, there is nevertheless enough for the eyes to savour although perhaps the rapturous reception the film received in Cannes last year has waned since.

The Assassin is on limited release from Friday 22nd January from StudiocanalUK
Out on DVD/Blu-ray on Monday 23rd May from StudiocanalUK

My thanks to EmFoundation PR for my seat at the preview screening for an honest review.

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