Review Date: 2/7/16
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Cast: Chang Chen, Shu Qi
Ugh. And I thought Wong Kar Wai's films were tedious and dreadful. "The Assassin" is a long-winded tale of a political power struggle between the Imperial Court and the province of Weibo. A young girl named Yinniang (Shu Qi) has been living in exile and training to be an assassin under the tutelage of a nun who bears a grudge against her royal twin sister. Once Yinniang becomes a matchless killer, she is sent to kill the brash leader of Weibo, who happens to be her cousin as well as her betrothed. In the end, her heart gives way to sentimentality and she fails to carry out her mission, so she just disappears into the countryside.
Unfortunately, the film comes across as a pointless exercise in futility. The pacing is unbearably slow, the soundtrack is awkwardly silent, and a great many scenes appear to serve no purpose whatsoever. The acting is exceedingly stilted and it seems the extent of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's direction is to just have everyone stare intensely for uncomfortably long periods of time. The sets, locations, and costumes are lavishly gorgeous, but the color palette tends to be unattractive. Parts of the film are noticeably grainy and overexposed, and the aspect ratio shifts haphazardly for no discernable reason. While the cinematography is mostly unremarkable, there are about a half dozen compositions that are exquisitely beautiful, but that's not enough to make a great film. That may make a great photograph, but not a great film. There's no action to speak of, and the brief moments when Yinniang finds herself in a situation are marred by inexcusably bad editing. There are also a handful of poorly realized visual effects that draw way too much attention to themselves and leave a bad taste. Despite the title, Yinniang amusingly only carries out one assassination, and that's in the first five minutes of the film. And finally, the disjointed and emotionally flat story is needlessly muddled with a black magic sub-plot and a handful of completely unexplained characters. The fact that the film was nominated for a "best foreign film" Academy Award should have been the first indication that it wouldn't be to my liking, and calling it a "martial arts masterpiece" is blatantly misleading and uninformed. Fans of historical drama may find the story of palace intrigue appealing, but I just found it dull and meaningless.