The Assassin: A Visual Masterpiece
As a highly visual person, I’m always looking for films and experiences that are lovely and different for my eyes. The Assassin is a lovely, lyrical film.
Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has given us a a visual masterpiece, where every shot is nearly perfect. For example, midway through the film, there is a slow pan of a misty lake, which feels like a story unfolding in and of itself. There are shots filtered through smoke and silk curtains, with candlelight, and with every shade of purple silk that can be imagined. Together the film is a masterclass in costume and design elements, with a lushness of cinematography that ought to be required viewing for every director of photography and cinematographer in the business. It’s the kind of treat for your eyeballs that ought to be viewed on the big screen. There’s a reason why Hou won the award for best director at the Cannes Film Festival this year for this film.
Set in 9th Century China, the film is the story of a woman Nie Yinniang (Shu Q) who excels in the physical art of killing. She does it in a lush royal world of abundant flame, beautiful horses, purple silk, jade bangles, and carved wood. Even the goats in a farm scene look freshly groomed! The mask that hides a key identity is especially lovely.
Having a female assassin was was trained by another woman feels like such a relief, especially when compared to the usual world of macho fight films that are just about men killing men.
Most of my reading in early Asian literature has been about Japan, not about China. So I couldn’t help thinking of the similarly opulent world described by a female narrator in the Japanese novel of pre-modern court life, The Tale of Genji.
At the end of the film, my understanding of 9th century Chinese court politics wasn’t improved, but my eye for Chinese design was.
The Assassin opened in mid-October in the US, and it has been selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
This film should be nominated for Academy Awards for costume design,lighting and cinematography. It’s a technical masterpiece, where the camera tells a story.
This film played at the 2015 Fantastic Fest.