New York Film Festival
I would be lying if I said I could explain
all any of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin.” I am woefully unversed in Asian cinema, so much so that the term wuxia was something I had to frantically Wikipedia in my seat prior the film starting. There’s a great tradition that this film is conversation with, a rich history of which I am almost entirely unaware.
So what to do watching – and subsequently reviewing – such a film?
I can only compare the experience to walking through an art gallery, in particular a curated collection. The film’s emphasis is not necessarily to barrel through plot points but simply to achieve a delicate forward motion that propels constantly forward. The cumulative effect is entrancing and beguiling, if not altogether breathtaking.
While taking in “The Assassin,” time does feel suspended, for better or for worse. I felt trapped to take in Hou’s painterly compositions and wound up somewhat exhausted by the sheer saturation of stunning imagery. My only somewhat intelligent observation at first glance is the way the film concerns violence but rarely depicts in a literal or graphic way. Hou’s fight sequences manage to thrill and excite by letting us simply hear the slash of the sword and observe its human impact – not just relish in bloodshed.
Perhaps one day, after reading a book on the politics of 9th century Chinese provinces, I’ll reapproach “The Assassin” while also clutching a detailed plot summary and a character chart. I am not such a fool that I can dismiss the obvious artistry at play here. One day, I hope that I can reach a level of knowledge to where I can fully appreciate this esoteric piece of cinematic craftsmanship. B+ /