Original title: “Nie yin niang”
Taiwan/China – Drama – Year: 2015 – Running time: 75 mins
Audience response following the screening of this film:
Rating: (3.53 from 17 responses)
- ‘Excellent’: 6 votes
- ‘Very Good’: 4 votes
- ‘Good’: 2 votes
- ‘Satisfactory’: 3 votes
- ‘Poor’: 2 votes
A late 9th Century martial arts story, ‘Nie Yinniang’, a core text in Chinese swordsmanship, is the basis for what has been described as a mesmerising, enigmatic and utterly beautiful film. In the martial arts genre, yes, but of a rather rarefied form, with its intricate, even puzzling, plot and heightened tensions. When Nie Yinniang, the Assassin, is found to be exercising the virtue of mercy, her master sends her on a ruthless assignment to test her resolve.
The most beautiful and transcendent film of the year.
Nicholas Rapold (Brooklyn Magazine)
Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou
Three Times (2006) / Café Lumière (2003) / A Time To Live, A Time To Die (1985)
Chen Chang … Tian Ji’an
Qi Shu … Nie Yinniang
Yun Zhou … Lady Tian
(for full cast, and more information, see “The Assassin” in IMDB)
CFC Film notes: (click here for printed version)
Reviewed bu Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (January 2016)
Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s beautiful and mysterious film The Assassin arrives here after a sensational premiere in Cannes last year, where its hypnotic adagio earned Hou the director’s prize and connoisseurs hailed it as a masterpiece. For me, a second viewing revealed more of this film’s erotic quality, more of its potential as an anti-violence parable, or even a mythic treatment of childhood abandonment and the search for closure. I admire it very much, but I can’t give The Assassin all my heart because of its obscure quality, and my feeling is that without homework, some of the film is still a bit impenetrable. Yet this is part of what makes it demanding and challenging.
The Assassin is adapted from the 9th-century wuxia martial arts tale by Pei Xing. There is an exquisitely lovely and poised performance from Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang, kidnapped from her family at the age of 10 by a nun Jiaxin (Sheu Fang-yi), and trained up to be a killer of corrupt and wicked officials. But Yinniang fails in one mission, because her target-victim had his infant son with him and she could not go through with it. To punish her, her mistress orders her to return to her hometown of Weibo, where she must murder the provincial governor Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen): her cousin, to whom she was once betrothed.
Hou’s compositional artistry is matchless, and his juxtaposition of moments of stillness with sudden flurries of combat is a marvel of pure technique, and so is the work of cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin. Yet The Assassin could revive a debate over wuxia that surfaced 15 years ago, when Ang Lee released his very much more commercial Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Wuxia was a populist entertainment tradition, after all: it could be fast and funny. Could these new prestige versions be turning it into a glacial, orientalist objets for western consumers? Well, the only thing that can counter this reservation is the film itself. Its moments of sublime gorgeousness are captivating. There is such delicacy and artistry in The Assassin, as if the film is spun from some exquisite, evanescent tissue of precious material, like Donne’s “gold to airy thinness beat”. Anyone who cares about great film-making has to see The Assassin
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