Nie Yinniang (The Assassin)Cannes Film Festival 2015
Based on a short fiction of the same name from the time of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), Nie Yinniang (The Assassin) is the tale of a young woman who, having completed years of training in martial arts, is one day charged by her Master with the killing of Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), the man she loves.
Prodigiously skilled as she is, the eponymous heroine Yinniang (Shu Qi) is “hostage to human sentiments”, and finds herself torn between sacrificing someone close to her, and deserting the sacred standards of the righteous assassin.
Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien lulls the audience into a trance with his extended sequence shots and poetically economical script. He purposely avoids too many close-ups of the characters in order, he explains, to prevent the film from becoming overly theatrical. Despite this, the actors manage to emote the complexity and strength of their characters and – by Qi, especially – elicit great compassion. The assassin herself remains a deliberately elusive and mysterious character; barely a word passes her lips and she spends more time artfully evading the camera’s gaze than she does on screen.
While the film’s (and viewer’s) pulse remains predominantly slow, it is quickened now and again by succinct and graceful displays of martial arts that land The Assassin in the category of a wuxia film. Contrary to others of the same genre, these fight scenes are not drawn out or gratuitous and the combatants keep their feet firmly planted rather than fighting in mid-air, making for a far more convincing experience.
The opulence of the costumes and interiors is impeccably conceived, but it is the exterior shots, filmed primarily in Inner Mongolia which are the most spectacular, the scale and natural beauty of which are utterly bewitching.
Nie Yinniang (The Assassin) does not yet have a UK release date.
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