If The Assassin had been any much more beautiful it could be prosecuted under the hazardous drugs act. Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-Hsien creates images of a narcotic allure even more bewitching than in his Flowers of Shanghai (1998). That was the movie that made late-19th-century Chinese brothels appear like a hallucinogen addict’s vision of paradise.
The new film is a wuxia (martial arts) story. You ought to read a synopsis of the introductory scenes prior to you see it — a brief one particular is supplied below — because you’ll be knocked off your perch by the wealthy colours, glittering textures, flaming golds and silvers, jewelled costumes and jaw-dropping, nay jaw-dislocating scenery. And by your intuition, appropriate, that Hou has researched the hell out of the story’s period — he claims to have spent years undertaking so — distilling it into a heaven for aesthetes and gogglers at the beautiful.
The opacity of the narrative virtually seems element of the film’s purpose. In late Tang Dynasty China a stunning assassin, played by Hou typical Shu Qi, is dispatched by her guardian nun to kill a provincial ruler. Mercy intervenes it’s this hit-woman’s redemptive foible. (And her quarry was as soon as her betrothed.) Whereupon we start dreamily to slip time and place. The film’s oneiric eye-blinks, some longer than other folks, consist of a flashbacked princess singing of a tragic bluebird, horsebacked warriors weaving by way of spectacular gorges, domestic scenes of an opiate beauty set in royal bedrooms or boudoirs. Human actions are a saga of small, exquisite scratches on the scroll of eternity.
I’ve seen the film twice and nonetheless can not stick to every single shift of its court intrigues and conspiracy plots. But I’m not sure Hou wants us to. He wants us to really feel the enraptured shrug of a secular pantheism at once complete-earth and unearthly. Nature is everywhere in the film. Birdsong and insect noises magically orchestrated on the soundtrack breeze-blown veils and curtains shimmering in interiors cloud-girt mountain crags soaring like petrified eagles caught in mid-takeoff. The fight scenes themselves are sparse, vivid, startling, surreally short. They seem like convulsions of fleeting goal in a globe exactly where the only fixed rule of existence is — indifferent however majestic — existence itself.
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