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Nerdlocker Movie Review: The Assassin

*This short review is a segment of my previously published Fantastic Fest article.

Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien won best director at Cannes and rightfully so. His wuxia film is exquisite; each scene is meticulously framed and beautifully shot. There are scenes in crisp black and white, but most are in sumptuous color, some impressively lit by candle and shot through layers of transparent fabric. The scenery includes a foggy lake, mountains, lavish interiors, and a sword fight in a silver birch forest surrounded by hundreds of trees. It was the most gorgeous film at Fantastic Fest and one of the most slept-on. I didn’t hear anybody talking about it or run into many people that had seen it.

The Assassin feels like high art. It takes it’s time with each scene and moves at a controlled pace. General audiences will find it slow, and it is slow, but the film is like it’s lead character; it’s graceful and meditative, and when it strikes, it’s quick and deadly. It often employs a static camera, has plenty of long takes, and uses natural sounds like leaves blowing in the wind and buzzing insects to create atmosphere. The actors are draped in lush, expensive-looking costumes. Shu Qui plays Nie Yinniang, abducted at 10, trained in martial arts and transformed into a skilled assassin. She follows her master’s orders killing corrupt officials, until one day she shows a target mercy and fails her mission. The consequences lead Yinniang back to her homeland, where she must confront her past. Shu Qui plays the lead role with quiet intensity.

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls

The Assassin is now playing in limited-release in the US. It screens at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on November 27th & 28th and December 5th & 6th.

Trailer:

Stills:

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.