Film Screening 16th February, 2016

Poster for The Assassin (Nie yin niang)

The Assassin (Nie yin niang) 

7:30 PM, 16th February, 2016

  • PG
  • 106 mins
  • 2015
  • Hou Hsiao-Hsien
  • Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Chu Tien-wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng, Zhong Acheng
  • Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Zhou Yun

In the middle of a cinema culture that centres on compromise and caution, a film that is not immediately apparent in its narrative can be either a confusing experience or a breath of fresh air, depending on your experience of the medium. Film history is littered with these types, from Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou through to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

And so we come to The Assassin, the film that won the Best Director prize for Hou Hsiao-Hsien at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

One of the briefs for writing these reviews is to give a summary of the starting plot, but I am not sure how successful I will be at that. It starts with intertitles explaining the various regional rivalries in ninth century China. We then go into a black-and-white sequence introducing us to Nie Yinniang (Shu), a general’s daughter who has been in the care of a nun (Sheu Fang-Yi) entrusted with teaching her the ways of the assassin.

After that… Look, this film is one that has to be experienced first, and then analysed later if it takes your fancy. One thing I can say is that I am now a fan of Hou, and will keep an eye out for future (and past) projects. This is hardly your typical wuxia movie. But it is perfectly framed and lovingly shot all the way through. It is directed sensitively, acted with subtlety, and avoids melodrama. Not to be missed (particularly by fellow film buffs).

Travis Cragg