The Assassin (2015, Hou Hsiao-hsien)

Movie #1 of my Hors Money Assasatan Crisis Trilogy, where I watched critically-acclaimed art films that I was absolutely guaranteed to love, and loved none of them, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me anymore. This was #3 on Cinema Scope’s year-end list, and it’s ceaselessly beautiful, with interesting framing, characters seen through grasses and curtains and beams of light. Was worried that I wouldn’t figure out the story – well, I got most of it even if some character relationships stayed fuzzy (who were they trying to protect from being buried alive at the end, and why, and why is secretly-pregnant mistress Huji important?), but the drama felt so dead, everything standing so still between the rare, short action scenes, I felt myself pondering switching to The Grandmaster instead.

In the Weibo province in the 9th century, Yinniang is sent away with her aunt Princess Jiaxin, where she trains to become an unparalleled assassin, and is later sent back to kill her noble cousin Tian Ji’an – but she decides to protect him instead, for claimed political (but probably personal) reasons.

J. Cronk:

As the narrative moves away from the cloistered confines of Tian’s estate in the film’s second half, following the banished aide-de-camp Xia Ling (Juan Ching-tian) as he’s escorted to the border and out of harm’s way after speaking out of order, the irreconcilable nature of Yinniang’s mission grows ever more pronounced, as she dutifully continues to do away with rivals — at one point even interceding in battle on behalf of Tian’s garrison — while hesitating to fulfill her ultimate duty.

Not everyone loved it, I guess… concurring here with M. D’Angelo, who may also have been dreaming of The Grandmaster:

I should have realized that Hou would always rather make a stillness movie than an action movie … My favorite thing Hou has ever done, by far, is the first segment of Three Times, mostly because it feels more like Wong Kar-wai than like Hou.

A rare widescreen shot:

Speaking of The Grandmaster, The Razor Chen Chang played the governor/cousin. Yinniang was Three Times star Qi Shu. This won best director awards at Cannes and the Golden Horse festival in Taiwan.