Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Blu-ray/DVD/VOD: Hou Hsiou-Hsien’s ‘The Assassin’

AssassinThe Assassin (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) is a martial arts drama as cinematic poem. Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiou-Hsien, who won the Best Director Award at Cannes for his direction, reimagines the genre from a spectacle of action and choreography and acrobatic skill to a vision of stillness and tension. Asian superstar Shu Qi stars as Nie Yinniang, who was kidnapped as a child and trained by a cold-blooded nun (Sheu Fang-yi) to become an assassin for the Emperor, and Chen Chang (of John Woo’s Red Cliff) as Lord Tian Ji’an, her new target. He also happens to be her cousin and the man to whom she was once betrothed. Needless to say, it stirs emotional complications, which she hides behind her mask of an expression but betrays in her actions.

Hou doesn’t shoot the martial arts scenes in the conventional manner, showcasing the prowess of the performers or appreciating the dance-like spectacle of the choreography. (As far as that goes, he doesn’t shoot any of it in a conventional manner; the film is presented in the squarish Academy ratio of pre-widescreen movies.) The action comes in pulses, sudden bursts of movement let loose in the serenity of the flow of the picture, and are brief, and the images of individuals racing through tall grass or running through the underbrush are given as much weight as the clash of swordsman (and swordswomen) and the whoosh of blades slicing through the air.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Assassin

Shu Qi

It’s been eight years since Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien released a feature (his lone European project, Flight of the Red Balloon). Much of that time was spent on the sheer physical effort of mounting a meticulous period piece, a film that would find the arthouse filmmaker indulging in his first martial-arts picture. Well. One can only pity the unsuspecting chopsocky fan who wanders into The Assassin after spotting the groovalicious poster, which features Transporter star Shu Qi brandishing a dagger. The scenes of swordplay are brief, clean, and void of fun. They are a momentary distraction from the film’s real concern, which is something to do with emptiness and regret.

The time is the 9th century. A young woman, Nie Yinniang (Shu), has been trained in isolation as an assassin.

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