The Assassin. 2015. Taiwan/China/Hong Kong. Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. With Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Sheu Fang-Yi. DCP. In Mandarin; English subtitles. 105 min.
Chaos reigns in ninth-century China as multiple warlords vie for position. Yinniang (Shu Qi) left her family at an early age to follow her aunt, a nun who trained her to be an assassin specializing in eliminating corrupt government officials. Noticing her niece’s hesitation during assassinations, the nun assigns Yinniang to kill warlord Tian Ji’an (Chang Che), to whom Yinniang was once betrothed. Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien reimagines and deconstructs the wuxia (swordplay) genre—visual details replace grand gestures, killer instinct is thwarted, and fight scenes, brief and precise, are stripped down to the bare minimum. Lee's cinematography captures a trance-like, ephemeral world sparkling in crimson and gold. The Assassin is both a technical and formal triumph.