~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Not Rated; 120 minutes
In Mandarin w/subtitles
Howard Schumann, The Critical Critics (excerpted)
Winner of the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first film in eight years, The Assassin, may initially seem out of character for a director whose previous work has been in realistic social dramas set in a contemporary context. Yet it’s clear from the prologue that this is a Hou (Flight of the Red Balloon) film. Non-professional actors, long takes, minimal dialogue, and an elliptical story, all bound together with a graceful poetry. The only difference, a big budget that allows breathtaking natural locations; Hubei Province, Inner Mongolia, and Nara, Japan and the use of elegant period costumes that add richness to the film.
The swordplay is swift and over quickly as the camera pulls back to view it from a distance, refusing to glamorize the violence. There is also no bloodshed. As Hou explains, “I don’t like blood, so no matter how the characters exchange blows, there isn’t any bloodshed.” While The Assassin requires patience, its rewards are immeasurable. In its focus on alienation, there may be a tendency to read into it a political or social message, but neither will reveal its innermost truth. It may simply be that, like life, the experience itself is the meaning.