Well Go USA continues to bring some of the best martial arts epics to the masses and show no signs of slowing down. One of the most talked abut of 2015 was Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin and now Well Go is bringing it home, but does it live up to the hype or will it be a failed assassination attempt?
The Assassin follows a 10-year-old general’s daughter Nie Yinniang who is abducted by a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors in 9th century China. One day, having failed in a task, she is sent back by her mistress to the land of her birth, with orders to kill the man to whom she was promised – a cousin who now leads the largest military region in North China. After 13 years of exile, the young woman must confront her parents, her memories and her long-repressed feelings. A slave to the orders of her mistress, Nie Yinniang must choose: sacrifice the man she loves or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins. This is one of those movies that is a mixed bag of both brilliance and a missed opportunity. Visually the movie is beautifully magnificent with a ton of sweeping shots that uses the foliage and surrounding landscapes to set the tone. This sets the film apart from others as these visual will captivate you giving your eyes a visual treat.
The story itself is decent enough and the artistic approach to telling the story with very little dialogue was ambitious, but at the same time it makes the film drag as there are too many moments watching people do mundane tasks for no reason. This seemed to be more about allowing the varying scenes to play out naturally, but then other scenes you need to see what is happening seem to cut away quickly and often feels like you missed something. This is most notable with the fights as they are few and far between, but every time a fight of some sort begins it seems to stop almost instantly without resolution. The story is a bit all over the place and often hard to follow as it never sticks closely enough to the direction it was heading and instead seems to be focused on the artistry of it all and fails to capture much else.
This was a good film, but such a missed opportunity as it had everything it needed to live up to the brilliance it set in motion, but it gets lost in itself. People going into a film like this are hoping for some sweeping fight sequences to match the beauty of the visuals and a story that captivates you, but sadly it never meshes well enough together to give you the full package. Fans of the genre should check it out for themselves and decide as some will respect the artistry of it all, but just know that it is not your typical martial arts epic that you might be expecting.