The Assassin

Film Review by Philip Concannon | 13 Jan 2016
Film title: The Assassin
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Starring: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Mei Fang, Shao-Huai Chang
Release date: 22 Jan
Certificate: 12A

With The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's enigmatic martial arts tale, we find a director at the peak of his powers

How good is Hou Hsiao-Hsien? In his new film, The Assassin, even the wind seems to adhere to his unerring direction. Every frame of Hou’s gorgeously crafted film is a masterclass in composition, colour, movement and sound, and the film’s steady pacing gives us the time to drink in his images and to lose ourselves in this world.

The Assassin could probably be described as an action film, although it is an action film defined by stillness, with the violence exploding in brief, exhilarating and brilliantly choreographed sequences. Hou uses his actors as a key part of the mise-en-scène, with Shu Qi and Chang Chen having little dialogue but proving to be mesmerising presences, and Hou takes a similarly minimalist approach to his storytelling.

The Assassin’s narrative is perhaps more opaque than it needs to be, but the film is rewarding for patient and attentive viewers, and even those who do feel lost will appreciate the rare comfort of being in the hands of an absolute master at the very peak of his powers. [Philip Concannon]

Released by StudioCanal