Pin It

Silent But Deadly 

The Assassin is the slowest, quietest kung fu flick you'll ever see

click to enlarge film2-1-27c195884a04ee65.jpg

Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's lethargic drama set in 9th-century China is arguably the closest a movie can come to being a museum-worthy painting.

That's both good news and bad news.

How much one enjoys the meticulously crafted — and, admittedly, visually stunning — frames depends almost entirely on their patience watching glacially paced "action" sequences separated by endless shots of gauzy curtains, vast landscapes or meditative characters so inert that you'd be forgiven for thinking they had fallen asleep while the camera was rolling.

Hsiao-Hsien, a leader of the Taiwanese New Wave film movement, has been making beautifully constructed films for decades. The Assassin earned him the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and there's no denying the skilled eye at work over the course of nearly two hours.

The problem, though, is that those two hours feel more like six, due to both his languid approach behind the camera and the somewhat convoluted story that is a bit tough to follow as it unfolds.

The tale revolves around a young woman, Yinniang (Shu Qi), who is abducted as a child and sent to study martial arts under a strict nun. Years later, now a lethal assassin, she's sent back to her homeland to murder her cousin and the man she was supposed to marry, Tian Ji'an (Chang Chen). He, in turn, is in the process of dealing with all kinds of palace intrigue, trying to protect his region from imperial invaders and an enemy master of the dark arts, and backstabbing members of his inner circle.

There's clearly plenty of fodder for Hsiao-Hsien to make an exhilarating action film in his first dive into wuxia, the Chinese film style we Westerners typically call "kung fu movies."

Instead, he focuses on almost everything but the action sequences. There are a few, but they are brief and shot in ways that obscure much of the swordplay and gymnastic martial-arts moves. Anyone going to The Assassin expecting the thrilling fight sequences of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or even the campy Iron Monkey, will be hugely disappointed.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy your kung fu flicks full of doleful stares, a near-silent soundtrack and ornately costumed women doing not much of anything at all, The Assassin could be for you.♦


The Assassin
Rated NR · 105 minutes · 2015
Official Site:
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Satoshi Tsumabuki and Sheu Fang-yi

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Assassin

Tags: , ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Review

  • Cross-Cultural Collaboration
  • Cross-Cultural Collaboration

    Yo-Yo Ma aims for more than music magic in this doc about his Silk Road Ensemble
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • Math Problem
  • Math Problem

    The Man Who Knew Infinity is inspiring, but also a slog
    • Jun 2, 2016
  • School of Rock
  • School of Rock

    Sing Street isn't perfect, but the '80s tunes are worth it
    • May 5, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Film


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue

All of today's events | Staff Picks


Most Commented On

  • The Kids Aren't Alright

    Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children can't quite strike the balance between whimsy and darkness
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film


indigo girls


spokane symphony

Readers also liked…

  • Where Are the Women?
  • Where Are the Women?

    A critic's year-long deep dive into the way movies portray half of humanity
    • May 12, 2016
  • Dance Lessons
  • Dance Lessons

    Ballet 422 takes you inside a world of dedication and beauty
    • Mar 18, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation