Sunday, 28 February 2016
The Assassin (4 Stars)
This film fascinated me from the moment I first heard about it. It won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. All I knew was that the film was about a woman who worked as an assassin in the 9th Century Tang Dynasty. I expected something like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". I was wrong.
The main difference is that the action is very low key. There are fight scenes, but we don't see people die. There's a pause, then the camera turns away, and we're left to assume that the person falls over dead. There's almost no music throughout the film, giving it a very solemn atmosphere. I watched the film in the Electric, the UK's oldest cinema, which has a reputation for attracting serious film fans. The audience sat in absolute silence from beginning to end. There wasn't even the rustle of sweet papers. The audience was in awe. I was in awe. I've seldom seen such beautiful cinematography. All the outdoor scenes were perfectly framed. It's not the vividly colourful scenery that I'm used to in the films of Zhang Yimou; it's very natural scenery which looks realistic but beautiful.
Nevertheless, I had big problems with the film. I didn't understand everything that was happening. The main plot was clear to me. There is tension between the central government and the rebellious border outposts. Nie Yinniang is a highly skilled assassin who deals death blows with a short dagger that resembles a claw, but she has problems performing her job when she's sent to kill her cousin, a corrupt government official that she was once engaged to. However, various people appear in the film that I can't explain. There's an old man who performs black magic. There's a woman in a gold mask. There are rebels who like to bury visitors alive. Soldiers were battling, and I couldn't tell whose side they were on. The film is based on a story written in the 9th Century, so maybe the film would be obvious to people from China who know the story.
I need help with the film. I'm hoping that one of my Chinese readers can write a summary of the film's plot in the comments.