“The way of the sword is without compassion.”
The Assassin is generally alienating to a wide audience due to its vague plot, slow progression and lack of dialogue. Hou Hsiao-hsien has created a martial arts film with as little conflict in it as possible, featuring sparce death and no bloodshed. It is slow, quiet and patience is needed, but in a world of on-screen destruction, devastation and dino-snores, this slice of solemnity is the rightful solution.
Set in 9th-century China, Yinniang is the master of the sword and an assassin without equal. Yet, her heart is soft and becomes conflicted with the orders to kill someone close to her past. Yinniang must find her own path to reconcile her sacred vows and her internal strife. This simple yet engaging plot is a guideline to the progression, with Hsiao-hsien preferring poetry over prose. His grasp is loose and the film sways and glimmers in its own beauty.
The Assassin takes on a hypnotic tranquility, transporting our informationally saturated minds to a decelerated period of custom, honour, respect and of thought. The film simmers without feeling the need to boil, giving preference to its magical imagery and the significances too subtle to always see.
Hsiao-hsien has not created his art for an audience but for himself. It is just fortunate that we may bask in the majesty of its frequent successes.
Header courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter and image courtesy of mubi respectfully.