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January 26, 2016

The Assassin


Cike Nie Yinniang
Hou Hsiao-Hsien - 2015
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

For those who may not have had the opportunity to see The Assassin theatrically, rest assured that the blu-ray keeps the 4:3 aspect ratio, with the exception of the "zither scene". The extraordinary use of color is here as well. Still, there are certain moments which may be lost unless the film is seen on a relatively large screen.

The blu-ray comes with four very short "making of" vignettes which are worth seeing because Hou discusses his intentions when he made the film, as well as his method of filmmaking. Cinematographer Mark Lee, costumer and production designer Hwarng Wern-Ying, and stars Shu Qi and Chang Chen also contribute their thoughts on working with Hou. What makes these bonus features important is that The Assassin needs to be understood and appreciated on its own terms, rather than the genre expectations that usually come with a wuxia film.

Hou undercuts those expectations by keeping the fight scenes brief, and by often filming those scenes from a distance. In a sword fight against several soldiers, Hou has a couple of shots of Shu Qi and her adversaries in medium shots before cutting to a long shot where the characters are barely seen in the distance, the action mostly obscured by trees in the forest. In a duel with a swords woman wearing a gold mask, Hou immediately begins with the two women engaged, sword against sword, jumping into what would be the middle of the scene in traditional narrative filmmaking. There is a little bit of wire work, including a scene with Chang Chen chasing Shu Qi across a roof top, a small nod to the more classic wuxia film.

Hou is known for his long takes. There are a couple of shots where the the camera doesn't move, where the viewer needs to concentrate to notice the movement within the frame. Hou talks about letting nature dictate some of the shots, waiting for the wind to blow, making him akin to David Lean, but on a more intimate scale. One of the advantages of being able to see The Assassin on home video is that allows the viewer the leisure to contemplate the carefully arranged palate of colors, the silk costumes and curtains, and use of light and shadow.

This is Shu Qi's third film with Hou. Mostly dialogue free, and seemingly expressionless, Hou deliberately makes Nie Yinniang enigmatic. It's a fitting performance in a film where family relationships also have much larger political meanings, and where what is unspoken can be more important that what is said.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 26, 2016 05:32 PM