"Boring and Pretentious"
What You Need To Know:
The rest of THE ASSASSIN’s plot is rather confusing. The relationship nuances between the main characters are too cryptic and unexplained. Some boring, pretentious filmmaking and boring dialogue don’t help matters. Though it’s admirable, THE ASSASSIN seems to make a moral statement against violence and political assassination, that positive content gets lost in the boredom and pretentious filmmaking. THE ASSASSIN is one of the least interesting movies ever to come out of Taiwan or China.
(B, PaPa, FRFR, V, S, M) Light moral worldview about a reluctant, morally conflicted female assassin in 9th Century China ordered by a Buddhist nun to kill a governor to whom she was once betrothed, but movie doesn’t reveal much details about the nun’s background, her theology or her rationale as a mentor to assassins, though the plot here involves some internal political conflict in the Chinese Empire; no obscenities or profanities; light violence includes man shot with arrows, some brief fighting with swords or sticks and people briefly chase one another in a couple scenes; married man apparently has a concubine, but no sex scenes; no nudity; no alcohol; no smoking or drug content; and, corruption.
THE ASSASSIN is a boring, rather pretentious and somewhat cryptic movie from Taiwan about a trained young female assassin with a moral conscience.
Set in 9th Century China. the story begins with a black and white sequence where the young female assassin, Nie Yinniang, dispatches a man on horseback and is talking with her female Buddhist mentor. As explained later in the movie, her mentor, a Buddhist “nun,” kidnapped Yinniang to train her as an assassin with martial arts skills. She ordered Yinniang to assassinate an official, but Yinniang couldn’t do it because the official was with his son at the time.
Now, the nun orders Yinniang to kill another official, the governor of Weibo Province, whose actions may threaten the emperor and the dynasty ruling China. Eventually, it’s revealed that Yinniang was once betrothed to the governor before she was kidnapped.
The rest of the plot is rather confusing. The upshot of it is that Yinniang eventually declines to kill the governor too. A final cryptic meeting occurs with her mentor, after which Yinniang rides away with a man she met while stalking the governor and his family.
THE ASSASSIN’s story is told slowly and methodically. Beyond the few details mentioned above, the story and personal relationships are cryptic to the point of being really confusing. Also, the dialogue includes a few digressions that are told in so confusing and cryptic (and undramatically) a manner that viewers have to ask themselves, “Why are we supposed to care about this line or this scene?” At one point, the director, an allegedly acclaimed Taiwan filmmaker named Hou Hsiao-Hsien, shoots a long dialogue scene of the governor with his wife (or was it his concubine?) through a billowing see-through curtain. At first, the viewer may wonder, Is the female assassin hiding behind the curtain somewhere to spy on the governor? But no, the female assassin isn’t there, nor is anyone else. The director just wanted to shoot the whole scene through a see-through curtain! Please, just set the camera inside the room with the people!!! This particular scene is truly one of the most boring and pretentious scenes ever filmed. Naturally, because of stupid scenes and stupid camera placements like this, the 2015 Cannes Film Festival named Hou the festival’s best director. Seriously.
That said, the movie does appear to have a positive moral worldview. The female protagonist is one of the most incompetent, but most honorable, assassins ever. Though she kills at least one man, she lets her two main targets go for moral reasons, however vague those reasons may seem to viewers watching this movie. Of course, the movie never explains why a Buddhist nun, the protagonist’s mentor, would want to become an assassin, much less train an assassin. The movie’s production notes say the nun has trained the protagonist to kill “corrupt” officials, but the movie never seems to say this directly or indirectly. In fact, the order to kill the governor of the province just seems to be a power play of some kind involving the emperor and his potential future rivals. Thus, a film critic has to read the movie’s production notes to glean the information that the protagonist is being ordered to kill officials who are actually corrupt. Even so, the governor’s “crime” remains cryptic. He actually seems like a good fellow, despite the fact he’s married and has a concubine on the side.
One final point. Though it’s admirable that THE ASSASSIN seems to make a moral statement against violence and political assassination (even the assassination of corrupt officials), the movie is so devoid of any real conflict that it’s actually one of the least interesting action movies or martial arts movies ever to come out of Taiwan or China. That’s the problem with pretentious filmmaking. At the end of the day, such filmmaking is made to stroke the filmmaker’s ego (and stroke the self-righteous condescension of too many professional film critics), not to satisfy a mass audience, and not even to create great art that attracts a great following. Life’s far too short to spend any precious time watching such filmmaking, especially when it moves as slowly, cryptically, confusingly, and annoyingly as THE ASSASSIN.
Thus, the positive content in THE ASSASSIN gets lost in a maze of pretentious filmmaking and a boring, cryptic, confusing story and plot. It’s also set in a godless Buddhist pagan environment that lacks a solid philosophical or theological foundation for the female protagonist’s apparent rejection of political murder. The God of the Bible rejects political assassination, whether or not the intended victim is with his family and even if the official is corrupt. If the official committed a murder, or engaged in adultery or embezzlement, let his accusers come forth in open court. Non-Christian worldviews like Buddhism or modern secular humanism have no such ethical restraints. In fact, were it not for Western Christendom’s victory over Nazi Germany and Buddhist Japan in World War II, and its victory over the tyrannical hegemony of Communist/Atheist Russia during the Cold War, there probably would hardly be any restraint over political violence and corruption whatsoever.