The Assassin is a very beautiful and visually interesting film. Even if it wasn’t shot in such a fascinating way, the sheer beauty of the landscapes would make for a gorgeous film. However, visuals aside, I failed to really connect with the film. It’s heard it was slow (“glacially paced” as I heard it), which generally doesn’t bother me, and I heard it tended toward the contemplative (Malick meets Wushu as I heard it), which normally does anything but bother me, but I did actually end up finding the film a tad impenetrable. I get the feeling this was by design, but…so what? The film intentionally kept me at a distance, and at a distance I remained.
The plot is complicated, sure. Plenty of politics, stories of, betrayal and all that. But there isn’t loads going on here thematically; certainly not enough to justify the several overwrought “character stares blankly and says nothing” sequences where the camera does nothing interesting either.
I did like the usage of anticlimax at the end of the film. At the end. I thought it was a neat resolution to the story. But there was no real climax anywhere, just anticlimax after anticlimax after anticlimax – there can’t be a real strong reaction if the audience is already used to, and expecting, what they get.
I did like the usage of colour. There was a lot going on there. The explicit washed out black and white worldview, the son wearing gold with his father in black stopping the assassin, etc. That kept me more engaged than anything else really, but some interesting colour symbolism isn’t really enough to keep me fascinated over 100 minutes.
I hope cultural differences are the main reason why the film didn’t really work for me. It is gorgeous to watch, but I’m still mystified by the overwhelmingly positive reception as I found it a real tough nut to crack. I’m not easily bored, and I love unconventional film (if I had a gun pushed to my head and had to choose a favourite film, I’d choose Koyaanisqatsi), but this one just didn’t work for me.
I would like to eventually revisit it after viewing more Taiwanese film; hopefully I will have a better context in which to place the film then.
I give it two and a half pieces of jade, and a boxed aspect ratio.