Complete A-Z list

Assassin, The


Stars: Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Hsieh Hsin-Ying, Yun Zhou, Juan Ching-Tian, Zhen Yu Lei

Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou

This Eastern period piece is perhaps the most beautiful and ravishingly shot film you will ever see. Unfortunately it is also one of the slowest, with long shots of the countryside and scenes of actors walking in and out of shot - and back again.

For a stately film it is also quite difficult to follow; beards and similar character names add to the confusion.

Veteran Taiwanese actress Qi Shu, now 39, effortlessly passes for a woman in her early twenties as the real-life assassin of the title, a general's daughter in ninth-century China who comes into the care of a 'ninja nun' who teaches her the martial arts and trains her to become a brilliant assassin.

Tasked with eliminating corrupt local governors, Nie Tiannang proves ruthlessly efficient until one day she finds she cannot kill a local chieftain who is holding a baby in his arms. As a result, her mentor sends her to kill Tian Ji'an, a cousin to whom she was once promised, but who is now leader of Weibo, the most powerful military region outside central government.

There's the odd burst of action in the paceless proceedings that follow, as characters walk in and out of scenes as if they were making entrances and exits in a play. Despite most English critics' obeisance, I'm not surprised the film failed to make the final nominations for the Oscar for best foreign-language film.

It did however, deserve one nomination (and probably the award itself) it didn't get: best cinematography (shot by Ping Bin Lee). The palette is so rich, it has to be seen to be believed - if you can stay awake long enough to appreciate it.

David Quinlan

Taiwan/China/France/Hong Kong 2015. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour.
106 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 18 Jan 2016