VIFF Review: The Assassin

The Assassin is a beautiful film in which nothing at all happens.

That might sound a little reductive, and I suppose technically it is, but so little happens that it may as well be nothing. Add to that the fact that dialogue is sparse, the scenery upstages actors, and you begin to understand what I’m talking about.

2015 Vancouver International Film Festival

The plot, such as it is, is about a young assassin named Yinniang who fails to kill someone because she couldn’t bring herself to do so in front of children and as punishment, is sent to her hometown to kill her cousin, who happens to be the leader of an entire province. Of course, you could argue that the entire film is about Yinniang trying to decide if she’s going to be a normal human or a cold-blooded killer, but the film neither shows us nor tells us that; it just shows her wandering around occasionally fighting people.

None of this would be a problem if the fight scenes were amazing. Unfortunately, they’re all over way too fast. In some cases, they’re so fast you barely have time to figure out that you just saw a fight, and almost all of them are shot so closely that it’s nearly impossible to see what the hell is even going on. I’m sure this is all designed to highlight how fast and lethal Yinniang is meant to be but its’ a shame since you can’t actually tell that.

It is gorgeous, though. The cinematography is beautiful, and the locations are simply stunning. These shouldn’t upstage the rest of the film, though, as in many cases gently wafting curtains or fog rolling over a mountain too. Let me put it to you another way: I wear a FitBit, which automatically detects when I am asleep, and though I didn’t fall asleep during the movie, my FitBit thinks that I did for over an hour (even if I had, I doubt it would have made a difference).

The Assassin may be the most beautiful boring movie I have ever seen, but it is boring.