Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin (Best Director Winner, Cannes 2015) was certainly the most beautiful film to screen at Cannes this year, though that’s not the same as saying it was the best shot. The production design is impeccable, and the colours and compositions are gorgeous, but to what end? The film is about waiting for the trained assassin to finally make her kill, and in the process, we spend a lot of time with people sitting still in rooms, drinking tea. Mind you, there’s beautiful translucent curtains to watch them through, as well as gorgeous fabrics for the costumes.
But the entire plot of the film could be summarized in about three sentences without being reductive. One of those sentences involves a wife pretending to not be pregnant with the help of some chicken blood, which is about as close to action as the film gets aside from the initial exquisite bit of martial arts at the beginning. Still, it’s important that the people with the most power over life and death are woman even if the pregnant one is reduced to simple stereotypes. The film tried my patience even as I marveled at its aesthetic: pretty things just aren’t enough.
The Assassin is now streaming on Netflix.