Taiwanese film director Hou Hsiao Hsien is known for a kind of hyper-contemplative realism, but for his latest effort, he’s gone in a major gear shift direction by making a martial arts wuxia film. Although he’s known for polar opposite films like “Millennium Mambo” (a film we listed as one of the best movies of 2003) and “Three Times,” he’s apparently always wanted to do a fighting film, and that’s what he’s done with his latest, “The Assassin.” This is his first film since 2008s’ “Flight of the Red Balloon.” It has been rumored to show in Cannes for the past couple of years, but he reveals he had trouble getting the backing.
“I’ve always had a dream to make this story into a film. I first came across the Tang Dynasty legendary tales when I was in university studying film, and before that I had read many wuxia stories when I was a child,” Hou told the The New York Times, referring to China’s rich tradition of martial arts stories. “But I could never make the film because it required such a large amount of financing.”
9th century China. 10-year-old general’s daughter Nie Yinniang is abducted by a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors. One day, having failed in a task, she is sent back by her mistress to the land of her birth, with orders to kill the man to whom she was promised – a cousin who now leads the largest military region in North China. After 13 years of exile, the young woman must confront her parents, her memories and her long-repressed feelings. A slave to the orders of her mistress, Nie Yinniang must choose: sacrifice the man she loves or break forever with the sacred way of the righteous assassins.
“The Assassin” makes its world premiere later this week in Cannes. Meanwhile, the first two clips from the film have arrived, plus a few new photos. Watch them below and get a taste of what’s to come.