Nie yin niang [The Assassin] (2015)

Nie yin niang
Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou
Writer: Cheng Ah, T’ien-wen Chu, Hsiao-Hsien Hou, Hai-Meng Hsieh
Based on: Xing Pei’s short story Nie Yinniang
Cast: Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Yun Zhou, Satoshi Tsumabuki
Seen on: 20.7.2016

Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu) has been trained as an assassin since she was a child. But after she fails her mission by showing mercy, she is sent home with the new order to kill the governer of her home state, Tian Ji’an (Chen Chang). But the problem is that Tian Ji’an is Nie Yinniang’s cousin and they were promised to each other a long time ago. Now she has to decide where her allegiances lie: with her past or with her present.

The Assassin is a visually stunning film. Unfortunately it is also so incredibly boring that I could barely keep my interest up. And as I lost focus, I also started to lose understanding of the story, increasing the frustration I felt with the film.


I don’t know much about China or its stories or its movies. That is a definite drawback for watching The Assassin as it doesn’t spell a lot of things out for an unknowing (Western?) audience. That means that a lot of decisions and intricacies of the story remain a little strange and I constantly felt like I was lacking the (cultural) context to really understand what was going on.

But that was only half the problem, and probably the smaller half. The bigger issue was that I simply didn’t care and barely paid attention after a while. The story didn’t seem to move along anyway. Instead we are treated to repetition after repetition of the same scenario, a scenario that stubbornly refused to divulge its secrets to me. That makes for a frustrating and annoying cinematic experience and led to a vicious circle: the less attention I paid, the less I understood, the less attention I wanted to pay et cetera.

theassassin1The movies beautiful images – combined from a combination of sets, locations, costumes, production design and cinematography – were not enoug to outweigh my frustration with the story. Although they did tide me over for a while and now and again, there was an image so strong that it sparked my interest in the film again (but unfortunately those sparks were quickly smothered by the dullness of the story).

I can imagine that if you know more about the story or are more familiar with the culture as shown in the film, you can glide into the film and even enjoy the glacial pace of its development. But I found myself fighting with sleep – and losing.

theassassin2Summarizing: Really not my thing, although very pretty.

2 thoughts on “Nie yin niang [The Assassin] (2015)

  1. I watched it last year at Viennale and, I admit, for me it did even less. The stunning beauty did not manage to outweigh my frustration which was more boredom than frustration. If I remember correctly I saw that one at quite an unsuitable time, as usual, thanks Viennale for showing such stuff in the middle of the night, so it didn’t only feel boring but extremely tiresome, I probably fell sleep as I don’t even remember much, only my huge disappointment. And I agree, one of the main problems might also have been the difficulty of understanding the characters’ actions and motives.

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