By Dan Cava
November 5, 2015
Blink and you’ll miss the quietest, richest, most purely cinematic experience in theaters right now. The Assassin, winner of Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, is just now completing its short Charlotte engagement; and dedicated cineastes should cancel their plans, use their paid time off, and run to the Regal Ballantyne Village theater for what are sure to be the final few shows of one of 2015’s best movies. The Taiwanese award-winner is part martial arts movie, part historical drama, and all dreamy poetic delight. Shot on 35mm film in the old-school 4:3 aspect ratio of classic films, The Assassin is a study in imagery and sound, motion and stillness, patience and payoff.
Not for the faint of attention span, the deceptively simple story of a female assassin put to the test when she is ordered to killer her former lover plays out in languorous long shots that drift over gorgeous tableaus of Asian landscape and impeccable production design. The quietness is surprising at first, an affront to the contemporary viewer’s cinematic ADD. But the effect quickly becomes entirely transfixing as the gentle sound design and observational camerawork transport us back to a time thoroughly unsoiled by modern rhythms. The dialogue is sparse and loaded, barely revealing a plot that we feel more than we understand. The rare bit of music alerts us to intrigue with pulses and drumbeats. The action, when it comes, is sudden, smooth, and irreversible. The movie manages to be both naturalistic and mystical as the small otherworldly elements seem to fit easily with the traditionalism of the 8th century setting.
The Assassin might infuriate or, more likely, sedate Generation Marvel, but for those looking for a cure for the common cacophony, it’s the best thing on a screen right now. Subtitled cine-poems have a way of vanishing from American theaters quickly; so move fast or, like it’s beautiful and elusive protagonist, this slow-moving masterpiece will slip away.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.