Assassin, The (Nie yin niang) (Blu-ray) (2015)

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Released 20-Apr-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Trailer-x 3 for other films
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2015
Running Time 105:26
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Shu Qi
Chang Chen
Zhou Yun
Ni Dahong
Lei Zhen-yu
Sheu Fang-yi


Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Giong Lim


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Mandarin DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In 9th century China the Tang Dynasty is in decline and in the outreaches of the Empire, such as Weibo, governors have became semi-independent, owing little allegiance to the Imperial Court. When she was 10 years old Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) was separated from her family in Weibo and taken away to be trained as an assassin. Thirteen years later she is stealthy and lethal, eliminating corrupt officials at the bidding of her Master, the nun Jiaxin (Sheu Fang-yi). But one day after Yinniang decides not to assassinate an official who is holding his baby son, Jiaxin believes Yinniang needs a lesson in resolve. She takes Yinniang back to her family in Weibo and orders her to kill the powerful local governor, and father of three sons, Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), a man who is not only Yinniang’s cousin but the childhood friend to whom she had once been betrothed. Can she do it or will Yinniang again refuse to obey her master?

     That summary only touches the surface of The Assassin (original title Nie yin niang) for the film introduces a myriad of characters without explanation or exposition including Yinniang’s father and her uncle (Ni Dahong, Lei Zhen-yu), Tian’s wife (Zhou Yun), a pregnant dancer, a sorcerer, another female assassin in red, twin sisters and various offsiders and courtiers, and the story veers into political machinations, ambushes, sorcery and betrayals. The result is that The Assassin is a film where it is difficult to understand what is going on, and who these people are. At first I thought that this Blu-ray contained a cut version of the film (which does happen unfortunately too often when Asian films get a western release), but this is not the case as all releases of the film have the same running time. Instead, it seems that as The Assassin is based upon the well-known Chinese story Nie Yinniang (the original title of the film, and perhaps a better choice because the western title The Assassin brings with it an expectation of an all action film, which this is not) so a Chinese audience would understand who is who, and what is happening without exposition. This is just as well because Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien is far more interested in the presentation and look of the film than the plotting.

     The Assassin won Hou Hsiao-Hsien the award for best director at Cannes in 2015; the film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or, but did not win. The film does look stunning with beautiful colours, sets, costumes and landscapes, but it is some of the other choices made by the director that sets the film apart. For example, The Assassin is filmed in the unusual aspect ratio (these days) of 1.37:1, although this sometimes varies slightly. Some critics have questioned the point of this aspect ratio but if nothing else it focuses our attention fully on the person speaking. The film also commences with a black and white section which shows the assassin in action, switching to colour when she arrives back with her family. Many scenes are shot through silk curtains, smoke or mist giving an otherworldly feel and The Assassin also utilises long, almost static takes without dialogue, allowing the visuals to tell the story. Indeed, the pace of the film is very stately, the visuals lingering in the mind. In contrast, when the action occurs it is the opposite, with quick takes and intercutting, so it is sometimes difficult to see what is happening. But the action is not really the point either; this martial arts film is rated PG which tells you all you need to know.

     I can understand that people thinking The Assassin was a full on action film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would feel short-changed. Instead, The Assassin is more art house than martial arts, a slow paced, enigmatic and stunningly beautiful and complex film. Did I understand The Assassin? Definitively not, and if anyone can tell me just who the red clad female assassin was, other than a mirror of Yinniang, I would be thankful. However, I like wuxia films where the action is only an adjunct to the drama and the characters, such as the wonderful Ashes of Time, so I will just have to watch The Assassin again.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Assassin is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     Shot on film, The Assassin looks stunning with its rich textures, luscious colours, opulent sets and costumes and picturesque mountain locations. The blacks are deep, skin tones natural, brightness and contrast consistent. While foregrounds were sharp and detailed, almost 3D in feel, some backgrounds and shadow detail can be indistinct.

     There was some blur with motion against trees and pleasing light grain which did occasionally become too obvious; see the scene around 14:33 for example.

     White English subtitles are burnt in so cannot be removed. I did not notice any errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Feature audio is Chinese DTS-HD MA 5.1.

     Dialogue is clear and centred. For a film with a lot of silences in both interior and exterior scenes the surrounds and rears provided an almost constant range of sound, including horses, insects, the wind in the trees, music or a single drum in the background. There were also directional effects in the action scenes. The sub-woofer was not overused but was effective when needed.

     The original score by Giong Lim was used sparsely but was melancholy, atmospheric and effective.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Trailers

     Trailers for Umrika (2:12), Marshland (1:48) and Kung Ku Jungle (1:48) play on start-up. They can also be selected from the menu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The US Region A Blu-ray of The Assassin includes as extras four short featurettes about Nie Yinniang (3:11), the actors (3:45), fights between the masters (2:55) and a time machine to the Tang Dynasty (3:01), which would give it the edge.

Summary

     The Assassin has somewhat divided opinion. It has been hailed as a masterpiece although the static pace, lack of explanation, aspect ratio and stunning visuals means that it feels more like an art house film that a wuxia film. I was mesmerised by the visuals and enjoyed Shu Qi’s performance but the film just feels a bit too artful in its framing and tricks to be fully engaging. However, anyone interested in quality World cinema should give The Assassin a go; I will watch it again, and soon.

     The video is luscious, the audio very good. There are only trailers for other films as extras as we miss out on the minor extras available in other regions.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, May 05, 2016
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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