Woman warrior in 'The Assassin' slays Cannes, wins over critics

Thu May 21, 2015 4:14pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien said on Thursday he had not wanted to make the customary kickfest-style martial arts movie, and "Nie Yinniang" (The Assassin) shown in competition at Cannes is anything but.

It stars Taiwan-born Shu Qi in the title role as a trained killer during the Tang dynasty (7th to 10th centuries) who jumps on her prey from roofs or trees and kills them with a single blow of her dagger.

With the lightning instincts drilled into her by a nun who kidnapped her as a young girl and trained her in the martial arts, Shu's character, who is called "the Assassin", can deflect swords flung at her and lay low a squad of imperial soldiers.

A difference from the usual martial arts film, though, is that the combat and killing take place within a gorgeously photographed costume drama that transports the viewer back to a vanished time.

And the combat looks plausible, not fantasized, even if the idea of a woman killing so many soldiers sounds like a tale from the Tang dynasty literature from which it was taken.

"I've seen a lot of kung fu films and I particularly like Japanese samurai films because the combats are so realistic," Hou told a news conference.

"There are very few tricks in Japanese martial arts films, that's why I wanted to do my film in this way...

"It was very complex for the actresses in the combat scenes, while working on the film they ended up with a lot of cuts and bruises."Shu said Hou had put huge demands on her.   Continued...

(L-R) Cast members Shu Qi, Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh, Satoshi Tsumabuki, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, cast members Chang Chen, Yun Zhou and Fang-Yi Sheu pose during a photocall for the film "The Assassin" (Nie yin niang) in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Benoit Tessier