The Assassin (Blu-ray Review)

The AssassinCelebrated Taiwanese Master Director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s long-awaited return to the screen tells the story of Yie Ninniang (Shu Qi), a General’s daughter, kidnapped as a child and trained by a nun in the deadly arts- only to be sent home on a bloody mission of revenge, with her betrothed (Chang Chen) as the target. 


The Assassin


Nie (Qui Shu) is kidnapped as a child and trained in martial arts to become an assassin by a nun who tasks her with killing corrupt officials. One day after Nie fails one of her missions her master sends her back out to kill the man that she was originally meant to marry. This is also 13 years after she was taken from her family, so it will be an emotional turn of events to say the least for Nie.

I had originally heard good things about The Assassin – that it won all of these awards and that critics stateside were hailing it as a “masterpiece” and it even garnered a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, etc. My interest piqued and I finally got a copy of the Blu-ray to review and after watching the film I was wondering out loud if the other people had actually watched the same film I did?

Let me start with saying that The Assassin looks fantastic in terms of style. The make-up, costumes, cinematography, production design, etc., all on a technical level is phenomenal. If this were a beauty contest then The Assassin would win hands down. Since there’s more than just beauty that is required to make a good film – I’ll say that the story/narrative is severely flawed.

The action scenes, if they can be called that, are great but are generally bloodless and quiet and edited in an awkward fashion. There are a couple of scenes where Nie is about to take down an entire group of people before we see an edit, no fight, and just the after math of folks lying dead on the ground. What happened in between? It’s strange that the director of the film says that he wasn’t interested in showing actual fights, because he wasn’t a fan of the typical martial arts movie. You can hear director Hsiao-Hsien Hou talk about his motives in the behind-the-scenes featurette included on the Blu-ray.

I love style over substance films like the next person but the style and “guts” of the film has to be at least somewhat entertaining. The Assassin cannot be considered “entertaining” by any stretch of the imagination. It is a pretty film to look at but it is slow and boring. I did not connect with the story or characters at all. My two-star rating is due to it being a ravishing film to look at and a nod to the production. The hype is not justified.

The Assassin


Encoding: AVC/MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Clarity/Detail: The Assassin looks terrific on Blu-ray. Contrast and sharpness levels are steady with only a minute trace of tinkering but I figure it was slightly tweaked to add to the visual aesthetic of the film.

Depth: The film looks great and don’t be alarmed that the film plays in full-screen 1.37:1 – it was shot that way. According to IMDB there is one scene that was shot in 1.85:1 but unless it was a “blink and miss” moment I did not see it. I can’t confirm if this was in the theatrical version either.

Black Levels: Black levels are strong and crush-free.

Color Reproduction: Some scenes involving flashbacks are in black and white but when they switch over to color they look amazing. The colors are big, bold, and beautiful.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones look great.

Noise/Artifacts: Outside of the natural grain sheen I did not detect any instances of noise or artifacts.

The Assassin


Audio Format(s): Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: English, French. Chinese

Dynamics: The dynamics on this lossless track are quite subtle. The film has a few scenes of violence but because the name of the game is stealth they don’t really knock the house down. That’s not to say that it’s a bad track – it’s great for what it is.

Low Frequency Extension: There are only a few instances of low-end bass throughout the film.

Surround Sound Presentation: The ambience tones are terrific – and you do get to hear the subtleties of the mix when characters are stalking other characters out in the forests and countryside.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clean and free of distortion.


The Assassin


The extras are made up of a group of behind-the-scenes featurettes. Each one runs a few minutes but doesn’t go past 30-minutes for the entire bulk of it. A trailer for the film is also included. The special features are presented in high definition.

  • Behind-theScenes (HD)
  • Trailer (HD)



The Assassin

Summary Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-_5Dexter-0Dexter-0

The Assassin is style over substance but even too much style isn’t a good thing in this case. The film plods along to an unsatisfying conclusion. I was disappointed after I kept reading and hearing the accolades. At least Blu-ray looks and sounds good. The special features are paltry, though.




The Assassin is released January 26th


The Assassin


Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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