Another year, another film festival goes by. The 34th Vancouver …
Those coming to The Assassin, the new wuxia from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (winner of the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), expecting an all-out action martial arts fest are in for a bit of a rude surprise. There certainly is action, and it carries considerable weight in the story. But rather than glorify the violence, the weight serves to magnify its importance and emphasize its effect upon those involved.
If you have never seen a Hou Hsiao-hsien film, Dust in the Wind is the perfect starting point. Preceding the Taiwanese historical dramas he is best known for—City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993), Good Men, Good Women (1995)—Dust is the most assured work of Hou’s early career, and one of the best examples of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien made this film after directing nine features in Taiwan and was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion at the 1989 Venice Film Festival. A City of Sadness was written by two key screenwriters from the Taiwanese New Wave: Chu Tien-wen and Wu Nien-Ju, both of whom worked with Hou and Edward Yang (the other great director from this film movement) before and after A City of Sadness. The first film of a trilogy by Hou that would deal with Taiwan’s tragic past (followed by The Puppetmaster (1993) and Good Men, Good Women (1995)), A City of Sadness does the seemingly impossible task of distilling an unrepresentable experience into the fate of one family struggling to make sense of their situation following WWII.
Having started with Goodbye South, Goodbye, we go backwards in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s career to one of his earliest films, The Green, Green Grass of Home. This particular film is the last in a trilogy of commercial-minded vehicles for pop star Kenny Bee that also included Cute Girl and Cheerful Wind. Bee got his start in Hong Kong as a part of a pop group called The Wynners and when that group split Bee made his way to Taiwan to make a go at acting. This won’t be the last time Hou works with a musician as an actor. Lim Giong was in multiple films including Goodbye South, Goodbye (for which he also did music for the soundtrack), and popstar Lin Yang made her debut in Daughter of the Nile, which I’ll be discussing in the future.