Sep 03, 2015 Uncategorized Comments Off on Hou's mainland movie debut splits viewers (China Daily)
A poster of Hou Hsia-hasien’s movie The Assassin. [File photo]
The Assassin has become the most controversial blockbuster of the past weekend, showered with praise and laments by a polarized audience.
Around 1.3 million moviegoers have flooded to watch Taiwan director Hou Hsia-hasien’s first wuxia title, which has grossed 43 million yuan ($6.7 million) since it opened in mainland theaters on Aug 27.
All the information those ticket buyers received before is full of temptation.
It’s the 68-year-old Hou’s first movie to get a general release in the Chinese mainland. For many years, his followers could only watch his classics (for examples, City of Sadness and Flowers of Shanghai) via DVD or online. In May, the movie won the best-director award at Cannes. In a digital age, the old-school auteur insisted on shooting the film, which required 134,000 meters of reel – most of that cut to form a 107-minute version.
With a stellar cast boasting Shu Qi and Chang Chen, it seems ready-made for cinemas.
But while some love it to death, hailing it the best-ever title and the redemption of Chinese-language flops, others fiercely criticize it, telling acquaintances on social media not to waste money on the “sleepy” title.
“Are you touched or asleep?” is a question that even headlines some domestic media reports.
An extreme example occurred in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. One moviegoer demanded a refund of the ticket price, as he misunderstood the academic ratio (1:1.85) and the black-and-white prologue as technical breakdown, according to Qianjiang Evening News.
Mounting confusion about some deliberately grainy footage – and a square-like screen that looks like that of an old-fashioned TV set – has forced some theaters to create posters explaining that Hou simply wants that effect.
Taiwan director Hou Hsia-hasien’s first wuxia title, The Assassin, has become a controversial movie on the mainland. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]
Never pursuing commercial success, Hou was inspired to adapt a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) legend into a giant-screen title back in the 1980s. Convincing investors to spend 90 million yuan on the notion was one of the largest difficulties, and then it took Hou eight years to write and shoot the production.
Most of the time, the crew was “awaiting the movement of clouds and flying birds”, says Taiwan actress Shu Qi at a recent Beijing news conference. That may explain both the slow pacing and extraordinary beauty that impressed most of the viewers contacted by China Daily.
Though some say they found it a bit hard to understand the few dialogues written in ancient Chinese, the epic visual effects make every second look like a spectacular ink painting that commands attention.
The story, inspired by a 1,700-character novella, follows a killer assigned by his nun master to murder a political figure, also her first lover. Nie Yinniang, the protagonist role, switches sides to protect her assassination target after she figures out the land’s peace and stability need its ruler, even if he is ruthless.
Shu opens her mouth four times and speaks nine lines through the whole film, which has around 100 lines in all.
One netizen on Douban.com, a popular online review site, says “having characters drink tea, comb hair or ponder during the gaps” in the dialogue makes it hard to understand the storyline and characters’ relations.
It may be simpler to understand the storyline if you take a sneak preview of the script, widely circulated online. Then you can simply savor the beauty of the long takes, as suggested by many critics.
Hou seems prepared for the questions and confusion.
“My movies are shot for those who want to watch them. When it was screened during the Cannes film festival, many French moviegoers love it, though they might not have understood the tale,” Hou told Beijing reporters on Aug 23.
In the movie, a prince tells Nie a legend about a lonely bird dancing to death with its reflection in the mirror – now widely taken to be the theme Hou wants to convey and also a biographical metaphor of himself.