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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2015 6:01 pm 
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Pre-premiere piece on The Assassin from the New York Times. The very end of the article has some word on what might be Hou's next project.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2015 7:00 pm 
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Word from Cannes is that Well Go USA Entertainment picked up The Assassin for US distribution before actually seeing it


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2015 3:07 am 
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Confirmed. They also got the new Ringo Lam film, which is probably more in their usual wheelhouse. I hope The Assassin's arthouse crossover potential gets it a wider release than most of their titles, because here in Austin I don't think any of their films has managed more than a one-night, one-time, one-screen showing, and being the optimist I am I fear I'd end up missing this if that were the case.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2015 8:56 pm 
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A clip from The Assassin, with touches that feel both typically Hou (love the way he pans away from the fight at one point) and more, well, atypical (the dodgy CG smoke). Perhaps worth noting this scene has no parallel in the original story, though that text is so short a feature-length adaptation would be impossible without plenty of embellishment. Not sure why the clip is in 4:3 when the press kit says the movie is 1.85:1, like all of his films from Fengkuei on.

EDIT: Another clip appears in this montage, around the 22:30 mark. It's a more conventional action scene also presented in 1.33:1, leading me to believe the press kit is mistaken.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Fri Jul 03, 2015 5:30 pm 
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Taiwanese teaser for The Assassin


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Tue Jul 21, 2015 8:06 am 
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Trailer oficial de The Assassin (Nie yin niang) HD


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2015 6:12 pm 
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Just an inevitable heads up that The Assassin is indeed magnificent. Quite a departure for Hou, in that it is an action film, albeit one in which the function and form of action scenes has been radically rethought. It's also much more plot-driven than any other of his films, though that plot is delivered far more obliquely than other films in this genre, as per his usual practice. Visually, it's closest to Flowers of Shanghai, but with exteriors that are as ravishing as the interiors.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2015 5:28 am 
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I can't find any independent confirmation of this, but the AV Club seems to believe that The Assassin will get a U.S. release on October 16th. Strange times we live in if the U.S. gets a Hou Hsiao-hsien film three months ahead of France...

Edit: Coming Soon shows the same date, though it'd be nice to have something more official.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2015 6:58 am 

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I got a press release announcing that date, so I'd say it's official, at least for now.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2015 7:06 pm 

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The first wave of U.S. dates for The Assassin are listed here. Two screens in Manhattan initially when it opens there for its proper run after its NYFF premiere. I'm in St. Louis, and thrilled to see that somehow the first non-NYC place it's playing, under the current list of bookings, at least, is Columbia, Missouri, which is about 90 minutes west of here. While I imagine it doesn't do many on this board a lot of good, I'm thrilled I'll be able to see it on the big screen without having to wait too long or travel too far. (As referenced in above posts in this forum, just earlier this summer I went to Cleveland to finally catch up with A City of Sadness after all these years. Maybe good Hou karma bought me that random Columbia play date.)


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 6:05 pm 

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To those who have already seen The Assassin, how dialogue heavy is it? I have the opportunity to see this on the big screen, but without English subs. I've been debating with myself ever since I learned of this screening, and cannot in good conscience fully commit.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 7:29 pm 
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Unfortunately, it's probably the most plot-heavy / dialogue-reliant film he's ever made. But there's plenty to enjoy beyond the plot, and you could always read a synopsis before you go.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 1:27 am 
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It may be "heavy" on dialogue but the dialogue seems to be taking place in another film called "narrative" in which the characters seem to be near stasis, while the camera sometimes (but not always) drifts, slowly and without seeming deliberation investigating its own meditation on Sternbergian cinema with some of the most gorgeous images of color in cinema (and B&W Academy ratio in the first movement) as possibly imagined by JVS. As the only action in the shots is the wafting of opaque silk curtains, these also seem like a meditation at times on Mizo's Yang Kwei Fei or how that film might have been filmed by Sternberg if he had been Hou. Thinking of Mizo.

I think this film is simply his most metacinematik work yet and the notion, in essence that he jettisons and concentrates the narrative entirely into medium shots of dialogue to basically relegate them to a discrete formal area is one part of this mosaic. There is also, one should mention, the matter of his relating about half a dozen action sequences of the type you recognize from the genre he's supposed to be inhabiting which he films in such a way as to apparently render them as independent entities in a film called "action".

In some possible future time, perhaps someone there may meditate on the film as if Hou had rescued cinema for a while as a form of pure color and simplified motion. Like Matisse. Or even Sternberg. She may even sing the story, in Academy Ratio and B&W. Or perhaps color.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 4:39 pm 
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david hare wrote:
It may be "heavy" on dialogue but the dialogue seems to be taking place in another film called "narrative" in which the characters seem to be near stasis, while the camera sometimes (but not always) drifts, slowly and without seeming deliberation investigating its own meditation on Sternbergian cinema with some of the most gorgeous images of color in cinema (and B&W Academy ratio in the first movement) as possibly imagined by JVS. As the only action in the shots is the wafting of opaque silk curtains, these also seem like a meditation at times on Mizo's Yang Kwei Fei or how that film might have been filmed by Sternberg if he had been Hou. Thinking of Mizo.

I think this film is simply his most metacinematik work yet and the notion, in essence that he jettisons and concentrates the narrative entirely into medium shots of dialogue to basically relegate them to a discrete formal area is one part of this mosaic. There is also, one should mention, the matter of his relating about half a dozen action sequences of the type you recognize from the genre he's supposed to be inhabiting which he films in such a way as to apparently render them as independent entities in a film called "action".

In some possible future time, perhaps someone there may meditate on the film as if Hou had rescued cinema for a while as a form of pure color and simplified motion. Like Matisse. Or even Sternberg. She may even sing the story, in Academy Ratio and B&W. Or perhaps color.


These are all good points. The plot of the film is almost entirely delivered in dialogue, whereas Hou's previous technique had been to deliver plot without dialogue (though ellipses, or actions that we need to parse the causes and effects of ourselves). In this film there's very often a radical disconnect between the (spoken) text and the imagery, which occupies its own world(s). As David says, it's a bit like an assemblage of different films, occupying their own planes of existence, yet intricately interlocked.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 5:35 pm 
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I've seen it only once, like you, and it keeps turning around in my mind and re-revealing itself to me. This is surely some sign of its greatness. I literally cannot wait to see it again on a big screen (my own here.)


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:11 pm 
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The two shots that keep returning to me are (obviously) the one with the clouds stealing up the valley and (less obviously) the long dialogue scene that we view from behind wafting curtains.

I suppose those are spoilers!


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2015 3:06 pm 
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I've only seen once so far, but I have to confess that I had a harder time following basic plot elements than I have in any Hou film before. I even had trouble keeping basic character identities straight. However, that's not the sort of thing to put me off. I remember that I found City of Sadness fairly confusing the first time I saw it, but now find each moment to be incredibly clear -- but The Assassin strikes me as even more opaque. The film is incredibly gorgeous; to the shots zedz mentions, I'd add the scenes in the birch forest. I can't wait to see it again.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 1:59 pm 
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Showtimes for the Assassin


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 5:44 pm 
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Nothing in Atlanta? Bummer.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 12:15 am 
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Hou Hsiao Hsien will be present for a Q&A after the 710 screening of the Assassin tomorrow night (Oct 17) at Laemmles Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 6:30 pm 
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Absolutely wonderful. There have been plenty of notable filmmakers in recent years who have been directing projects that, on paper, seemed more commercial compared to their previous works, possibly out of necessity, and at least to me, the challenge of going in this direction has been very mixed. I wondered what we would get from Hou, and he does things beautifully. Perhaps he didn't even face any such struggles while making this (which would be incredible if that was the case), but regardless, it fits very well within a commercial genre without compromising Hou's approach in the very least. Formally, it's masterful - just look at the way the sheer drapes drift and obscure a series of POV medium shots in one scene. But even thematically it's apiece with his other work - from the very start, the fractured kingdom and the divisions implemented between countrymen reflect the ongoing tensions between Taiwan and China (and mainly those within Taiwan who are identified with one or the other). Easily my favorite film released this year.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 8:33 pm 
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I think the dialog in The Assassin served to make sure the viewer was keeping up with the narrative, but I don't think it was completely displaced from the action. For example when Shu Qi's character first makes her presence known, we see Chang Chen's character become perturbed by his posture and the way he moves. One can connect the two events from just the visual information so far, but then the following dialog scene makes his feelings explicit.

For me a big part of the film is Shu Qi's character weighing the act of killing someone. Rather than showing some inner emotional struggle we see her targets daily routines and interactions and the film seems to set up the idea that the task of an assassin is to end these routines and sever these interactions. As the film advances and she observes her targets more closely we are given more specific personal details about the characters and more political intrigue.

Shu Qi's character reminded me a lot of the characters Nora Miao played in her early 1970s wuxia films, omnipresent and always popping up at the exact right moment in the intrigue. But the pacing uses a lot more dead time, and kind of reminds me of Cecile Tang Shu Shuen's The Arch taking a neo-realist approach to a period drama, but in this instance with some subtle genre trappings/fanatical elements. Not entirely trying to show the every day life of a real assassin from this period in history, but the every day life of a character in a wuxia film.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2015 10:32 am 
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Interview with Hou in Filmmaker Magazine on The Assassin. Much of it covers historical context (including the period-accurate use of language) that may be missed by newer viewers of his work.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2015 10:33 pm 
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That's a great interview. What Hou says at the end (about the pervasiveness of "hidden" ideologies in today's society, versus what he perceives as the freer atmosphere of the Tang Dynasty) ties in a lot with the very tentative read on the film I've developed after three viewings. (Most of what follows is from a post I made on another site, just in case anyone gets a nagging suspicion of plagiarism.) The first time I heard of this project was over a decade ago in a book called Speaking in Images: Interviews with Conteporary Chinese Filmmakers, where Hou and his regular co-writer Chu T'ien-wen discussed what drew them to the subject matter. Hou claims the story "is completely different from traditional martial arts/knight-errant [i.e., wuxia] fiction," and Chu says that Yinniang "represents something very different from chivalry" ("chivalry" being the usual English translation of the xia in wuxia, but not identical to the European sense of the word). So the original story could be considered a sort of proto-wuxia without the xia, and while the film radically revises the narrative—as Hou recently told Variety, he barely kept anything from the original story outside of some names and the basic premise—I think it retains this essence pretty well: Yinniang's loyalty is highly conditional to say the least, and the virtuousness or "wickedness" of particular officials isn't a key concern of hers.

It's also worth mentioning that the film isn't just set during the Tang Dynasty but during its decline, as explicitly spelled out in the distributor-imposed opening caption. I think what interests Hou about convoluted late-Tang politics is its creeping omnipresence, as though China was entering a period when politics and ideology threatened to enroach on everything. One of the first and more interesting changes the film makes to the story is that the nun who trains Yinniang is no longer a Buddhist nun but a Taoist princess-nun, underlining how even monastic life is bound up in court politics. In fact, the nun's violent rejection of "sentiment" (qing) smacks of incipient Neo-Confucianism, which developed in the late Tang in opposition to Taoism (and Buddhism, which had gone through something of a golden age in China). But Yinniang's morality is more compassionate and less inflexible, more Taoist than the Taoist nun's; she's still concerned with order (she justifies her final act of disobedience with concern that "there will be chaos" should she carry out her mission), but not with the hierarchies underpinning it in the traditional model. (She not only walks away from her master but also her family.) Yinniang's way is, I think, a search for more fundamental connections; I find it interesting that one of the last images in this very visual film is a cow and a calf, a "natural" relationship that only takes on a hierarchical aspect if we impose human morality upon it. (Yinniang invokes children on both occasions that she rejects a mission, a unselfish concern that contrasts with the constant jockeying by the film's actual parents to position their children for future power.)

To go back to Hou in Speaking in Images: "There is a Daoist sentiment in the novel wherein the protagonist tries to escape from the traditional morals and customs that are normally associated with chivalry...She returns to the secular world, but subscribes to a lifestyle and system of values that remain outside the bounds of this secular world." The setting historicizes these "traditional morals and customs," with Yinniang resisting a rising secular, "rationalist" worldview that reacted to late-Tang disorder (and subsequent collapse) with philosophical justifications for stronger, centralized authority. Hou is in line with mainstream Chinese historiography in seeing the Tang Dynasty as a high-watermark for ideological freedom, but in The Assassin the wave is already receding.

Regarding some other points in the interview: the dialogue in the film is archaic, but it's not really Classical Chinese—more a sort of half-vernacular "pseudo-classical" style similar to what you might read in a modern wuxia novel. It's also not particularly authentic to the period, most obviously because people in the Tang Dynasty didn't use modern Mandarin pronunciations but also because it apparently uses a lot of anachronistic vocabulary (there are nitpicky articles in Chinese pointing out the use of words that didn't exist until the 1800s, etc.). None of this is to diminish the intense period research, which paid off in a lot of fascinating ways—I'm thinking especially of the eerie distant drumming that runs through much of the movie (an old timekeeping method), or the remarkable shot near the end where the camera cranes up from beneath the floor to show hot water heating the building from below (a lot of modern structures in East Asia still have their heating systems in the floor).

I'm also surprised to see him say that digital editing moves faster, given what he was telling Chinese media around the time of the Cannes premiere ("I really hate digital—before you'd print the film and edit quickly, and when editing was done you'd do a good soundtrack, then make a beautiful, clear print. Now it's slow and wastes time, the process is too much, I don't know how many times more it costs than when we used film."). If using an NLE really helped it go faster, then I hate to think how long it would've taken the old-fashioned way: the shooting wrapped in January 2014, and yet the Cannes selection committee had to watch an unfinished cut well over a year later. But I've been reading a lot of interviews Hou conducted for the U.S. release and he seems to have somewhat made his peace with digital, which is just as well, since I doubt he'll get to shoot his next film on 35mm. In China The Assassin actually shipped to theaters with a note reading "This is perhaps the last time we can see a movie shot on film on the big screen," which is a bit hyperbolic but might well be true as far as Chinese-language movies are concerned.


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 Post subject: Re: Hou Hsiao-hsien
PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2015 12:45 pm 
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FWIW, 4/5ths of our household went to see this -- and all liked it a lot. This was shown in an AMC multiplex here in Boston -- and it looked pretty good (as projected) to me. Perhaps needless to say, I loved this -- and look forward to a Blu-Ray release -- so I can watch it again (and more closely).


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