The Assassin (2015 film)

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The Assassin
Theatrical release poster
MandarinCìkè Niè Yǐnniáng
Directed byHou Hsiao-hsien
Written by
Produced by
  • Wen-Ying Huang
  • Liao Ching-Sung
CinematographyMark Lee Ping Bin
Edited byHuang Chih-Chia
Music byLim Giong
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 21 May 2015 (2015-05-21) (Cannes)
  • 27 August 2015 (2015-08-27) (China & Hong Kong)
  • 28 August 2015 (2015-08-28) (Taiwan)
Running time
105 minutes[3]
BudgetCN¥90 million (US$14.9 million)[4]
Box office
  • CN¥61.4 million (China)[5]
  • US$12 million (worldwide)[6]

The Assassin (Chinese: 刺客聶隱娘; pinyin: Cìkè Niè Yǐnniáng; or: The Assassin Niè Yǐnniáng) is a 2015 wuxia film directed by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. A Taiwan/China/Hong Kong co-production,[1][7] it was an official selection in the main competition section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[8][9] At Cannes, Hou won the award for Best Director.[10][11] It was released in China and Hong Kong on 27 August, and a day later in Taiwan on 28 August 2015.[12] It was selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.[13][14] The international film magazine Sight & Sound named it the best film of 2015.[15]


The Assassin is loosely based on the late seventh-century martial arts story "Nie Yinniang" by Pei Xing, a core text in Chinese swordsmanship and wuxia fiction.[16][17]

The film is set in seventh-century China during the last years of the Tang Dynasty.[18][19] The film centers on Nie Yinniang (played by Shu Qi), an assassin who is directed to slay corrupt government officials by her master, Jiaxin, a nun who raised her from the age of ten. When Yinniang displays mercy by failing to kill during her duties, Jiaxin punishes her with a ruthless assignment designed to test Yinniang's resolve: she is sent to the distant province/circuit of Weibo in northern China to kill its military governor, her cousin Tian Ji'an. Eventually, Yinniang concludes that killing Tian while his sons are young would plunge Weibo into chaos and instead protects him on the journey where she was supposed to kill him. The film concludes with Yinniang leaving behind the strictures of Jiaxin and the high politics of Weibo, instead joining a young mirror-polisher on a journey as his guardian.


  • Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang (聶隱娘),[20] the eponymous assassin
  • Chang Chen as Tian Ji'an (田季安), cousin to Nie Yinniang, formerly betrothed to her, and military governor (Jiedushi), ruling Weibo Circuit.
  • Zhou Yun as Lady Tian, Tian Ji'an's wife (田元氏/精精兒).
  • Satoshi Tsumabuki as the mirror polisher (磨鏡少年)
  • Ethan Juan as Xia Jing (夏靖), Tian Ji'an's bodyguard
  • Hsieh Hsin-Ying as Huji (瑚姬), Tian Ji'an's concubine and a dancer
  • Ni Dahong as Nie Feng (聶鋒), Nie Yinniang's father and Tian Ji'an's provost
  • Yong Mei as Lady Nie Tian (聶田氏), Nie Yinniang's mother
  • Fang-Yi Sheu as Princess Jiacheng and her twin sister, the princess Jiaxin turned Taoist nun (嘉誠公主/道姑/嘉信公主)
  • Lei Zhenyu as Tian Xing (田興)
  • Jacques Picoux as Kong Kong (空空兒)


"I haven't shot a movie in six or seven years. It's really a whole new world for me because the market is now so big, because of China. So the scale is much bigger, and that makes every detail different, so now even I have to adjust my scale."

—Hou Hsiao-hsien[18]

The film received several subsidies from the Taiwanese government: in 2005 of NT$15 million (US$501,000), in 2008 of NT$80 million (US$2.67 million) and in 2010 of NT$20 million (US$668,000).[21][22] However, over the production, Hou encountered various budget problems; thus more than half of the film's final budget came from China, a first for Hou.[4] As of September 2012, its budget was CN¥90 million (US$14.9 million).[4]

The film was filmed in several places in China, mainly in Hubei province, Inner Mongolia and north-eastern China.[23] Hou recalled that he was "blown away" when he saw "those silver birch forests and lakes: it was like being transported into a Chinese classical painting."[23]


The first press conference of The Assassin since its Cannes premiere was held in Shanghai on 16 June 2015, where Hou and the film's cast discussed their Cannes experience and their upcoming promotional activities for the film.[24]

The film premiered in Beijing on 23 August 2015, ahead of its nationwide release on 27 August 2015.[25] For its American release, the film's distribution rights were acquired by independent distribution company Well Go USA Entertainment on 11 May 2015, and the film was released on 16 October 2015.[26][27]

Home media[edit]

The Assassin was released on Blu-ray and DVD in Hong Kong on 20 December 2015. The North American release was 26 January 2016 and included four behind-the-scenes featurettes regarding the film.[28]


Box office[edit]

The film earned CN¥61.385 million at the Chinese box office.[5] Worldwide box office is around U.S. $12 million.[6]

Critical response[edit]

Shu Qi promoting the film at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

The Assassin opened to critical acclaim. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 80% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 102 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's consensus states: "The Assassin's thrilling visuals mark a fresh highlight for director Hsiao-hsien Hou, even if its glacial pace may keep some viewers at arm's length."[29] Metacritic reports an 80 out of 100 rating, based on 28 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[30] Sight & Sound magazine ranked The Assassin as the best film of 2015 based on a poll of 168 critics from around the world.[15] The Online Film Critics Society called the film the best foreign language film of 2015.[31] It also ranked 50th in a 2016 BBC poll of the 21st century's greatest films.[32]

New York Times co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis called the film "staggeringly lovely" at Cannes, describing it as having "held the Wednesday-night audience in rapturous silence until the closing credits, when thunderous applause and booming bravos swept through the auditorium like a wave".[33] Variety's chief film critic Justin Chang highly praises the film, saying "The sheer depth of its formal artistry places The Assassin in a rather more rarefied realm.... Hou implicitly grasps the expressive power of stillness and reserve, the ways in which silence can build tension and heighten interest. Above all, he never loses sight of the fact that the bodies he moves so fluidly and intuitively through space are human, and remain so even in death. ... Hou Hsiao-hsien proves himself to be not just the creator of this assassin but an unmistakably kindred spirit."[34] On Film Business Asia, Derek Elley gave it a 9 out of 10, saying that "Hou Hsiao-hsien's first wuxia masterfully blends the genre's essence and his own style".[7] Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter said: "Hou Hsiao-hsien brings a pure, idiosyncratic vision to the martial arts genre".[35] Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club describes the "enigmatic and often mesmerizing" Assassin as "one of the most flat-out beautiful movies of the last decade, and also one of the most puzzling". He states, "Mood is key here...[the film is] all muted and subsumed by a poetic atmosphere that's radical even by Hou's standards...It's a movie most will be intoxicated by, but few will be able to confidently say that they understand—which may be the point, part and parcel with its conception of a world of gestures and values so absolute as to be nearly unknowable."[36]

John Esther of UR Chicago gave the film a more mixed review, saying "the real strength (and strain) of The Assassin is the mise-en-scène by Hou and director of photographer Mark Lee Ping Bing (In the Mood for Love; Renoir)" but criticized the film's glossy depiction of the environment, "The costumes, the people, the woods, the art, and the interiors are relentlessly pretty. Other than human nature, The Assassin suggests there was nothing ugly to witness during this period in time."[37]

Sarah Cronin of the British magazine Electric Sheep writes "The intricacies of the story are bewildering, with the 'who' and the 'why' only obliquely revealed as the film lingers on. But rather than lending The Assassin an air of intrigue, these mysteries seem pointlessly and frustratingly obtuse, with the most potent symbolism left to be teased out of a broken piece of jade, while not enough is done to bring the characters to life, to make them whole. Hou Hsiao-hsien deliberately avoids giving its audience any of the pleasures of wuxia, but its take on the genre offers little, and feels like a pale shadow of fellow auteur Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time. It looks gorgeous, but there's a shallowness to its beauty. The Assassin, unfortunately, is more still life than cinema."[38]


Award/Ceremony Category Name Outcome
Australian Film Critics Association[39] Best International Film (Foreign Language) The Assassin Nominated
68th Cannes Film Festival Best Director Hou Hsiao-hsien Won
Cannes Soundtrack Award Lim Giong Won
2015 Golden Horse Film Awards[40] Best Feature Film The Assassin Won
Best Director Hou Hsiao-hsien Won
Best Leading Actress Shu Qi Nominated
Best Cinematography Mark Lee Ping Bing Won
Best Makeup & Costume Design Hwarng Wern-Ying Won
Best Sound Effects Tu Duu-Chih, Chu Shih-Yi, Wu Shu-Yao Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Ah Cheng, Chu T’ien-wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng Nominated
Best Art Direction Hwarng Wern-Ying Nominated
Best Action Choreography Liu Mingzhe Nominated
Original Music Award for Best Film Lim Giong Nominated
Best Film Editing Liao Ching-Song Nominated
20th Satellite Awards Best Foreign Language Film The Assassin Nominated
Best Costume Design Wen-Ying Huang Won
69th British Academy Film Awards Best Film Not in the English Language The Assassin Nominated
27th Palms Springs International Film Festival[41] FIPRESCI Prize for Best Foreign Language Film The Assassin Won
10th Asian Film Awards[42][43] Best Film The Assassin Won
Best Director Hou Hsiao-hsien Won
Best actress Shu Qi Won
Best supporting actress Zhou Yun Won
Best cinematography Mark Lee Ping-bing Won
Best original music Lim Giong Won
Best costume design Hwarng Wern-ying Nominated
Best production design Hwarng Wern-ying Won
Best sound Chu Shih-yi, Tu Duu-chih, Wu Shu-yao Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Hunter, Allan (20 May 2015). "'The Assassin': Review". Screen International.
  2. ^ "The Assassin". Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  3. ^ "THE ASSASSIN (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 30 November 2015. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Stephen Cremin (14 January 2014). "Hou Hsiao-hsien's Assassin wraps". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b 刺客聂隐娘(2015). (in Chinese). Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  6. ^ a b "The Assassin(2015)".
  7. ^ a b Derek Elley (22 May 2015). "The Assassin". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 10 May 2016. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  8. ^ "2015 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  9. ^ "Screenings Guide". Festival de Cannes. 6 May 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  10. ^ Henry Barnes (24 May 2015). "Cannes 2015: Jacques Audiard's Dheepan wins the Palme d'Or". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  11. ^ Rebecca Ford (24 May 2015). "Cannes: 'Dheepan' Wins the Palme d'Or". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  12. ^ 刺客聂隐娘 (2015). (in Chinese). Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  13. ^ "'The Assassin' to join the race for foreign Oscar". ECNS. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Taiwan Selects 'The Assassin' as Oscar Entry". Variety. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  15. ^ a b "The 20 best films of 2015". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 1 January 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  16. ^ Justin Chang (21 October 2015). "'The Assassin': Hou Hsiao-hsien on the Making of His Martial-Arts Epic". Variety. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  17. ^ Altenburger, Roland (2009). "2.1 Social Policing and Gender Reversal: The Assassin Nie Yinniang". The Sword or the Needle: The Female Knight-errant (xia) in Traditional Chinese Narrative. Worlds of East Asia. Vol. 15. Peter Lang. p. 57. ISBN 978-3-0343-0036-0.
  18. ^ a b Staff Reporter (20 November 2013). "Golden Horse Talent: Hou Hsiao-hsien". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  19. ^ Justin Chang (24 May 2015). "Cannes: Jacques Audiard's 'Dheepan' Wins Palme d'Or". Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  20. ^ "The Assassin (Cannes Press Kit)" (PDF). Wild Bunch. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  21. ^ Stephen Cremin (31 July 2013). "Hou's Assassin stops production (again)". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  22. ^ Stephen Cremin (20 March 2013). "Taiwan cinema: north or south?". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  23. ^ a b The Assassin Press Kit. Cannes Film Festival.
  24. ^ "上海发布会 (Shanghai Press Conference)" (video). Inc.
  25. ^ "新闻发布会". Inc.
  26. ^ Hipes, Patrick (11 May 2015). "Hou Hsiao-hsien's 'The Assassin' Acquired By Well Go USA Ahead Of Cannes Premiere". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  27. ^ "The Assassin 刺客聶隱娘". Well Go USA Entertainment. Well Go USA, Inc. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  28. ^ Webmaster (8 December 2015). "The Assassin (2015) Blu-ray Detailed". Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  29. ^ "The Assassin (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  30. ^ "The Assassin reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  31. ^ "'Mad Max' Earns Top Honors from the Online Film Critics Society". Online Film Critics Society. 13 December 2015. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
  32. ^ "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  33. ^ Manohla Dargis (20 May 2015). "At the Cannes Film Festival, Some Gems Midway Through". Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  34. ^ Justin Chang (May 2015). "Cannes Film Review: 'The Assassin'". Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  35. ^ Deborah Young (20 May 2015). "'The Assassin': Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  36. ^ "The Assassin is as beautiful and transfixing as it is enigmatic". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  37. ^ John Esther. "The Assassin". UR Chicago. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  38. ^ Cronin, Sarah (21 January 2016). "The Assassin". Electric Sheep.
  39. ^ "The 2016 AFCA Awards". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  40. ^ "2015 Golden Horse Awards Nominees & Winners". Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  41. ^ "27th ANNUAL PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FESTIVAL WINNERS". Palm Springs International Film Society. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  42. ^ "10th AFA Nominees". Asian Film Awards. Archived from the original on 22 May 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  43. ^ "'The Assassin' tops Asian Film Award nominations". Focus Taiwan. Central News Agency. 3 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.

External links[edit]