The much talked-about Taiwanese martial arts costume drama is a late addition to the Sydney Film Fetival lineup.
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1 Jun 2015 - 10:46 AM  UPDATED 1 Jun 2015 - 10:46 AM

Just days out from the opening of the 2015 Sydney Film Festival, organisers have expanded the lineup, with hot Cannes title The Assassin  being added to the program. 

Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien won the directing prize in Cannes for his story of a woman (Shu QI), kidnapped as a child and raised as an assassin, who is sent back to her childhood home with orders to kill the man to whom she was promised.

It joins documentaries Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine by Alex Gibney (already in Sydney with Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) and Among the Believers, which premiered at the tribeca Film Festival and looks at the power struggle between Muslim extremists and secular leaders in modern Pakistan. 

In premiering The Assassin at Cannes, Hou said he had not wanted to make the customary kickfest-style martial arts movie. Shu stars as a trained killer during the Tang dynasty (7th to 10th centuries) who jumps on her prey from roofs or trees and kills them with a single blow of her dagger.

With the lightning instincts drilled into her by a nun who kidnapped her as a young girl and trained her in the martial arts, Shu's character, who is called "the Assassin", can deflect swords flung at her and lay low a squad of imperial soldiers.

A difference from the usual martial arts film, though, is that the combat and killing take place within a gorgeously photographed costume drama that transports the viewer back to a vanished time.

"I've seen a lot of kung fu films and I particularly like Japanese samurai films because the combats are so realistic," Hou told a news conference at Cannes.

"There are very few tricks in Japanese martial arts films, that's why I wanted to do my film in this way...

"It was very complex for the actresses in the combat scenes, while working on the film they ended up with a lot of cuts and bruises."

Shu said Hou had put huge demands on her.

"I nearly broke down at one stage, I thought we might have a clash because it was so demanding," she said.

Hou said the film had been expensive to make by his standards, with a budget of $15 million, but even if it failed at the box office he would not want to start making films that were more mainstream or commercial.

"In this day and age, when Hollywood reigns supreme, compare that with the time of the New Wave (cinema), and there were very interesting, different films. We don't want the cinema to become poorer in the future," he said.

Trade publication Variety called the film "a mesmerising slow burn of a martial-arts movie that ... achieves breathtaking new heights of compositional elegance".

Watch a clip from The Assassin:


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