It starts wit a complicated history lesson crawl, setting the story in the Weibo kingdom in the Tang dynasty. The first scenes are in black and white, with a square picture ratio. A nun gives assassin Qi Shu assignments to kill the cruel and corrupt. When she has mercy on a target who is playing with his son, she is assigned to go to her home and kill her cousin. Around here, the movie goes color and Academy ratio.
The movie is filled with:
- Beautiful costumes and court pageantry
- Lovely, static frames of nature with (sometimes) tiny figures moving through
- Complicated exposition of the political situation - to the extent that I just laughed after the third one, ~20 minutes in
But it is a very beautiful movie, with characters sliding in and out of shadows or behind silk veils. There are so many long takes, but they don't strike me the same way as, say, Uncle Boonmee. These long takes seemed to reveal something - lurking in the shadows, trekking in the distance, even a well-hidden emotion running across a character's face.
The fights are choreographed in a more-or-less traditional way, then filmed strangely - one fight is shot from far away, and moves out of sight into a forest. Another starts in the middle of the fight, then just ends and the antagonists walk away from each other.
The politics, as far as I can understand them, are interesting. They are about preferring peace to the struggle against a corrupt central power (like Hero). The end is interesting - it takes place in a village or farmyard, where the rest of the movie has been all court-oriented mansions and temples. Possibly represents a turn away from the symbolic and formal, towards vital reality.