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Sino-EnchantmentThe Fantastic in Contemporary Chinese Cinemas$
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Kenneth Chan and Andrew Stuckey

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781474460842

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474460842.001.0001

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The Restrained Fantastic in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin

The Restrained Fantastic in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin

(p.95) Chapter 5 The Restrained Fantastic in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin

Andrew Stuckey

Edinburgh University Press

The acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 2015 film, The Assassin, is adapted from a Tang Dynasty tale that is one of the first instances in Chinese literature to describe a swordswoman. If for films such as A Touch of Zen or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the ethical dilemmas particular to a woman in the underworld of martial arts rivers and lakes are navigated by means of the visual spectacle of bodies in flight and in fight, Hou’s heroine, Nie Yinniang, is quite different. She emerges victorious over her enemies, but they are not vanquished. She maintains her own moral standards but retreats into seclusion by the end of the film. Likewise, Hou’s camera is often at such a distance that fighting sequences are as much obscured as revealed in the film. Thus, Hou’s famed style of exceedingly slow narrative presentation comes into fruitful tension with the generic conventions emphasising the fantastic elements of martial arts film. This chapter examines the reduced status of these fantastic features of the film, the way that Hou’s style naturalises and, indeed, construes them as realistic components of the narrative, and how these seemingly oppositional tactics come together to inform Nie Yinniang’s moral stance.

Keywords:   Hou Hsiao-hsien, The Assassin, Nie Yinniang, martial arts film, adaptation, fantastic elements

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