People who write about movies probably have a different experience with movie-going than people who are unencumbered by that responsibility (more like: compulsion). Movies are generally meant to be experienced as they happen, but those of us who write about them, whether by choice or by vocation, are doing a lot of thinking as they watch. Writing about movies means you can’t be a spectator. A movie can’t wash over us like a wave; no, we keep taking our surfboard and running into the surf. In a way, someone who writes about a movie is imposing their will over it — me telling you what I think about a movie usually means I assume whatever I have to say about a movie is as interesting as the movie itself, if I’m taking up your valuable time with my words and thoughts. And as a result of this process, such a critical thinker is generally composing their thesis about a movie as it unfolds, thinking about what we’re going to write about the movie before it’s over.
THE ASSASSIN had the stronger will. Much has been written already about the movie’s confident long takes and painterly compositions. The cumulative effect of that filmmaking approach was disarming: I put my critical faculties and instincts aside and submitted to the movie. Those who don’t love THE ASSASSIN as much were less willing to do that, I suppose. For whatever reason, I was willing to let THE ASSASSIN wash over me. It could be Shu Qi’s beautifully steadfast lead performance. It could be Mark Lee Ping-Bing’s immaculate photography. It could be Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s orchestration of the film’s many elements. It could be all three of those reasons, and more still.
THE ASSASSIN has a determined stillness and an insistent patience that forced me to settle down and just watch. There isn’t much story to it, but that’s part of why I keyed into its frequency — I didn’t have to track over-heated plot developments, or opine to myself about my feelings about each character. I could just watch. Especially in this attention-flicker of a day and age, there’s a boldness to a film that holds on a shot long enough to let a slight gust of wind blow through the frame. And there’s a secret liberation in knowing I can submit to that boldness, rather than straining to make myself part of the experience.
THE ASSASSIN shows at 7:30 tonight at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan as part of the series Luminosity: The Art of Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing.
Latest posts by Jon Abrams (see all)
- [THE BIG QUESTION] WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE ENSEMBLE IN MOVIES? - July 22, 2016
- [IN THEATERS NOW] THE BOY (2016) - January 24, 2016
- Cult Movie Mania Releases Lucio Fulci Limited Edition VHS Sets - January 5, 2016