[REVIEW] “A HISTORICALLY COSMOPOLITAN, MIXED CULTURE: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s World of Tang China” BY JEFF TOMPKINS


October 12, 2021

Published in 2019 by the Hong Kong University Press, The Assassin: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s World of Tang China is an anthology of eleven essays examining the Taiwanese director’s polarising 2015 film—a surprise foray into the wuxia 武俠 (martial arts) genre—about a solitary killer who in the end chooses not to kill. The book’s editor Peng Hsiao-yen prefaces the essays with Yang Zhao’s interview with Hou and Xie Haimeng, one of his co-screenwriters, given at the time of the film’s release, and closes it with a translation of the Tang Dynasty tale that inspired The Assassin. In between, individual contributions explore various formal aspects of the film—establishing its debt to classical landscape painting, for instance—before a final section which assesses its ethical concerns from Buddhist, Confucianist and Daoist perspectives. A prismatic evaluation of a film that defies easy understanding, the book demonstrates the value of an interdisciplinary approach to a complex work of art. . .

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Featured Book: The Assassin: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s World of Tang China