Credit: <i>The Assassin</i>

In the ninth century, near the end of the Tang Dynasty, the governor of a state pulling away from the empire (Chang Chen) is stalked by a beautiful assassin (Shu Qi) who’s been trained since childhood by the cunning princess of a rival family (Sheu Fang-yi). The story promises action, but this brooding martial-arts adventure from Hou Hsiao-hsien is largely a pictorial experience: in the glistening black-and-white preface, the killer slashes an opponent’s throat and Hou cuts abruptly to a spray of wildflowers. Extreme wide shots place the characters against stunning mountain terrains and inside wild forests, recalling the crystalline detail of classical Chinese paintings; interior scenes unfold in a golden glow, gauzy curtains drifting back and forth over the action, while crickets chirp and tribal drums sound periodically, the hushed tone making the eruptions of swordplay seem even more clangorous. The dazzling 35-millimeter photography is by Mark Lee Ping Bing. In Mandarin with subtitles.