The Assassin (Tw/Chi/HK) (wiki)
You know when you watch a typical eastern martial arts epic; it's gorgeous, fast paced and has beautifully choreographed action sequences. The story can lurch about a bit and the characters can sometimes do stuff that doesn't make a lot of sense, but you kept watching despite not quite being able to follow along because it was so damn beautiful.
I went into The Assassin resigned to the fact that I would get a bit confused somewhere between the subtle cultural differences and the complicated character relationships where just about everybody has an X in their name so it's difficult to keep track. I could handle that so long as I got a flavour of the goings on and it excelled in the other areas.
Unfortunately, it didn't.
Even for a film of the type so culturally unfamiliar to me it was hard to follow, to the point of throwing my hands in the air at the futility if trying to follow the disjointed plot. The basic premise appears to be this: a young woman has been trained well in doing assassinations, and her heartless trainer for complicated political reasons releases her back to her family to murder her cousin, who is living well in a castle somewhere with his family. But she doesn't because reasons, and things get a bit sidetracked from there in the murky middle bit, and then it finishes with the mentor trying for about 5 seconds to kill her and then giving up.
There are precious few action scenes, and the ones that do happen are badly choreographed, seemingly random and often over without any sort of resolution. Much of the film is a mixture of beautiful shots of scenery and palaces, mixed with the people within them milling about, staring at the walls, floor and each other, or waiting just a little too long for somebody to come walking through the door. The rest of it is protracted cushion shots that seem to be there only to pad out the runtime in a futile attempt to make the film into an 'epic'.
It never got going, and then it ended abruptly without me quite knowing what had happened. It felt like an unfinished idea that for some reason got cobbled together into a film just for something to do, without anyone daring to tell the director that there was nothing in the film to enjoy beyond the vista. It needed more than just beauty, and it didn't have it. Don't go into this expecting another Hero or Crouching Tiger. Just don't go at all. You will be disappointed. 3.5/10
Liza the Fox-Fairy (Hun) (wiki)
My final film this year was a last-minute change. I was originally going to see the closing gala film, Carol, but after seeing ads on the telly about it last night, meaning I could watch it any time, I decided to switch to something that I probably wouldn't get another chance to see. I noticed that this film had topped the audience charts at one point, so it seemed like the natural choice.
Liza lives a lonely existence as a care nurse to an elderly Japanese widow. Her only friend is Tomy Tani, the ghost of a Japanese pop star that haunts the flat she tends that only Liza can see. When Marta suggests that Liza finds a man before it's too late, Tomy gets jealous and anyone who gets close, gets killed to death. Distraught at the rising body count and police sniffing around, Liza happens upon the Japanese fox-fairy tales of siren-like women destined never to be loved due to their deathly curse.
The world Liza inhabits is a slightly surreal 1970's mesh of dreary buildings and badly dressed grotesque characters, giving plenty of scope for dark, absurdist humour. And plenty of these chances are lept upon with several squeals of laughter coming from the audience, many fuelled by the sheer absurdity of some of the situations, often breaking the fourth wall and including the audience directly. It's a refreshingly playful, enjoyable film and one I am glad I switched to see, and almost makes up for The Assassin. 8/10