Get ready for the most minimalistic martial arts epic ever mounted. Hou Hsiao-Hsien has finally gotten the funding to begin work on The Assassin, his long in development entry into the wuxia canon. Taiwan’s newly established National Development Fund has stepped up with $2.6 million dollars for the project, the fund’s first. With a total budget of around $8.65 million the film is far and away the biggest budget Taiwanese production ever and certainly the famed director’s largest undertaking in his 28 year career.
Scripted by Hou and his long time co-writer Chu Tien-Wen, the film is an adaptation of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) era legend of a female assassin called Nie Yin Niang with the ability to transform herself into other creatures through illusion. In the short story that inspired the film, a 10-year-old girl is kidnapped by a Buddhist nun and arduously trained until adulthood to kill without compassion or remorse for the greater good of society. The assassin’s loyalty to her own family, clients and society comes secondary to her own desires. Hou favorites Shu Qi and Chang Chen, who lit up the screen in Three Times, will star.
Known for his minimalist filmmaking style (he rarely moves the camera) and meticulously crafted compositions, the genre is perhaps the least suited for Hou’s aesthetic. It will be interesting to see if he will take a more traditional approach for the project or if he will maintain his oblique style, possibly redefining the genre in the process. Can we be in store for a seismic shift similar to when Wong Kar-Wai reinvented the wuxia epic with Ashes of Time, which paved the way for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero? Let’s hope so.
The remaining budget will come from a patchwork of investors including $480,000 from Taiwan’s Government Information Office (GIO). CMC Movie Corp. was previously announced as a major investor at the Pusan Film Festival but has since backed out for undisclosed reasons. That may explain why the original budget of $12 million dropped down to the current number. Hou’s Sinomovie Co. producing partner Hwarng Wern-ying expects pre-production to start on Oct. 1. Production should begin in early 2009 depending on cast and crew availability.