The Assassin is beautiful to behold, but there’s no narrative or character to give you a firm grasp. It’s hypnotic and narcotizing beauty for the sake of it with nothing to tether your interest. Character motivations, relationships, even a coherent story or timeline is all abstracted or diffused to a point where total incomprehension takes over. Are we to believe that this was done to synchronize the main character, an assassin raised to be a killer away from the rest of the world with no connection to anything, and the structure of the story, something resembling a revenge plot merged with family drama and historical epic? I suppose one could argue that, but I’m not about to. Director Hsiao-hsien Hou has crafted some truly splendid visions here, but between the anticlimaxes of the fight scenes, the glacial pace, and a general sense of frustration in grappling with the material, I eventually checked out. Pretty things sometimes just aren’t enough.