This Chinese period drama from Hsiao-Hsien Hou (Flight of the Red Balloon) is set in the seventh century, and during a period, introductory titles explain, of tensions between the imperial center of the Tang Dynasty and the rising power of an outlying province. Into this tricky arena of political alliances and marriages comes the assassin (Shu Qi), a young woman abducted as a child and trained by nuns to be a killer. She is now tasked to return to her home and assassinate the ruling Tian Ji’an (Chen Chang), who is also her cousin and to whom she was once promised in marriage. The film has some stylized action sequences, but it is primarily a meditatively paced arthouse-style drama, in which the real machinations are personal and political. The story, which shifts in both time and perspective, is confusing at times. The film is, however, always beautiful, combining lush royal interiors, exquisite costumes and breathtaking scenery. Assassin has a fluid, poetic style, likely designed to be absorbed and savored by those who enjoy such pure cinema.