It threw me for a loop back in 2015 when Hou Hsiao-hsien, who is now retired, announced that he was making a wuxia film, and I doubt I was alone in that. But this is Hou Hsiao-hsien we’re talking about, so The Assassin isn’t exactly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, or House of Flying Daggers — for better or worse. Like those films, The Assassin is absolutely gorgeous, from the rich costumes and production design to the unbelievable Chinese landscapes and scenery. But the storyline — a skilled assassin must prove her loyalty by killing the man to whom she’d one been betrothed — is more of a mixed bag. Hou is extremely fond of “pillow moments” (to use Roger Ebert’s term) and pregnant silences. Which means that The Assassin’s story is often as obtuse as it is engaging, if not more so. Sometimes this stylistic choice works and draws you into the film and the characters’ inner lives and sometimes, it’s just frustrating, particularly when political conspiracies emerge and immediately feel anticlimactic.