© 2015 by James Clark
Hou Hsiao Hsien is hardly a well-known name apart from a smallish corner of Asia and amongst a few film enthusiasts elsewhere. But those who do know the name and the film products carrying his name revere him for maintaining bittersweet solace, on the scale of the works of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963). I’ve noticed, in my relatively brief tenure of linking to movies, that the culture of film production and consumption heavily favors internalizing the filmed actions to sustain various predilections remarkable for their absence of anything but fixation upon a range of the tried and true stretching back to distant eons. Extremities of time, space and emotion (and concomitant technical extremities) only serve to confirm that horse and buggy ways are the way to go.
The assumption that Hou Hsiao Hsien offers in his work somewhat off-beat, eccentric stylization to speak on behalf of quiet and fragile souls runs, I fear, into the inconvenient presence of his recent vehicles, like, Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) and Millennium Mambo (2001), showing deft and intense rejigging of the ancient Chinese coordinating perspective of Yin and Yang. The latter-mentioned film’s graphically pinpointed ebb and flow of comprehensive verve within human sensibility is right on the money as to avant-garde endeavors (including quantum physics, disowned as such, or mordantly not) trailing back to the beginning of the twentieth century. (The former-mentioned film involves a woman named Ying who evinces considerable Yang.) On this note we must remark that many filmmakers from the mid-twentieth century on were at work on such palpable and problematic matters of consciousness, though not well recognized as such. These artists well understood that cinema was a potentially dangerous weapon in the context of the general medium’s conventionality. One of the foremost early film contrarians, Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), produced, in 1969, near the end of his career, a film called, Army of Shadows, dealing with political intrigue during the Nazi occupation of France but at the same time dealing with righting a much larger structure of sensibility. Hou Hsiao Hsien, being as interested in survival as in pushing the envelope, though on record as being an avid fan of Godard and Truffaut, never alludes to Melville. Those red herrings stem from typical film industry flim-flam and they are most remarkable in light of his current film, The Assassin (2015), being as rooted in that French Resistance saga as in the Tang Dynasty of its narrative setting. The film’s protagonist, a lethal nemesis swayed by a princess-nun (that is, a charismatic ascetic on the order of an ISIS official), is named Yinniang. Her work with Yin and Yang is far more compelling than her day job.
The Assassin is a very difficult film to track. It shoots our way supposedly engaging imbroglios of a regional Chinese bureaucracy more than a thousand years ago. Swallowing whole a supposed ethnological integrity about their melodramatics lands us in the same kind of benightment we have to avoid in seeing through the bureaucracy-besotted anti-Nazi freedom fighters of Army of Shadows. Both films choose to reach into splendorous precincts of visual impact to alert the alertable that those venerable locales are having a close encounter with an unexplored cosmos. Both films opt for a first chapter of vitality-compromised black and white to cue up the intuitive sense of something important missing in action. Melville’s film opens with a German marching band at the Arc de Triomphe being reduced to newsreel fodder and, by witty sound design, a colony of worker ants. Hou’s film features a snow-white- clad icy martinet (an early Nazi) directing a black-clad femme fatale (intuitive discord out of the starting gate) to dispose of a figure who would be riding their way soon. The catalyst of this discharge of outrage had run amok with his family, killing his brother and compelling the senior female militant to pronounce the sentence, “His guilt condemns him.” The speed and economy of Yinniang’s performance with a knife here recalls Gerbier, in Army of Shadows, lashing out like a cobra to dispose of a German guard during one of his arrests. The first moment showing the two assassins also shows two donkeys and it reminds us of Gerbier’s calling his captors “jackasses.” In this way a comparative link between Gerbier and Yinniang is eased forward. Yinniang’s second theatre of war of the black and white march has to do with assassinating a minor provincial leader. Her being more reflective than Gerbier and a broaching of the adversarial relation between the two women issue forth in this episode. She walks away from the target due to his young son’s seemingly never away from his side. The third stage, constituting the narrative as such, entails the commander’s re-test (after the failure to be a domestic horror [perhaps myriad blitzes upon dudes at work having gone pretty well]) in the form of killing a regional lord who was her cousin and, in very different circumstances, when she was ten years of age, slated to be married to her on her reaching a 14th birthday now long gone. (Upping the ante like this opens to our circumspection primitive savagery of the deep past and also the present and the deep future. It also evokes the scruples of Le Masque [and even, very fleetingly, Gerbier] in Melville’s film, about murdering one of their own. Also in play here is the barber in snow-white garb sending Gerbier on his way toward some questionable violence.) On reaching the new killing field, optical matters become colorful in very special ways, as befitting the promise of her name and the promise of everyone’s energy, be it in the 9th or the 21st century.
One more Melville stroke and then we’ll allow Hou to reveal his own masterful fluency and innovative genius within that purview bringing out the best in so many auteurs, a best often including homage and challenge to kindred spirits. The work of Hou’s cameraman here, Mark Lee Ping Bing, is exquisite and breathtaking; and it is also very rigorously targeted by the chief’s overall and monumental motives. The ambush beauties arrive at Lord Tian’s not inconsiderable estate (Army’s seer, Saint Luc, also had chic digs) and that step brings to us, far over and above the soap opera from hell raging amidst figures with too much time and too little sense, a treasure trove of industrial design—particularly the walls! Stemming from Melville’s Jef the Samourai’s grotty walls as making their way back to Giuliana’s distressed walls (in Antonioni’s Red Desert) and from there to her Samourai solitude and genius for endurance and the darkest joys, the presence of such surreal walls can turn a turgid tale into the wildest of rides; and Hou’s handling of this treasure is rich beyond measure! Much of that decor incident comes in the form of hand woven, carefully wrought fabric curtains and wall coverings; and though “background” for a spate of scheming and fuming, bravely framed as underwhelming, it proceeds to insinuate itself into a default provision lending buoyancy to the protagonist’s wall-to-wall struggle for seeing the bright side of a very dark world history.
The real powers-that-be in this study of a slave gaining the freedom her best lights and courage carry her to are not the political authorities, nor even Yinniang in any familiar form of persona, but the motions of Yin and Yang shared and shaped by her as wisely (and not at all easily) availing herself of insurrections of a most complex love from those walls and those wall-like sensuous presences of the elements. As early as the episode of the aborted murder of the notable playing with his son, our protagonist comes to hide within filmy curtains and, thus keyed, somewhat, to a ripple of creamy loveliness she comes to where he naps along with the boy, inadvertently wakening him and thereby eliciting his flinging a spear at her, which she readily deflects. Her look of stark disappointment about his hostility is a little gem of piercing irony within her regime of self-teaching a rare strain of the ways of graciousness. A more deep-seated irony here would be the intense, devoted physical exertions and precisions of her elite development leading her to that sensual suffusion by which to counter her commander’s simplistic Yang.
Our course of lighting up this puzzling premise must take the form of close attention to the flood of fertile optics embracing Yinniang and being undemonstratively embraced by her in return, while negotiating political quagmires and quagmires of her own. It has been necessary, I think, to forego an impressionistic introduction of The Assassin’s excitements and to instead put into play right from the get-go its reflective heritage. The discoveries which Hou Hsiao Hsien would have us take away from his production are extraordinarily confusing to cinephiles. The seemingly de rigueur burnishing, on their part, of personalities as accomplished by their successes or failures in socio-economic endeavors is a language which Hou, in the 21st century, no longer speaks (if ever he did). First-rate industrial and landscape designers, architects, musicians and dancers are far more likely to decipher his language. Applying psychology or moral and political prowess to a film like The Assassin is a very bad idea. Someone capable of savoring at length a great sofa or automobile, or a great circus or rodeo, is far more likely to grasp, however tacitly, where this vehicle is going.
What better place to let our film begin to enjoy free rein, than that black and white (but far from cut and dried) moment featuring the soon-to-be unscathed spear-thrower and his son. They have a butterfly coming by and landing, a new toy of sorts and the son wants it to be more a cat or dog. “Not so tightly,” the father says. The white will-o’-the-wisp flies upward and the boy says, “I want to hold it! Where is it going? Where is it going?” His father and mother soon divert him with rolling a ball across the floor. Yinniang perceives all this from her vantage point in the Silk Road textiles where inside meets outside. Her already demonstrated expertise with a dagger sets the stage for the sleight of hand implicit in the deft handling of the butterfly involving both not confining and yet holding the attention of a loved one. Her knife-edge precision in warding off the spear attack speaks to accessing amazements of bodily motion.
Sleight of hand was evidenced by the crime figure playing a pithy shell game in Millennium Mambo. But here we have the same actress/protagonist of that earlier film, catwalk smouldering Shu Qi, stepping it up toward a far more difficult game; and without the very helpful patron she was lucky to know in those earlier desperate straits. Ensconced in the palace of the bigger game (dropped off, in fact by the field marshal who is greeted with great deference), she is royally bathed and then dressed in the raiment of her aborted wedding. Not very long after, the Lord’s wife, a relative of hers, relates the turgid political motives which led to her drastic displacement and being, while still a young child, put in the hands of that supposedly benign guardian, her aunt. (What is said in the course of clarifying to the young guest the disjointed nature of her upbringing has a simple part and an abstruse part. The jurisdiction whose leader she is ordered to kill is contiguous to another segment of a shaky Tang confederation, a segment eager to swallow the former. A marriage involving a woman from the setting’s ruling class has created a peace pact. That woman suddenly dies, necessitating a replacement. We hear that Yinniang’s mother was struck by her white peonies’ withering overnight after the messenger brought the news of the death. We hear that, “Her heart was broken by the thought she had let you [our protagonist] down.” [Later we hear her father admit to some questionable parenting.] What we don’t directly hear is that her mother was the replacement. [We soon, however, see that that family, like the protagonist’s family in Goodbye South, Goodbye, is a piece of work.]) Yinniang cries copiously at this point, burying her face in her hands. We’re tempted to commiserate, soaps-style, with a young woman’s matrimonial setback. Her gown on that occasion, jet black with filigrees of blood red, like whiplashes, helps us to realize that what urgently troubles her are not personal regrets but instead her métier of murder becoming more lacerating by the minute. That, though, would be far from a Dostoevskian moral turmoil, but rather a painful betrayal of those sensual rhythms having become ingrained in the course of her elite martial arts discoveries, discoveries that include virtually total alienation from others.
Yinniang haunts the precincts of her family sphere as if it were a form of purgatory. Her exertions do intersect with a crisis of political confidence on the part of her designated target and thereby evoke a nebulous form of narrative. But it is her solitary manoeuvring amidst high and less high inspiration and incitement which constitutes the heart of this artwork. We are given a sterling instance of the peculiar form of interplay sustaining The Assassin, in the preamble to that informational tete-a-tete with Lord Tian’s Lady. Yinniang has been royally led to a bath (the rather gloomy room having brownish cave-colored cladding) and provided with aromatic substances. Unable to enjoy any of that, she comes to personify a beast of burden that has been on the job too long. She sits in the water, looking fixedly into space, a deadly rocket become inert. Just outside of this enclosure with the Samourai walls, the consort, who was on the verge of getting down to the dirty laundry, sits in the verdant and sunny garden playing a zither or koto-like stringed instrument. Thereby, in a series of cross-cuts, there commence harsh notes, ripping into our protagonist’s exposed skin, as if she were not well enough along in nearly driving herself crazy. But it is to be noted that lively birdsong contributes something else. And then we have that royal lady (weighted down with as yet unspecified depression—and bringing off in the course of her odd serenade, a flash of shattering discordancy) musing to herself the case of a bluebird (another pet not well engaged) refusing to sing over the course of 3 years. (The tone accompanying this thought is remarkably calm and gentle, and intended as a gift to the strange but to some degree understandable visitor. She then rips through this power chord that could, if it were noticed, totally eclipse most other film actions. “One day the bird was shown itself in a mirror. It saw its image of sadness. It suddenly died. Birds only sing to their own kind.” The final notes of her concert are light-hearted. The play of her fingers trajects to pristine white peonies nearby. They won’t be dead by next morning. And neither were those the young girl’s mawkish mother fussed about.
Like the relentlessly cheerful and predictably careless assholes who eventually spell death to the protagonist/relative in Goodbye South, Goodbye, another of Yinniang’s impetuous, hot dog relatives comes onscreen, as it were, given an ironic overture by Lady Tian’s concert in the garden (Lady Tian being, in fact, his sister). There is a session of the Lord’s council, and the man of the hour thinks to shake things up profitably by fomenting a military conflict between two provinces close-by and profiting by the Tang army’s killing a large number of those neighbors. He’s particularly pleased that one of the proposed combatants is very inept about developing loyalty among the hoi polloi, an indicator that the fighting machine will be rather feeble. Tian is far from a warmonger and after throwing around some choice bibelots that might have otherwise ended up at the Met, he reads the Riot Act and banishes his brother-in-law to a remote and hopefully deadly garrison. “He provoked panic!” the leader thunders at his wife. “My rule is to quell panic…” Yinniang, also trying to quell her own sense of panic, is far from immune to that family vortex which greatly impedes (but also induces) her steep rock climb to a zone of singing to an “own kind” drifting in and out of the heavy mists of the region which cause confusion but also deep joy.
The big talker, on being escorted to the fringes by Yinniang’s father (who, though in fragile health and having lost whatever edge he ever had, carries the title of Provost), becomes ambushed by a troupe of anarchist malcontents thinking to increase the panic level the better to pursue departures from a calculative oligarchy. Its leader, even creakier than our protagonist’s dad, occupies a structure the decor of which includes a tableau version of Salvador Dali’s lips chair. Though Yinniang may have more in common with that latter spoiler’s vision than with the Yang-bloated, soon-to-be exile, she, perhaps more in respect to her father, rides out to their trail to obscurity and shows the trouble-makers to be more Dadaist than Surrealist. The rescue is, however, not about proving that she is the only badass worthy of the name, but rather that she is a badass packing a very heavy albatross in the form of her family. The skirmish as such, with her shredding bush-leaguers at will, is really about the fired politician’s doing a lot of running away and resorting to swinging on a branch which falls far short of the three musketeers. On her bringing him and her father back home, safe and sound (for a few days at least), there is much food for thought in the disgraced public figure capturing the attention of the children in the vicinity of the farmstead, especially in introducing them to a looking glass. Somewhat later, she defeats a skilled hireling of the Lord’s, and the loose cannon once again reveals compensatory strengths, this time as a physician tending to a cut on her shoulder.
Woven into our protagonist’s undergoing a sense of herself being ambushed, by her family, there is her coming close to fulfilling the death sentence to Tian, as his loss of confidence in the advisor vaguely presents itself as an anathema attaching to that wing of the family including her. The night of the same day he read the Riot Act finds her concealed in the bracing silk fabric gracing the palace apartment of his concubine. She immerses herself in a cloth fretwork of autumnal-colored patterns and eavesdrops into an intimate moment between Tian and Hsieh Hsin-Ying [the first part of her name wittily coinciding with that of Hou’s]. On being detected she races out to the rooftop with the First-in-Command in pursuit. Once there, in the murky light, he hacks away with his knife in her general direction, but, from out of the same lightning-quick positioning which allowed her to render harmless the missile of the irate parent, she displays an astonishing knack of, while shifting hardly at all, making all the difference. Stemming from her remarkable stillness (and its Spartan regime reaping a mode of confidence astronomically different from that of her Spartan mentor), appearing all the more so in relation to his frenzy, and redolent of years of fluency with silent motion, her few offensive thrusts are like those of a speedy small truck. In slow (and silent) motion, she pivots and spins sending him reeling backwards. He attacks once more; but somehow the momentum of a kinetic repertoire, perhaps reopened by the strike of the wall hangings, quells her capitalizing on a moment so apt for a kill. He lunges; she bashes in some of his ribs and has him holding his wound. And then she leaps away along the palace heights. On his return to the school of soft knocks Hsieh Hsin-Ying shows him what the intruder had left—a purse containing her jade platelet (given to her by Lady Tian; and the purse holding it being the fabric she so uncontrollably cried into). Tian also has such a keepsake, having, a decade ago, been part of a (premature) constellation to mark their betrothal. The Lord, missing again (this time the point), proclaims, “She wanted me to see her before she takes my life.” The curtains ripple in a current of air. Her taking the high road may not be widely appreciated; but solitary discernment has its own rewards. And we are about to see how blessed (and tested) the shot in the dark that is Yinniang can be.
Yinniang’s being well on the way to flubbing her second assignment in a row does not come to us in the course of some dramatic U-turn; but instead we intuit from her arresting sensuous motion and the refulgent and engaging entities in her path how she has commenced to upload a way to jolt the clichés of Yin and Yang far beyond ancient China and far beyond every axiom of the planet’s ancient wisdom. In the spirit of unique and as yet sombre playfulness and irony of this discovery, a major source of edification is the musical Lady, seated one day in her quarters of rich and rigorous red hangings and pulling out all the stops of lively cosmetic configuration and texture in the course of duelling indirectly with her husband’s young lover. Her jet-black, ski-hill coiffure is a constant occupation for her several servants, as are the minutiae of the skin around her eyes. In the political context of lining up the just-right way of her brother’s banishment, her seeming inactivity and frivolity tower as a shot of vivid poise, balance and sober anticipation. Similarly, in the aftermath of being shown to be a rank amateur by our protagonist-in-progress, it is Tian’s handsome tribute to the memory of Yinniang’s distinction and generosity which alerts us. The concubine declares, I feel for Yinniang,” making a fourth, to date, capable of valid chivalry. Tian then recalls Yinniang’s being, as a young child, almost a woodland creature, striking him as a “Phoenix,” a motif touching upon the resilience of her eventual virtuosity which upstages her martial talents. He goes on to recall his near-fatal illness as a child, when she stayed by his bedside for several days until the crisis was over. With that we not only cast our glance toward the not especially rare influx of Yin and Yang, but also the perhaps very rare formative groundwork for really going places. This latter singularity is maintained in the Lord’s telling his special friend about the depths of mystery that Yinniang had brought forward, gusts of consciousness which still haunt him. “In my delirium, I sensed a presence… It was Yinniang… No one could make her leave.”
Golden moment or not, there ensues two pieces of evidence that Tian is as keen to have her disappear forever as he is comfortable about having on hand that sentimentalized memory of her love. Perhaps underlining the waywardness of the Master’s vision, the first engagement shows Yinniang being accosted by palace guards as seen in dense woodland from a long distance away. There is much commotion; but the squadron is clearly barking up the wrong tree. (Later, a similar palace guard searches for her in the night. Hou uses tiny actors, perhaps children, for that occasion.) Then, Tian going into the Treasury for some real violence, sicks on her a professional swordswoman (in a gilt mask and nifty tailored ensemble); and their encounter in a breathlessly gorgeous leafless birch forest also fails to reap a win for the home side. But this phenomenological boon takes us another step forward in appreciating the physical bounty our protagonist accesses, and its reservoir of gallantry. The engagement begins with the contestants slowly circling and eye-to-eye. The bounty hunter then lightnings into action, getting more collision than Tian could, but, as before, being flicked away like a mosquito. Then the outlaw pivots and spins, now in the aura of that Phoenix, and the shaken mercenary becomes frozen with surprise and dismay. She withdraws and there is no need for the force of nature to kill her. Her leaving the vaguely Cocteau-designed mask amongst the fallen leaves involves recognition that in a jurisdiction quick to preach instructed illumination a far less recognizable energy could undertake a different path.
On the heels of this seeming stalemate, the narrative concludes in a bemusing and provocative way, with disintegration all around. The outspoken diplomat feigns having succumbed to a stroke and thus being unable to travel and is roused by the Lord to stop fooling around (being, that is, exposed as in the orbit of Flatty and Pretzel, in the rural tale, Goodbye, South, Goodbye). In the final moments, Yinniang reports to the “reverend” that the kill won’t happen (she going on, half-heartedly, to cite, in the spirit of Yang, that the loss of such a master of sound judgment would constitute a major setback). She returns to the farmstead and joins the banished relative in a trek to the valley of evil.
How fitting to a Phoenix is this avenue? On the silent march on foot back to the farm, after being rescued by the strange relative—their horses present but puzzlingly inoperative—the ragtag regiment, seen from a distance, passes by a huge chalky cliff, its whiteness with horizontal black touches resembling a massive birch tree trunk. This ultimate glowing wall does nothing so much as maintain that, even where protracted hopelessness reigns, there are fertile directions still on tap. Backsliding on the basis of the concubine’s socially awkward pregnancy, whereby the so often disinterested Lady Tian unbecomingly incites the Daliesque prankster to produce a fabric voodoo-shocker is not without repercussions likely to dim her musical momentum. Hsieh Hsin-Ying has a meltdown (stylized as an emission of smoke from her head and shoulders); Tian, knowing who would produce such gobbledegook, sends out a unit of archers and they make a pincushion out of him in the spirit of Saint Sebastian (errant Yang colliding with errant Yin); Yinniang, doing what she can to keep a source of musical magic in business, explains to the regal relative at the end of his rope, “She’s pregnant;” Tian uses his untrusty knife to shatter and rip apart much of his wife’s apartment, in the process of which confirming our protagonist’s worse fears for a relative she had allowed herself to see as a cosmic coincidence; before that, the Master (as he’s sometimes inaccurately called) tries his hand again with the one he shouldn’t be annoying, and soon her dagger is posed to drain his jugular vein (recalling Gerbier [a flat-footed dullard to her far from defenceless butterfly] killing the German guard in Army of Shadows); he has the couth, and the concern for his army, to let her leave the building without trouble. Someone else who decides that Yinniang should not be crossed is her aunt and coach, for better or worse. After uncoupling from the Yang-binge of the family divine, the protagonist with much to consider is briefly intercepted by what some might be tempted to call the princess-nun’s insulted pride.(She had imparted to her charge a virtual anti-Confucian universe of distemper, on lines like, “The way of the sword is beyond sentiments;” “Your skill is matchless. But your mind is hostage to human sentiments;” “You should have killed the one he loved first, and then killed him;” “I want you to kill him like killing a bird in flight” [this latter screed being a self-exposure as too gutless for real motion].) She races up to the girl and lands some far from telling blows with a snow-white flagellate, an instrument no doubt in frequent use during the formative years, and something our now-free-agent will not see again. Yinniang spins around quickly and uses her curvy knife to smack the enemy away. In our scrutiny of what such new independence means, we go from the no-longer princely steadiness of eye and posture in the “reverend” and back to where the scene began, with her perched on an outcropping within a series of distinctly vital forested peaks—a strange, open-air and spaciousness-pronounced confessional in relation to which the protagonist kneels at a lower position, as if admitting to breaking some rules, but no longer in effect. Melville’s Barny, in the film, Leon Morin, Priest, goes from that high and mighty standpoint and fraud to a life of always being off-kilter. Does this sound like the much earlier ruralist whom we’ve been considering in her remarkable, black butterfly-like, barely substantial and yet earthy enough motion? The child at the outset asked, regarding another (white) butterfly, “Where is it going? Where is it going?” The koto motif from the early days when she was welcome at Lord Tian’s palace (ending there in a confluence with a garden of white peonies) returns to exude a sense of both harshness and delight. As she approaches the family farm amidst withered autumnal fields set within a basin of mountains hazy in a low-hanging mist, she is greeted (Flatty-style) by the banished, ageing adolescent, who calls out to her and her gaggle of relatives sitting in the yard with their ducks, “She said she’d come back! She’s trustworthy!” As she accompanies the disgraced politician, a jaunty folk composition on bagpipes begins. They disappear into a valley overseen by range after range of misty, forbidding heights.
The film begins with the terrorists punishing some brutal behavior. Two donkeys stand near their ambush point. Close to a jackass no more, Yinniang has a retainer of sorts on a barnyard rich in goats. Unlike a Spaghetti Western, her fading out toward the horizon is not a matter of relishing adventurism. The rewards of our protagonist’s resolve beyond that “sport” which Jean-Francois took to be an ultimate in Melville’s Army of Shadows, would have to do with a polyphonic update of Yin and Yang. After bringing home safely that lost patrol that was her family, and sitting in their dark, grotty and smokey thatched-roof cabin wondering what the hell to do with these unsatisfactory loved-ones, there is a cut to the palace where a close to sublime dance party is flying. In Army of Shadows the gloom-ridden protagonist ran into a scene of that persuasion, a joy division he could never have tolerated, let alone cherished for its topspin of devil-may-care rocketing. Certainly the Lady and even the sluggish Lord evince here a robust taste for celebration amidst whirling dancers and their treasured silks. The monarchs hold themselves tall and pledge in motions their love of life and its magnificence and even, for the nonce, each other. As things go forward Yinniang does rise to occasions on that order (the glories of the earth and sky, and earthy products catch fire). Her immediate confidants most definitely do not. Necessary luxury, necessary partying, necessary kinetic, loving largesse comprise a lesson her previous teacher would not be qualified to introduce. Yinniang and the film as such startle us with this area of usually missing and crushingly abused splendor.