Sean Gilman’s review published on Letterboxd:
Rewatch confirms that what i thought was the plot the first time around actually is the plot. Only thing that isn't more or less explicitly stated is the identity of the masked woman. Hou explains in this interview in Film Comment:
"The character’s name is Jing Jing’er. She and Kong Kong’er, the wizard with the white beard, were kung fu masters in the original story. But Jing and the wife were two different characters in the story. In the film, I wanted to show the fact that the Yuan family married their daughter to the Tian family in order to seize power in Weibo, so the wife was actually a matchless assassin too. Only when something happened, when she felt any threat, she would put on her mask and become an assassin. So in the film, the wife is the lady assassin. Actually, Tian knew about this, too—just nobody talked about it."
He also says this in response to the suggestion that audiences don't quite get the story:
"That’s normal, and it can’t be helped. Hollywood-style films are popular all around the world nowadays, and they need a strict story structure. If the story is not told that way, not continuous enough, the audience will have difficulty following along. But that’s only one of the many ways of telling a story: there are hugely different ways of filmmaking in world cinema. Only because of the huge impact of Hollywood, young people want to imitate that style. Actually, almost all filmmakers want to imitate the style of Hollywood. But I don’t see it that way. A good film is when you continue your imagination [of it] after seeing it."