Friday, Dec. 17, 2004

Hero and House of Flying Daggers

A decade ago, Zhang Yimou was renowned for political parables set in the early 20th century and starring his muse-mistress Gong Li. Now he's Mr. Martial Arts, the creator of two worldwide hits that are also lessons in sumptuous storytelling, and with a magical new leading lady, Zhang Ziyi. In Hero she joins a starry cast (Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) that lends glamour and gravity to a Rashomon-like fable of action and passion among would-be assassins of China's first emperor. The fight scenes are thrilling, the color design ravishing. And when Cheung and Leung, the warrior-lovers, finally settle their scores, viewers see one of the most startling, poignant farewells in film history. The slighter, lighter Flying Daggers has three duplicitous charmers (Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) spinning, soaring and sword-playing in an autumnal forest. Though the action scenes in both these films have sensational verve, the more enticing battles are of the heart. A glance, a smile, a tear can cut deeper than any saber.