An Art Piece

Main Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Zhang

Director: Zhang Yimou

This is a hard movie to review because I feel it really isn’t a movie, per se. It is a series of artistically structured pictures put together in scenes. Does that sound like a movie? Sure. But there are differences between this and a “real” film that are hard to convey with words. The story: In ancient China, a nameless warrior (Li) comes forward to the Emperor with news that he has killed three assassins that had previously attempted to kill the Emperor. Through flashbacks the warrior details his meetings with the assassins and how he defeated them. The Emperor listens and rewards the warrior, but further conversations reveal that things aren’t so cut and dried.

I don’t want to give things away, of course, so I’ll go into the richness of the world. This is a beautiful thing to see. The scenes are carefully designed and planned, with many scenes where the actors actually seem to dance and position themselves perfectly on the camera. The feel of the movie is dreamy and definitely over the top: the warriors, both male and female, simply can’t do the things they do in real life. And this is no Matrix: no way to explain, nor does the director try. And I agree: in this structure, he has no reason to do so.

There is also a very subtle undercurrent of “justification” of China’s past (and present) politics. The hard, very hawkish “might makes right” of their dealings with outsiders and with their own people is defended in this movie. You only have to look at the fate of the hero Li to see what the movie wants you to believe and to take away. I can recommend this to view a beautiful series of set pieces and charismatic people, but otherwise I don’t think this is a good movie. It belongs in an art museum, not a theater.

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