Zhang Yimou

Zhang Ziyi bathing in House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Zhang Ziyi bathing in House of Flying Daggers (2004)

  • Born:  1951
  • Rank:  50
  • Score:  573.45
  • Awards:  BSFC / NSFC
  • Feature Films:  14
  • Best:  House of Flying Daggers
  • Worst:  Not One Less

Top 5 Films:

  1. House of Flying Daggers – 2004
  2. Hero – 2002
  3. Raise the Red Lantern – 1991
  4. Shanghai Triad – 1995
  5. Ju Dou – 1990

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1992 – 4th – Raise the Red Lantern
  • 2004 – 3rd – House of Flying Daggers
  • 2004 – 6th – Hero

His films have always been filled with amazing colors.  When Technicolor packed up its bags in the U.S. decades ago and the process of how film is made color changed, they sent a lot of their equipment to China and one man who has benifited enormously from that technology is Zhang Yimou.  All of his films are filled with vibrant color.  They have gorgeous costumes and sumptuous art direction.  They are always glorious to look at.

Of course, there is more to Yimou than that.  He wasn’t originally on my list when I first made it back in 2003, but the next year, just as Hero was finally arriving in U.S. theaters and House of Flying Daggers was being talked about, I saw both Raise the Red Lantern and Shanghai Triad (in my never ending quest to see all the Oscar nominees).  I had already seen The Road Home, because after Crouching Tiger, it was the only thing to be found with Zhang Ziyi in it.  And I knew that he had to be added to the list.  He has actually not faired particularly well with the Academy in spite of his talent.  His first film, Red Sorghum was submitted for Foreign Film but not nominated (I rank it 4th among Foreign films that year).  Ju Dou was not submitted (I rank it 5th).  Raise the Red Lantern was nominated but last to the vastly inferior Mediterraneo (I give it my Nighthawk Award).  Shanghai Triad was not submitted (though it got a Cinematography nomination), even though it was better than all the nominated films.  Hero lost to Nowhere in Africa (a great film, but not as great as Hero), when the only foreign films better that year were Talk to Her (not submitted) and City of God (submitted but inexplicably not nominated).  Then House of Flying Daggers was not nominated in spite of rave reviews (it was the 2nd best Foreign film of the year and like the best – A Very Long Engagement – nominated for Cinematography).  Even Curse of the Golden Flower was submitted, but only ended up with a Costume Design nomination.  Perhaps with his remake of Blood Simple, one of the great non-nominated films of all-time, Yimou will finally get some real Academy recognition.

House of Flying Daggers – #5 film of 2004

In a film filled with amazing visual moments, there is one near the end that transcends the idea of the film and moves into poetry itself.  Two men battle, with swords, with knives, with fists, they battle against each other in a fight that is about love, hate, jealousy and about fighting itself.  And as we watch them, the seasons begin to change.  Time doesn’t stand still for this fight.  Indeed, this fight has become so epic that it transcends time, sleep, pain, fatigue and the world changes around them and they still fight.  And suddenly what was a field in the middle of spring has become a snowstorm and still they fight.

The snow will become a perfect part of the Technicolor that marks all of Yimou’s films.  At one point we think we see a knife but what we see is blood, a dark red vivid on screen contrasted against the white snow.  And suddenly this fight has become very different and still the snow rages on, because the world will not stop for them.

This fight takes place at the end of House of Flying Daggers.  To many film fans, it seemed an odd choice for Yimou, who was more known for costume dramas with Gong Li involving sex and relationships, and yet, here he was with a kind of epic follow up in the Crouching Tiger style.  But in between he had made Hero, the same kind of film which get held up for two years before it was finally released, and later it was followed by Curse of the Golden Flower, in kind of an epic trilogy.

The story itself is very simple.  A policeman thinks a blind girl can lead him to a gang of criminals, so he tricks her into thinking he is helping her and they escape into the wilderness and travel to find her gang.  But there is so much more than that.  At the start, we have an amazing game of sound as the blind girl must follow the echo of a pebble.  Then during the journey, we have the love starting to blossom between them and the tender moment where the girl bathes in a pond filled with leaves.  Then they are followed and attacked and we have an amazing moment that defies the laws of physics as four arrows are fired and yet all land at the same time.

All of this is even before we get to the bamboo grove where the gang is hiding and we have one of the most amazing fights ever put on screen, a moment completely worthy of the legacy of Crouching Tiger.  And this is still before we get to the epic fight in the elements.

House is an argument for the continual re-release of films.  For while DVD can capture the color and the sound, there is nothing like seeing all of these images up on the screen, twenty feet high and dozens of feet wide, where you can immerse yourself in the color and the sound and the beauty of film itself.