Zhang Yimou, the director of such Chinese epics as RED SORGHUM, RAISE THE RED LANTERN, JU DOU, and SHANGHAI TRIAD, takes his first stab at a period martial arts film and succeeds wildly, making an intelligent, carefully crafted drama that pays tribute to the genre while taking it to another level. The story is set 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Warring States, when seven kingdoms were battling for dominance, and one leader--the king of Qin (Chen Dao Ming)--was determined to end up victorious and unite all of China as one nation. The proud king is forced to live trapped alone in his palace as a remarkable trio of villains--Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), and Sky (Donnie Yen)--are out to kill him. But one day a simple country prefect (Jet Li) shows up, announcing that he has killed all three assassins. Identifying himself as Nameless, the prefect tells in great detail how he got rid of the king's sworn enemies. However, once Nameless is finished, the king has some interesting questions for him, pointing out holes in his tale. The cat-and-mouse story continues as Nameless and the king seek to find out the truth about the assassins and the future of China. Zhang Yimou's marvelous film is enhanced by Christopher Doyle's lush photography, Tan Dunn's percussive score (with Itzhak Perlman adding violin and fiddle), exciting special effects from SHAOLIN SOCCER veteran Tony Ching Siu-Tung, and excellent acting.
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