House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Zhang Yimou, China
While Hero may be the most critically lauded and technically impressive of Zhang Yimou's trio of wuxia films, House of Flying Daggers has always been my favourite of the three. There's just a 'classic' feel to the film that leans closer to Zhang's usual work. Everything from the periodic stagnant camera movement, the rawness of the fight scenes (the last one, in particular) and even the focus on only a few primary characters (unlike Hero or Curse of the Golden Flower). Zhang Yimou has always been a master at demonstrating self-control and patience as a filmmaker, and despite the intensity of the fictional content at hand, he manages to take a surprisingly tempered approach with Daggers. It's not that he was completely flashy with the other two films, but there was a sense of excessiveness there that just wasn't an issue with House of Flying Daggers. The fact that the script was re-written after the passing of Anita Mui (who was originally cast in the movie, but unfortunately passed away before filming started) was a really nice touch. I obviously don't know Zhang Yimou personally, but for whatever reason, he always seemed like a standup human being to me and this gesture felt in keeping with that. There was also a dedication to Anita Mui during the closing credits, and if you've read my previous article on cinematic eulogies, you won't be surprised to hear that this got two big thumbs up from me. It's also hard to single out a performance here, because Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro were all completely on point. And having Kathleen Battle sing the closing credits song in English? Nice.