The narrator tells us that mastery of the sword is connected to mastery of calligraphy. This movie shows that mastery of film-making is as well. The elegant precision of the ravishing images gives each scene a timeless beauty.
“The ultimate ideal is for a warrior to lay down his sword,” but of course we don’t want that to happen until after the movie is over and this movie delivers with a succession of fights as exquisitely lovely as they are thrilling.
The hero (Jet Li) is known only as “Nameless.” His family was killed before he could remember and so “with no family name to live up to,” he studied the sword. As the story begins, in the third century, a king is attempting to unite warring states into what will become China. Nameless approaches the king’s palace with important news. He has defeated the three legendary assassins who posed such a threat that no one has been allowed to come within 100 paces of the king.
Nameless’ triumphs have won him the right to come closer. The king orders Nameless to tell the story of his battles with Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung).
We see each of the confrontations, breathtaking for the artistry of the swordsmanship and for the artistry of the film-makers, who make stunning use of color, motion, and image. Each shot is vitally present and eternal all at once. Bright yellow leaves swirl around one pair of combatants dressed in scarlet. Another fight is all in shades of pale green, with huge silk sheets shimmering and collapsing around the scene of battle. In another, an avalanche of arrows sail through the sky. Droplets of water are suspended in air as a warrior pushes through.
But director Yimou Zhang is not just a master of poetic images; he is a master of storytelling as well. Nameless is part warrior, part Sheherezade. The wily king knows that Nameless may not be telling him the truth, and so we see the battles again as his questions force Nameless to reveal more about what really happened. The stories require as much thoughtful contemplation as the twenty different calligraphic depictions for “sword.”
Parents should know that the movie has constant violence, though most of it is bloodless. There are sexual references and a sexual situation.
The movie tells us that people give their lives or kill for friendship, love, or an ideal. Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters decided when it was appropriate to risk their lives or take the lives of others. Why are martial arts like music? Why is handling the sword like calligraphy?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.