Even though it was one of the first, Hero remains one of the best epic wire-fu films ever produced.
The good stuff
A true master of color, Yimou Zhang surprises with this near black and white martial arts drama. It's amazing what he accomplishes with almost no colors to work with, Shadow is a true feast for the eyes. The story is amusing, the action spectacular, but this is above all a visual marvel like only Zhang can make them.
Not quite as majestic as Zhang's Hero, but still an overwhelmingly beautiful martial arts drama with a few memorable scenes. The drum dance and the bamboo forest fight are amongst the best the genre has on offer. And apart from some sketchy CG near the end, it hasn't aged a bit.
The Flowers Of War borders on sentimentality and poses as a very epic endeavor. It's Zhang's magnificent direction that erases any major critiques, turning the film into a proper epic spectacle.
Yimou Zhang takes his short from Chacun son Cinéma and turns it into a full-length feature. One Second is an ode to the cinema (experience) of yonder, mixed with some textbook political critique. The latter got him into quite some trouble, I couldn't help but wonder why he even bothered to include it though.
A man escapes from a detention camp after he receives a letter stating that his daughter is featured in a newsreel. He travels to the closest village that's about to show the film reel, but an orphan girl has other plans for the celluloid. She desperately wants it to create a lamp shade for her brother.
One Second harks back to Zhang's early rural dramas, though the focus lies more on comedy and the communal feeling of an entire village coming together to watch a film. The cinematography is polished, performances are decent, and the peculiar ending is interesting, but this isn't really Zhang at his best.
Yimou Zhang's latest is a typical spy thriller set in the snow-covered China of the '30s. Not a genre that is often tackled in Chinese cinema, but it's prevalent in the US and UK and Zhang doesn't really add a lot of flavor of his own. It's certainly not a bad attempt, it's just not a very notable film.
Four Chinese secret agents are sent on a mission to Manchukuo. When they arrive there, they discover there's a mole in their midst. Between completing their mission and trying to figure out who is selling them out, the four have a tough time staying alive, as everyone seems to be on their tail.
The cinematography is nice, though not up to Zhang's usual standard. The plot and acting are decent enough too, but the film's a bit slow. There's really no reason why this couldn't have been finished 30 minutes sooner, even so Zhang draws it out to hit the two-hour mark. If you love a good spy thriller though, this film has you covered.