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 rather subdued crime drama. I really liked this film when I first watched it, I think I've seen this done better since. It's certainly not a bad one, with proper intrigue and sporting a very nice setting, but somehow it lacks Zhang's visual flourish, which left me a little disappointed.
Shuisheng is a young boy who is brought to Shanghai by his uncle. He works for Tang, an important gang boss. Shuisheng is given to Tang's mistress, who he needs to tend to. From the shadows, Shuisheng observes the lives of the wealthy, but he'll soon find out that this lifestyle comes with its own perils.
Gong Li is strong, as is the rest of the cast. I liked the inclusion of more prominent genre elements, and the mix of drama and crime works very well. I just remembered a more visually elaborate film. Maybe it was the restoration work that took away from the colors, but I was a little underwhelmed. A very good film, just not a personal favorite anymore.
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.
Worthy but flawed
A surprisingly poor Yimou Zhang effort. Together with his daughter he takes on this rather generic war flick (and yes, it is about snipers). It's a new low in China patriotic cinema assault, with ridiculous bad guys (Westerners), heroic Chinese fellas and a very predictable outcome, highlighting the endless bravery and perseverance of the Chinese soldiers.
The film revolves around a single stand-off between two groups of soldiers during the Korean War. The Chinese are helping out the Koreans fight off the Western invaders, though the film focuses on a very minor conflict where two groups are trying to get their hands on some vital intel. The scope is really very limited, unlike other recent efforts.
The film looks rather cheap, the performances range from plain to ridiculous and the patriotic elements push away everything else. I think China has really reached American-level patriotism with this film, which is a sad landmark. It's hard to enjoy the little tension there is, which is a real shame if you consider what someone like Yimou Zhang is truly capable of.