Zhang Yimou is a hack


Zhang Yimou is a hack.

It’s sad to say, and I didn’t want to believe it (even after watching Hero — earlier thoughts here), but I’ve little doubt left after watching House of Flying Daggers, a movie of very little substance trying to get by on style alone*. Hero managed to just get over that hump; its story, despite being paper-thin, at least drove to a point (discussions of the distressing political message aside).

House, however, is a messy, bloated thing with nothing to say and no idea how to hide that fact. It’s filled with unconvincing plot turns and offers no emotional connection to any of the paper cutout characters (just one of the things that happens when you put Andy Lau in a film. He’s way outgrown his value as eye candy, although Takeshi Kaneshiro does his best to make up for that). As far as looks go, it’s not even top of Zhang’s own heap, and I like bamboo forest fight scenes as much as the next gal, but how many have we seen just in the five years since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

Can I just say that I can’t understand our country’s love affair with Zhang Ziyi? She’s good at two things: looking sullen and looking emotionless, and somehow this makes her China’s hottest actress?

But I digress!

I suppose Zhang (Yimou) has always been hit-and-miss as far as characterization goes. I had lots of problems with Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern because of a lack of sympathetic characters, but I could appreciate them as art pieces. But now, I just get the feeling he’s given up trying.

Also, the movie seems over-long at 119 minutes. Doesn’t seem promising for that oft-rumored extended cut of Hero that people have been drooling over**.

* usually lots of style, thanks to cinematographer Christopher Doyle (also a Wong Kar-Wai collaborator). But he’s not involved with House.
** there’s a “director’s cut” DVD floating around from Guangdong Face (the Chinese company that also released the original Chinese DVD) which is something of a farce — in reality only a few minutes longer and nothing of substance added. For that you get the bonus of terrible video quality!

  • Oh, and I totally forgot to mention The Road Home! What a terrible movie (and also with Zhang Ziyi)!

  • hey yukino, welcome back. I totally agree with your thoughts here. I loved Raise the Red Lantern... but these new flicks are "pretty" at best.

  • I think we may be looking for different things in our Wes Anderson movies, really. I find his films to be about the longing for the closeness of family contrasted against the forces (internal and external, absurd and otherwise) that conspire to prevent or take it away, and I actually found that aspect to be more poignant in Zissou. I think Tenenbaums (which I do still adore) got a little too wrapped up both the negative parts of that search, as well as its own stylishness. Zissou, despite all of the whimsy, hit more dimensions for me (and manages to be a lot more optimistic).

    I guess I'd probably call it a "poignant exploration of family and failure, with small basic revenge side-stories." :)

  • I think I must disagree to some extent. Hero had about the same amount of plot as the Life Aquatic, basic revenge with small interpersonal side-stories. Certainly, the superior Emperor and the Assassin told the story of Chinese unification better.

    I found the Life Aquatic to be a bunch of small jokes strung together and never really felt the larger absurdity present in Rushmore or the Royal Tenenbaums.

    I do agree that House is a lavish spectacle movie with not much else going for it, but maybe we are expecting too much. One can hope that Zhang gets past wire-fu (oh so 90's) and CGI to telling stories again soon.

  • I couldn't agree more. Why did everyone go so crazy over those movies? I actually like Flying Daggers a little more than Hero, but both basically lacked characters and plot.

  • Seriously. The guy could use an editor to cut at least 30 minutes out of the film. It almost seems like he's gotten out of control ever since he got access to real money & technology.

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