This is not the comedy with Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia and Geena Davis.
This is the Chinese martial arts film that's similar in tone and style to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (so I'm told.) I got called at the last minute to go see it with Scoo, Mo, Amy and Bruce.
I've heard of Jet Li and have been interested in seeing some of his films, but this is the first I've actually seen.
The movie starts off with the main character arriving at the palace of the leader of the Qin* province. Much like in other oriental (why are the Politically Correct so upset with that term? It's a valid english word, and in no way derogatory) royalty settings, there are baroque and strict rules of conduct in front of the ruler. In this case, he's told that he must stay 100 paces from the emperor, or he'll be killed immediately. That ends up being a plot device later in the movie.
We learn that there are very capable assasins after the emperor, necessitating precautions like the decorative drapes being removed from the great hall, to cut down on hiding places. The main character is given this audience because he is there to report that he has killed the three main assasins, named Sky, Broken Sword and Snow. He presents their weapons as proof of his deeds. The emperor orders him to tell how he defeated them.
Sort of like the movie Basic, this movie tells multiple versions of the same tale. Unlike that earlier movie, this one is easy to follow. Partly because there are simply fewer characters. But also because it's just a cleaner story. There's no convoluted web of allegiances. You have a few great warriors, some vengance seeking, and pretty much everyone trying to act honorably as they see it.
I think Broken Sword had at least six death scenes.
Another interesting technique they used in the telling of the stories is they totally changed the color palette for each one. Everyone wore red in one instance and green in another and white in a third.
The fight scenes were, of course, very stylized. Lots of very good fast swordplay. But also a lot of wire work. Big leaps, lots of spinning, running turning into a posed slide. Some impossible performances, like jumping onto the roof of the building and fending off hundreds of arrows, dozens at a time. It really worked well in setting a tone. Also, they made interesting use of ambient textures.
For example, in one fight scene, Snow is fighting Broken Sword's protege Moon (she's way cute.) They're spinning and spinning to execute their parries, and they're kicking up a whirlwind of yellow leaves. That was clearly CG work, just about the only time it stood out.
In another fight, they had very tall diaphanous drapes in the great hall that they let fall. Those were a practical effect, and they made a very pretty pattern as they fell.
There were a few plot twists, but nothing outrageous. They made sense and made for a very solid story. In each version of the tale, the motives of the characters were clear without being childishly so.
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Matinee. Very Chinese martial arts film. Very pretty. Very stylized. Good story.
* Qin is prounounced "ching" even though it doesn't look like it's spelled that way. Because the chinese language is tonal, they had to come up with rules on how to translate tonal syllables into alphabetic letters or letter sequences. That's why most pronunciation of chinese words doesn't look correct to us.
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