****/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang, Song Dandan
screenplay by Li Feng & Zhang Yimou & Wang Bin
directed by Zhang Yimou
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. For the dozen or so eye-bleedingly beautiful sequences in Zhang Yimou's new wuxia pian, the encapsulating image is that of the incandescent Ziyi Zhang prostrate beneath a would-be paramour, her delicate, ivory hand pressed against his lips in an eloquently ineffective ward. It's a tableau introduced in a more overt attempted rape in a brothel and revisited in a stream where a quartet of thugs nearly succeed in literally/metaphorically piercing Ziyi with their long spears. House of Flying Daggers (its title in Chinese the loaded "Ambush from Ten Directions"--essentially an ambush from everywhere) is at its essence an allegory for rape and the Chinese tradition of concubinage that Zhang has already explored to varying degrees in Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, Shanghai Triad, and, of course, Red Sorghum, in which a young woman played by Gong Li (Ziyi's predecessor as Zhang's muse) is saved from rape by a young man with whom she later runs a winery. But the conceit of a young woman teaming with her knight in shining armour is complicated in House of Flying Daggers by the fact that she is more than capable of taking care of herself, except, fascinatingly, when the attacks against her are sexualized.