(2004)4Skyler MillerZhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers bursts with energy in nearly every frame, inviting the type of hyperbole usually associated with Hollywood ad blurbs: "Pulse-pounding!," "Breathtaking!," "Heart-stopping!" Yet the brilliant imagery lives up to such over-the-top language, accurately describing the visceral nature of this visually stimulating work. Scenes like the colorful "echo game" exist solely to amaze our senses, and the battle in the bamboo forest stands as one of the most sublime fight scenes in recent memory. Although firmly within the realm of fantasy, the "wuxia" action has a surprisingly brutal quality, setting it apart from other recent mainstream entries in the genre. Beyond the violence and pageantry, though, House of Flying Daggers also succeeds with some tastefully erotic romance scenes, helping to warm up the otherwise distant characters. But unlike Zhang's Hero, a true model of lean storytelling, House of Flying Daggers drags in the third act by introducing what amounts to an entirely new relationship dynamic. The movie loses momentum once Jin and Mei reach their supposed destination, and ends with a final confrontation between three characters that's handled with muddled choreography and an uncharacteristically poor sense of space. In the end, the plot is too superficially complex for its own good, creating setups and characters it doesn't fully develop. But to criticize script shortcomings in a movie this hypnotically beautiful almost seems cruel. House of Flying Daggers is disappointing only in the sense that it falls short of being a masterpiece.