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'I Live in Jiang Hu'

During a recent visit to Los Angeles, Zhang Yimou discussed his two recent forays into the 700-year-old Chinese action genre known as wuxia (woo-shah) or "martial chivalry."

L.A. WEEKLY: Your first wuxia movie, Hero, was seen as an apology for authoritarian rule. The target of assassination in the film, the Qin Emperor (221�207 BC), created a nation and an era of peace by conquering a number of small states that had been constantly at war. But he�s also one of Chinese history�s most bloodthirsty tyrants.

ZHANG YIMOU: We were telling a familiar historical tale, about an assassin [Jet Li] who failed in his mission. We decided it would be more interesting if he succeeded but at the last minute changed his mind. What could make him do that? Well, the assassin thinks he is sacrificing himself for peace and for the future. China at that point had been in turmoil for 600 years. It�s important to realize that Hero takes place 20 years before the Qin Emperor became the tyrant that people know about today.

You have moved in Flying Daggers into this mythical realm called jiang hu ["rivers-and-lakes"], where all wuxia stories seem to take place.

Jiang hu is the world of the swordsmen, but it�s not an actual place. All you need is one swordsman; as soon as he stands in front of the camera, he is surrounded by jiang hu. We have a saying in China: "There�s nothing I can do, I live in jiang hu." If you live in there, sooner or later you�re going to get slashed.

Flying Daggers seems different from older wuxia films in that there�s no real conflict between duty and personal feeling, which used to be a key issue. The characters here choose passion over duty every time.

If you remember Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there is a younger couple and an older couple. The younger couple has no hesitation in their choice, while the older couple has a conflict: They have to think about the rules of the jiang hu, so they can�t do what they really want. Our story is from the point of view of the younger characters who say, "What jiang hu? Why should I pay attention to that?" Flying Daggers is a reflection of a younger generation�s attitude. They do what suits them best.