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