Whoof. I’m not sure what I walked into the theater expecting. A martial-arts movie with above-average production values, most likely. Certainly not what I got, right between the eyes: an epic tragedy with larger-than-life characters, sacrifices, and visuals.

The word that kept coming into my head as I watched was “beautiful”. Beautiful sets. Beautiful costumes. Beautiful actors. Beautiful movement. Beautiful music. Beautiful cinematography.

There is nothing about this movie that is not a feast for the senses, but its use of color, so central to the way the story is told that it’s almost a character in its own right, deserves special mention. Most movies could be desaturated down to black and white without much loss of substance, but not this one. You’d do less damage — although, admittedly, not much — completely muting the soundtrack instead.

Is it a perfect movie? No. It bogs down a bit in seeming repetition toward the end. (Or, as Paul said afterward, “Waitaminute, didn’t we kill these guys four times already?”) Also, it’s at least as Wuxia as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with which it will inevitably be compared, so if the sight of two master swordsmen engaging in a duel while they skip like stones across the surface of a lake causes you suspension-of-disbelief problems, this is probably not the movie for you. Lastly, it’s subtitled, but if that’s a problem for you, you need to see a doctor. Philistine.

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