Romantic action adventure Flying Daggers hits western screens hot on the heels of director Zhang Yimou's first martial arts drama Hero. Brimming with impressive choreography and Yimou's visual style, Daggers is yet another sensory feast. But so much richness leaves you not so much wanting more as wishing you'd had a little less. To be sure, there are some beautiful scenes – horseback flower-picking, an amazing dance in a brothel and a breathtaking battle in a bamboo forest to name but three. And when the daggers fly you fly with them, special effects blending seamlessly to thrilling effect. Bravura stuff. Not so the romantic scenes, though, which become repetitive, overblown and tend to drag. There's certainly more action – of a naturalistic and increasingly bloody kind – than in Hero and it's brilliantly done. And there are plenty of touches to please the art-house crowd – symmetries, contrasts, sound and music weaving like flying daggers. While the plot may be slight it holds some neat twists up its flowing sleeves.
The star of the piece, though, has to be young Zhang Ziyi, a developing actress who handles the choreography like a natural - which indeed she is, having trained as a dancer. Little wonder she's become something of a muse to Yimou (Hero, The Road Home). Less well-used is Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau ( Infernal Affairs, God of Gamblers), although Taiwanese-born Takeshi Kaneshiro ( Chungking Express) impresses as the action hero who gets in too deep.
House of Flying Daggers is an intelligent, visual tonic and a contender for best foreign language Oscar. In these days of noisy action and fast-editing it's great to know there are directors like Yimou who can create moving pictures in every sense of the phrase. But less is more and the tempo may be a bit too uneven for some. Daggers is at its best when it's flying.