Was out looking at computers & ended up buying and watching House of Flying Daggers. Strange movie, at the same time less obnoxiously political than Zhang Yimou's Hero, and much less well-put-together. Eyelines are crossed, fights are botched, actors aren't quite on their marks, etc. Technically weaker, and less polished. It still has moments of that unearthly painterly composition which made Hero so monstrously watchable, but the connective tissue is weak. The beginning, especially, is very stagy, mannerly in an old-fashioned way, like an old 40s Olivier film production. Then you hit the musical dance number, and suddenly it comes together for one of those set-pieces which make this sort of modern wuxia worth watching.
I think part of the problem might have been Yimou acting as his own cinematographer, to judge from that part of the making-of featurette I was able to stay awake through. There was a cinematographer listed, but his other work as one prior to this movie was on non-action titles, and it isn't the same guy who did Hero, who was an old gwailo pro named Doyle with a list of credits longer than my arm.