22. Hero (2002)
Acclaimed director Zhang Yimou's influential wuxia is period martial arts on the immense scale of an Akira Kurosawa epic. It focuses on only a half-dozen characters -- the nameless protagonist (Jet Li), three legendary rebel assassins (Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Donnie Yen), a student (Zhang Ziyi), and the king they're all plotting to kill (Chen Daoming) -- but it mostly takes place in a massive palace, surrounded by hundreds of armored guards ready to fire arrows like a cloud of locusts.
Between cinematographer Christopher Doyle's stunning imagery and the superb sound design it's an unusually sensual approach to martial arts, fetishizing the sights and sounds of vibrating blades and arrows, swords cutting through raindrops and hair, whirling clouds of leaves flying in the wake of a spinning kick. Choreographer Ching Siu-tung's elegant fights, a parallel to music and calligraphy, are heavy on sword techniques and aren't afraid to use wires for superhuman leaps and balance. A particularly magical scene has Li and Leung floating above a lake, occasionally cutting the surface with their toes, their palms, their blades. Hero has been accused of being propaganda, because it seems to glorify Jet Li's character for accepting a dictator's logic (which may be the result of an iffy English translation). But on a technical level, Hero is a filmmaking triumph, virtually unmatched in scope and beauty.