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I have never, ever seen a film that the West has ever created that can
top Chinese cinema in this form, with the exception possibly being Lord
of the Rings. I truly applaud Oriental taste. I can't count the number
of times I have completely forgotten that I've actually got my own
physical form while watching films like House of Flying Daggers, but I
can count how many times that's happened during Western films: zero.
For those of you who have no taste I beg you: but aside your views on gravity-defying fight scenes and subtitles. Just remember that this is something called FANTASY. It isn't real, no matter how much you wish it to be. It's called cinema: you can do whatever the hell you like in film. I don't complain when you've got aliens that spurt out your chest. I don't complain when the dead rise from their graves. I don't complain about the lack of reason behind the ideas that aliens would have less intelligence than humans or that the living dead would harbour grudges against the really living. I complain when it just looks simply uninspiring and frankly visually boring.
So, Zhang Yimou, please bring on more heroes and flying daggers
Zhang Yimou set a new benchmark for martial arts movies with Hero.
Visually both inventive and dazzling, whilst having a strong thematic
thread, it still managed to kick ass, with energetic fight sequences.
He continues in the same vein with House of Flying Daggers, with love
and romance replacing Hero's chivalry and honour. It is at times as
blisteringly exciting and exquisite to view, but there are a few
Set in a similar time to Hero, the plot revolves around the mysterious House of Flying Daggers, a group of assassins leading a rebellion of sorts, against the rulers of their land. News has reached the local military captain Leo (Andy Lau) that the leader of the House can be found plying their trade in the local brothel. Sensing that this could be the key to ending their resistance he sends one of his men, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), to infiltrate the establishment posing as a customer. This soon leads him to the beautiful blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi), who may just be the daughter of the assassinated former leader of the House. What follows is his journey with edit her, through forests and meadows, as he vies to gain her trust, all the while intent on leading the army to their destination in an attempt to discover the leader of the House.
The plot is actually far more complicated than my short synopsis could come close to. We are treated to a twisty turny adventure, punctuated with set pieces of (excuse the tired terminology) balletic grace. Yimou sets a number of scenes within symmetrically perfect backgrounds, the picture set up like a work of art. We find ourselves in a dance hall encircled with drums, where the camera moves with a sense of fluidity, as though part of the dance, as we see Mei play a game of "echoes" with the Captain. Each time he hits a drum with a flicked nut, she follows, striking it with her flowing robes. The scene has a steady tempo, finally hitting a crescendo as the whole bowl is flung, nuts flying everywhere like missiles striking every drum. The sound of each strike reverberates like thunder.
For me the other set pieces never quite match the "echo" dance for majesty, rhythm or look. We get to see numerous showdowns between, with Mei and Jin taking on the soldiers that chase them, all the while with Jin trying to maintain his cover. The fights very much feel like a dance, and are filled with POV shots of arrows, sharpened bits of wood and of course flying daggers. I thought this camera trick felt overused, it looks good, but eventually started to feel tired as yet another dagger is seen boomeranging into action.
As events reach a climax, the plot gets pretty messy, as revelation after revelation is thrown about. In contrast to Hero's coda, where the action became about what's doing right for the good of the whole country, House of Flying Daggers has one of a more personal nature. It never quite rings true, there just isn't the emotion on display for this to work. The final act is somewhat botched, with a "it's over, no it isn't" feel to it, which caused a few "no ways" to be uttered in my vicinity. It is yet another gloriously shot scene, but we'd already seen some extraordinary moments. I felt it seemed to be reaching a more natural conclusion, and with a bit of editing a tighter last half hour would've made this a classic.
As it stands House of Flying Daggers is a fine movie, never quite as good as Hero, and probably behind Crouching Tiger too, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but it's far superior to most of the formulaic actioners Hollywood produces. Out of ten, I'd give it an eight.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One thing that people often overlook is how different the viewpoints of
westerners or non- Chinese and Chinese are when watching the same film.
Zhang's Hero was panned by a lot of Chinese film critics, and HOFD has
been the target of several withering attacks as well, by man on the
street as well as film critic.
There are some nuances to the film that only Chinese viewers can appreciate--such as the dialogue, which in translation might seem perfectly reasonable, but which makes Chinese people laugh. We've seen enough costume dramas and period pieces, and have good enough sense of our history, to know what is believable and what is not. The way they wrote the dialogue, which is literary Chinese, but not quite, came off just hokey, especially when coming out of the mouths of Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. It's not just their mandarin is not what we are used to, but perhaps because in our minds they are part of pop culture, and thus you get some of the Keanu reeves doing Shakespeare kind of effect. It just falls short.
And this is not to mention how unbelievable the love story is. I can't fathom why people consider this top-notch acting. The most popular actors are not necessarily the best actors--there are plenty of underrated Chinese character actors out there that could have burned a hole through any of these roles. Somehow, some people believe that just because set up the right premises--love, honor, loyalty, etc etc that will you automatically achieve something profound.
Chinese people love martial arts and wuxia novels to be sure, but many of the people I talked to found Zhang Ziyi's xiao mei character dying and then seemingly reviving to be just silly. I would argue that in a movie that is patently a "fantasy" movie of sorts that you have to be fair and suspend disbelief, and they do say that she never pulled out the dagger in her heart, which is why she could stay alive long enough to utter some more hokum.
I also agree with others that a final showdown between the House of Flying Daggers and the government police would have provided more of a sense of "closure" for the audience. I say this because whenever you have a premise like the end of a Chinese dynasty, outlaw groups attempting the overthrow of the government, you've got a great set up for a story, especially it is precisely the end of eras and beginning of new eras (dynasties) which capture the Chinese imagination. In the chaos of a crumbling order, men are men, both the best of heroes and worst of villains is likely to appear. The bonds that tie human beings together are strained, put through the crucible of a cruel death for being on the wrong side.
Which is why it would have been nice if this so called romance or love story could have embedded in the larger framework of a story of the battle between the mysterious House of Flying Daggers and the remnants of the tang Dynasty.
one more note: the whole spy, double double crossing thing is getting kind of old, considering infernal affairs and all the other new cop movies coming out of Hong Kong. I see that cinematic ally, there are always more CG effects to use, to bring us into the wuxia world...but intellectually, HOFD shows that these mainstream Chinese films have already pumped the well entirely dry.
After absolutely loving 'Hero', I couldn't wait for Zhang Yimou's
latest Wuxia Pien feature to arrive on DVD. After watching it, I'm
happy to say I wasn't disappointed, as it is another sumptuous,
stylistic feature, which deserves all the accolades it is likely to
The plot of the film is told in a more linear narrative when compared to that of 'Hero', but that is not to say it is any more straightforward. Set in the Tang Dynasty, the basic premise is nothing to write home about, featuring government officials on the trail of an underground rebel alliance 'The House of Flying Daggers'. However, there is enough characterisation and depth to hold your attention, while the (sometimes predictable) plot twists keep you guessing. Unfortunately, there is nothing entirely new about this story and it's probably familiar ground to fans of the wuxia genre. Nevertheless, it flows at a decent pace and is punctuated with enough stylistic action sequences that the 2-hour running time is quickly exhausted.
As with Yimou's impressive previous feature, Tony Ching Siu-tung takes over the action direction, producing another sterling performance. In my opinion, he is currently the top fight choreographer around after spending so many years being considered second fiddle to the likes of Yuen Wo-ping and Sammo Hung; he now deserves to be considered above them on his current output. In this instance, much of the overt stylisation evident in Hero is played down in favour of more grounded, natural martial artistry. There is still plenty of wire work and a spattering of CGI to aid the sequences, however, it is plain to see that much of the action displayed is a mix of genuine swordplay and actual technique. All the performers acquit themselves well considering none of them are formally trained in martial arts especially Zhang Ziyi who performs impressively from start to finish.
As you would expect from a Zhang Yimou film, the visuals are majestic, with primary colours and panoramic landscapes making up much of what we see. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to take to this artistic approach, and will label the film another case of style over substance. I would disagree, as I believe it contains plenty of both with a strong cast, interesting characters and high quality action to provide the foundation for the kind of bold, sumptuous visuals, which are rare to find in modern film.
Overall, I personally prefer 'Hero' but know of plenty who would disagree. As a result, I recommend it as a definite purchase to any fan of films from this genre.
There may be some unanswered questions at the end of the movie and yet I'd watch this film over and over again just to witness the use of costumes, the martial arts skill and how they blend to make a very palatable story. Those who are trashing this film do so senselessly. The films' lovebirds are throughly attractive but not at all bland and you root for them because they appear to belong together; they have a natural chemistry which can be difficult for two actors to have. As can be the case in Asian films, like the recent hit "Hero", the costumes and the use of color are important characters all by themselves. So many elements come together beautifully that what's also ironic is the that film could easily be a stage play. I enjoyed this immensely. Just awe-inspiring!
Shi Mian Mai Fu belongs to a growing body of work that embodies a
clearly Asian aesthetic packaged just as clearly for Western
consumption. It is no coincidence that, each time I paused the DVD for
whatever reason, the still image on the screen was as beautiful as any
classic wood block print by Hiroshige or Hokusai. Xiaoding Zhao's
elegant cinematography imbues every scene with haunting beauty. Think
Tak Fujimoto times ten, with no disrespect meant to Fujimoto, who
shoots Western movies and still manages to inject his refined visual
sense into such great films as Silence of the Lambs and Sixth Sense.
Director Yimou Zhang's work in Hero was more epic, more heroic, but SMMF has a more refined sense of story. The cast, the scenery, the music, including vocal performances by the legendary Kathleen Battle; all elements conspire brilliantly to convey subtle and nuanced meaning in moments. The story, as do all good stories of this genre, revolves around a delicate interplay of love, betrayal, deception and heroism of many different kinds, and, oh yes, those stunning ballets of combat layered with evocative sounds and effects.
In a nutshell, the plot goes something like this. A beautiful blind showgirl is captured as a spy. Her captors conspire to trick her into leading them to her leader. Along the way, both hunter and quarry become entangled in a web of subterfuge and deception. Add in a beautifully tragic romantic story line, again, as all such movies must have, and never forget that the essence of all truly great tragedy is inevitability.
This movie is also known as Ambush From Ten Sides, and in that more literal translation of its title you will find its essence. A worthy successor to Hero, though not as magnificent as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, in which Ziyi Zhang gives the performance of a lifetime and the one against all her other roles will be judged, and in this case, fall short, House of Flying Daggars is nevertheless a feast for the senses and a fully satisfying cinematic experience.
In the Ninth Century, the Tang Dinasty in China is weak and corrupt,
and an army of rebels called "The House of the Flying Daggers" fights
against the government military forces, and steals from the rich to
give to the poor people. Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro),
two captains of the government army, plot a scheme against the rebels
using the blind dancer Mei (Zhang Ziyi) to approach their leaders, but
their love for Mei leads them to a tragedy.
"Shi mian mai fu" is a beautiful romantic adventure, with amazing clothing, cinematography, colors, music score, fight and martial arts choreography and special effects. The story begins like an action movie, and ends like a tragic romance. Visually, it is an impressive masterpiece, the story is also very nice, Zhang Ziyi is amazingly gorgeous and I really liked this movie a lot. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "O Clã das Adagas Voadoras"("The Clan of the Flying Daggers")
From Yimou Zhang, the director of Jet Li's Hero and Raise the Red
Lantern, comes a spectacular tale about honor, and love.
House of Flying Daggers is the gripping, touching, and visually spectacular tale of two people, caught in a Romeo and Juliet story, and the nation at war they must fight together.
It is near the end of the Tang Dynasty era, and The Captain Jin (Kaneshiro) and Leo (Lau) tangle with Mei (Zhang), a dancer suspected of having ties to a revolutionary faction known as the House of Flying Daggers. Enraptured by her, the deputies concoct a plan to save her from capture, and Jin leads her north in what becomes a perilous journey into the unknown.
The dialogue, beautifully bright costumes, and landscapes will take you on a wonderful journey. A journey of dance, music, and beautiful words.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Beautiful and poetic, the first two-thirds of this film are
Murder, revenge, love, betrayal - these are all tired by-words that bounce off a potential movie-goers brain when we see them in advertisements. If that's your response too, this time I urge you to ignore it, because, final score notwithstanding, there is so much to be savoured and enjoyed in just looking at the screen.
Zhang Yimou, once a photographer and cinematographer himself, has an exquisite eye. Colour is a recurring feature of his films, with a life and story of it's own to tell, and this film is textured almost to the point of gluttony. To call it breathtaking is not overstating it. But unlike the deliberate stylisation of Hero, the settings here are much earthier. You can feel each flower and blade of grass, and marvel at the vivid detail in the costumes. It's wildly sensuous on a visual level. The drama, as we have seen from Zhang before, is heightened by the moodiness of the weather, and emotions are expressed through the changing of seasons.
The combat sequences are inventively executed, giving the violence an uneasy beauty. As is often the case in this genre, the fights might astound you with the precision and power of the choreography, but they keep you at a distance from the pain and injury. Not so in the final showdown between the characters Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau Tak Wah). This is a man's fight, brutal, bloody, messy and decidedly ungraceful. When Leo raises his sword to kill Jin, he means it. His anger is so ferocious that it can only be represented by a drastic change in season. Mid fight, Autumn becomes Winter, showing that the friendship these men once had has gone irreparably from cool tolerance to icy, implacable fury. It is a feature of the novels from which many of these stories are taken, that the martial arts skill of the protagonists is so great they are actually able to harness the power of the elements to use to their own advantage. This may or may not be the case here; no-one benefits from the snow and sleet, for all, as Shakespeare once put it, are punished.
However, when the melodrama hits, the rhapsody is seriously tainted. In any movie, some suspension of disbelief is a given, but when it's suspended over a gaping chest wound and under three feet of snow, and it's already hanging by the thinnest of threads, it becomes comical instead of dramatic. My friend and me both wailed with disbelief every time Mei (Zhang Ziyi) was resurrected towards the end (Don't tell me she's getting up AGAIN!??). Had she died the first time she was stabbed, and actually stayed dead, the effectiveness of the movie would have been increased by 90%. Unfortunately, some of the high marks earned were lost by the stupidity of this plot-point.
Further, the dialogue at key moments was just cheesy and embarrassing. I thought perhaps it was a translation problem, but my friend, who is from Mainland China, assured me it was in equally poor taste in Mandarin. Such a pity, because it could've been salvaged by some ruthless script doctoring.
First two thirds: 7/10 Last third: 3/10 Score out of 10 = 5.5, but I'll round it up to 6.
(As an aside, Andy Lau's Mandarin was an achievement in itself. I understand it was dubbed later to achieve the maximum correct pronunciation, but at least it was dubbed by him and not another actor. After watching around half of his hundred or so movies, all in Cantonese, it was a great pleasure to see him take on the task and do so well. My friend would not believe it was him, it was so good.)
I guess having this movie out just a few months after the U.S. release of "Hero" was more than many moviegoers could chew (and you can see it in the reviews here). That takes away from a fantastic experience. Every frame of this film is exquisite. It was breathtaking scene after breathtaking scene. There are enough plot twist, double crossings and romance to keep the scenes between the action sequences interesting. Ziyi Zhang plays her best role of what I call now a trilogy (which includes "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Hero" and now "House Of Flying Daggers" -the best of the three). It's not Yimou Zhang's best movie, that'd be "Raise The Red Lantern", but it's proof this director is on a roll. Go see this movie without worry.
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