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House of Flying Daggers

I'm beginning to get the hint that the martial arts cum tragic love story movie is a genre of Chinese cinema, what with Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Yimou's Hero and now Zhang's House of Flying Daggers. (Though I'm told that all three of these films were made very much with the foreign, ie English speaking, and awards market in mind.)

Like both earlier movies Flying Daggers artfully mixes a strong visual aesthetic, beautifully choreographed action set pieces, love and loyalty.

You get the idea quite quickly that this will be a battle of wits and acts and divided loyalties as much as machetes, arrows and hands, and this is quite true; but unexpectedly so for three of the characters, not just one as we are initially led to believe.

As in Hero Zhang Yimou pushes the melodrama a bit too hard in the climactic scenes, freeing his actors to turn on the tear tap, but perhaps this is all part of the genre's convention... like the obligatory fight in the treetops (or in this case, bamboo forest).

The action scenes are not as spectacular or painterly as in Hero (the painted look is reserved for some of the stiller scenes), but in some ways are more inventive (for example the echo game or the way the soldiers played turtle with their shields to protect against the eponymous flying daggers' baterang-like attack).

The CGI in many of the fights was obvious (though not amateurishly so). On the other hand the stunts with the horses in an early sequence looked utterly convincing. One does wonder if the animal action was monitored.

Structurally the film is quite intimate - basically featuring only four characters and focussing on two (Andy Lau's character is there basically to provide complications for Zhang and Kaneshiro). But for such a small tale there are certainly enough spear carriers sent to their doom and more than enough unlikely escapes from death by the stars. A note on the spear carriers: they're never individualised in any way, yet I did get the sense that each of them was an accomplished fighter in their own right - no fire-once-then-dispose stormtroopers these.

This is the third time that Zhang Ziyi has played the talented but not yet ready-for-primetime ingenue warrior (four if you count Rush Hour 2). She's as fetching and appealing as ever but I have to make a point of seeing her in another type of role, just to see if she can.

Since Zhang is playing a blind woman the sound design takes on extra importance and you do get the sense in her scenes the she's actively and acutely using the soundscape around her.

As in Hero the use of colour in Flying Daggers is bold and symbolic, though not as constantly overt.

This movie and Hero have motivated me to revisit Zhang Yimou's earlier movies (the ones that ended up with English translations anyway), to see if they're as moving as I remember them.


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» House of Flying Daggers OST from world in progress...
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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 17, 2005 9:25 PM.

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