Genre: Martial Arts/ Romance/ Drama
Director: Zhang Yi-Mou
TRASH CINEMA RECOMMENDED MOVIE
For a while, it looks like House Of Flying Daggers is going to be a near perfect martial arts drama, with a scintillating blend of gorgeous costumes, sets and cinematography, gripping political intrigue and romantic entanglements, flawless martial arts choreography, and even excellent CGI. That’s before it goes off the deep end and becomes an interminable soap opera. By the time a major character died and came back to life twice, I was laughing at the movie.
In the waning years of the Tang Dynasty, a rebel group called the House of Flying Daggers has gained the trust of the populace by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Mei (Zhang Ziyi), one of the members of the House of Flying Daggers, is caught by local prefect Leo (Andy Lau). Leo’s colleague Jin (Kaneshiro Takeshi) helps her escape from jail, so that Mei will lead the policemen to the House of Flying Daggers’ leadership.
Jin’s role is to seduce Mei, so that she’ll trust him, but the question arises: who’s seducing who? Kaneshiro Takeshi and Zhang Ziyi are good enough actors that you buy all the back and forth manipulations without strain. Even Andy Lau, who was often pretty hapless as a young thespian, has learned how to act. The romantic elements really aren’t the problem per se. The problem is that they end up hijacking the picture completely. We don’t even get to see the climactic battle between the emperor’s forces and the House of Flying Daggers.
This is a spectacularly stupid decision. For one, it deprives us of a rousing spectacle to close the picture, and to provide some balance to the never ending soap opera the movie becomes. The other problem is that director Zhang Yi-Mou, who should know better, loses an opportunity to comment on the mutually assured destruction depicted in the romantic relationship by showing the opposing forces annihilating each other. I suspect he thought he was exercising artistic restraint. Bullsh#&! Not right after a climax that features what seems like a 20 minute swordfight with crappy CGI snow to provide atmosphere.
House Of Flying Daggers registers as a lost opportunity. It’s full of fabulous and imaginative set pieces, like a game of “Echo” that uses a plateful of beans, a roomful of drums arranged in a circle and flowing robes of silk. Director Zhang Yi-Mou had great actors, master martial arts choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung, incredible visuals, and a compelling plot. All he had to do was keep the momentum going, along with the audience’s goodwill, and he would have had a masterpiece. Instead of maintaining the masterfully interwoven complexity of the first forty five minutes, Zhang Yi-Mou narrows the focus of the picture to a dot and harps on it unmercifully until the whole thing is unintentionally risible.
And yet, the first 45 minutes of House Of Flying Daggers are so damned good, it’s impossible to dismiss it entirely. So, in spite of the fact that House Of Flying Daggers completely self destructs by the end, I’m STILL recommending it.
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