House of Flying Daggers – Review

9 Oct

Sometimes there’s nothing better than watching a wuxia film where the characters fly through the treetops and can perform incredible moves of martial arts that seem to defy physics in just about every way. Think of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. These are just two examples of such a style, but ones that I think are the most impressive. The director of Hero, Zhang Yimou followed up that masterpiece with his 2004 film House of Flying Daggers, which is everything you must expect it to be. While it is a fantastic visual and auditory experience, the story seems a little bit behind with a boring second act that really doesn’t stand up to the first and third.

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At the end of the Tang Dynasty, the government is threatened by a rebel group of Robin Hood types who rob from the rich and give to the poor. They are both feared and respected and known by all as the House of Flying Daggers. After a new leader of the group rises to power, the local authorities led by Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Liu (Andy Lau) arrest a blind dancer, Mei  (Zhang Ziyi), who may or may not be associated with the Flying Daggers. As part of a conspiracy to find out who the new leader is and assassinate them, Jin pretends to be a wandering warrior who breaks Mei out of prison and vows to return her to the Flying Daggers. As the two travel further and further, they begin to for a relationship that was most unexpected, but also the soldiers who were meant to be on Jin’s side suddenly want him dead. As if that isn’t enough, Mei is holding on to a few big secrets of her own.

I would describe this movie as martial arts meets William Shakespeare. The way the story plays out and the kind of characters are involved kind of reminded me of the Montagues and the Capulets. All of the deception and forbidden love is also very reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy. That combined with gravity defying martial arts only adds to how cool this movie is. It is inevitable that I’m going to compare this movie to Yimou’s earlier work with Hero, so let’s just get it out of the way. Hero is the better movie all around. It has a better story, better visuals, and is pretty much just more memorable. That doesn’t mean that House of Flying Daggers is a disappointment though, because this movie is quite memorable in its own right. I’d love to see Hollywood just try to make something like this.

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I really can’t get over just how aesthetically awesome this movie is, even though it really came as no surprise. This may sound cheesy, but I can’t really help it. This movie is visual and auditory poetry. One scene in particular where Mei dances and beats the drums with her sleeve is the perfect combination of sight and sound. Every fight seems to have its own colors, sounds, and music that make them all unique. That and the way that the characters seem to effortlessly glide through the air only serves to make it all the more stunning. Finally, the score is so traditionally Chinese and occasionally thumps with a barrage of percussion that the action happening onscreen literally feels like it’s being high lighted. It is a sensory overload and I love it.

The only problem I really have with this movie is actually quite small. The beginning and end parts of this movie are both fantastic, especially a climactic fight scene that seems to begin in fall and end in winter. The middle, however, is kind of weird. This is where a lot of the excellently choreographed action scenes take place, but in between those is just a whole lot of walking around in the forest. This is where the visuals kind of lack compared to the rest of the movie, and the relationships between the characters don’t really have much depth until the third act when a lot of the secrecy is revealed.

House of Flying Daggers is an excellent example of the wuxia style of film making that I just love so much. I saw a post on Imdb where someone was complaining that it wasn’t realistic. Well duh. It’s not meant to be, so going into this movie expecting to see some true to life history would be a mistake. Instead, enter this movie expecting a visual and auditory experience that combines martial arts, fairy tales, and Shakespearean tragedy. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. This movie is absolutely fantastic.

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