Cast: Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro,
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was overrated by many critics
when it came out in 2000, which wouldn’t have been so bad
if it hadn’t been done at the expense of the martial-arts
genre CTHD allegedly reformed. Ignorant critics who’d
somehow missed the entire ’90s Hong Kong renaissance of politically
engaged and technically dazzling martial-arts/action spectacles
suddenly proclaimed that the martial arts film had become adult
and fit for “serious” consideration. It’s a good
thing, then, that though House Of Flying Daggers is in
intent a serious, arty movie, it is also utterly moronic, narratively
taking the genre backward while unleashing too many gorgeous images
for it to really matter.
Basically a love triangle in which the lines connecting the involved
parties keep changing, House Of Flying Daggers is also,
theoretically, about the titular rebellious anti-government faction,
which wreaks all kinds of havoc during the Tang Dynasty. It lacks
the quasi-fascistic intent of its predecessor, Hero. The
politics—generic anti-authoritarianism—are secondary
to everything else, leading to the possibility that Zhang
Yimou, in the past a source of trouble to the Chinese government
with thorny films about touchy subjects, hasn’t so much sold
out as become completely oblivious to his political messages in
the excitement of choreographing some of the coolest martial arts
sequences ever. Which is understandable.
What House offers plentifully is surprises; moronic narrative
ones, sure—with characters revealing hidden loyalties at the
slightest provocation and obstinately refusing to stay dead when
logic would dictate they do so—but more importantly, visual
ones. The first comes about 10 minutes in: After an unpromising
block of text providing dubious historical context (presumably to
add historical verisimilitude to the wirework that’s about
to follow), a police raid on a brothel brings captain Andy
Lau into contact with blind dancer Zhang Ziyi.
He whisks her dress off with a sword, and it flies off in slow-motion
to reveal an even more dazzling costume underneath. Inevitably,
Flying Daggers will be compared with Hero, and
possibly unfavorably. Zhang’s decision to make two martial
arts films in a row, however, gives the films a superficial resemblance
at best. Hero was shot by Christopher Doyle,
and reflected it in every frame and edit—a consistent palette
of impressionistic shots linked by quick cuts to bring moments of
accidental beauty together, spoiled only by shoddy F/X work and
slightly dampened by the mournful presences of Maggie Cheung
and Tony Leung.House Of Flying Daggers
has more stately, obviously tweaked long shots and feels more like
Zhang than an uneasy Christopher Doyle hijack job (and has far,
far better CGI). Actually, it doesn’t feel a thing like Zhang’s
past work, but insofar as it doesn’t feel like Doyle, it feels
like Zhang. Narrative control, surprisingly, eludes Zhang for the
first time: Spiraling melodrama straight out of vintage ’70s
Shaw Brothers Hong Kong productions provoked widespread
audience laughter and scoffing. Suspension of disbelief, however,
is well worth it for moments like a fight scene where the seasons
change mid-fight. In moments like these, where computer imagery
finally comes of age and flies straight off into total artifice
instead of trying replicate real elements unsuccessfully, Flying
Daggers becomes indelible for all the right reasons.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...