House of Flying Daggers (China/Hong Kong; 119 min.)

directed by: Zhang Yimou
starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro; Andy Lau; Ziyi Zhang
Shi mian mai fu
Michael says: "In HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou returns to the high-flying martial arts saga that he scored big with in HERO. After seeing the gorgeous, exciting trailer, I was excited about the film, but ultimately, DAGGERS disappointed me. There is a long list of reasons why HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS failed to thrill while HERO will most likely end up in my Top 10 of the year, but I will focus on just a couple here.

"The plot of FLYING DAGGERS is convoluted, with twists and turns reminiscent of Andrew Lau's recent INFERNAL AFFAIRS. The House of Flying Daggers is a group of revolutionaries causing unrest with police forces near the end of the Tang Dynasty. The General is desperate to uncover the identity of the revolutionaries' new leader. He instructs his two police lieutenants Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Any Lau) to investigate a new dancer at the Peony Pavillion). Mei (Zhang Ziyi) is a blind beauty who may have ties to the Flying Daggers. Jin goes undercover to the brothel in order to win
Mei's heart thereby gaining access to the Flying Daggers' leader.

"The film features extraordinary cinematography, breath-taking martial artistry and a melodramatic love story reminiscent of his early masterpiece, JU DOU. Yimou and his cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao again use color to create stunning tableaux. A battle with police leaping across the tops of bamboo trees is exquisitely shot. So what was the problem?

"Well, it was no HERO. Unfair you say? Comparing the two films? How can you not when they are back-to-back films by the same director? Although Xiaoding Zhao has a strong cinematic eye, he's certainly no Christopher Doyle, and HERO is by far the more beautiful film because of it. The martial arts scenes are more spectacular (and better choreographed as well.) The story of HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS mirrors HERO's. While HERO found characters sacrificing love for their ideals, DAGGERS characters' sacrifice
eveything for love. Yimou's earlier films were steeped with this type of melodrama, and it was slightly disconcerting to see it again in play after so many austere, more realistic films (NOT ONE LESS, TO LIVE).

"In order for HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS to succeed, given its melodramatic story and style, a strong cast is a necessity. Unfortunately, I don't think it had that. Zhang Ziyi as the central ingeneue is certainly no Gong Li (few actresses are). She doesn't even possess the gravity of Michelle Yeoh (her co-star in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) or the seething sensuality of Maggie Cheung (her co-star in HERO). To pull off this role, an actress would need both of those qualities, and Ziyi just can't cut it. As the
romantic lead, Takeshi Kaneshiro certainly has the smoldering good looks, yet he's a little too roguish and charming, and a whole bunch too modern in his mannerisms, to be convincing in this film. And as the third side of the triangle, Any Lau comes off too cruel and unappealing to me. They could certainly take a lesson from Tony Leung or even the somewhat austere Jet Li both from HERO.

"And possibly, I'm just tired of this type of martial arts film? I hesitate to say that because there were certainly some pretty amazing sequences in HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (and those flying daggers were really spectacular) but there's got to be a strong story behind it. I'm one of those few who think that HERO's story is incredibly strong and it lifts and unites that gorgeous cinematography and set decoration, and the exquisite combat scenes.

"Here's hoping that Zhang Yimou turns to something different for his next film. He's an amazing talent and I look forward to all his films. (I also hope he's not stuck on his latest muse, Zhang Ziyi, for too long.) 3 cats"

Chris says: "I thought this film was slight but delightful in a midnight b-movie sort of way. I'm in the minority that found HERO cold and portentious (although visually magnificent), and I think I preferred DAGGERS over it because, although nearly as grandiose and melodramatic, it felt more intimate, easier to follow, and most importantly, fun (whether the humor is always tongue-in-cheek or not is debatable). Zhang Ziyi is no Maggie Cheung, but since her character was meant to be enigmatic, I thought she was well-suited for the part. Still, I can't help but think of what spin Wong Kar Wai would've given this material. After this, I'd like to see Zhang Yimou do something contemporary more like NOT ONE LESS. 3.5 cats"

Shannon says: "** SPOILERS **

I thought this was an amazing film, as well. One of the things I liked about it (in addition to the gorgeous and stunning cinematography and action sequences) was the twists and turns of the plot and how all of the characters' relationships seemed to constantly turn on a dime.

"But I had one major problem with it, and I'm not entirely sure why I got so hung up on this. Maybe it was the preview screening audience and their reactions of laughter in what I thought were really odd moments. At any rate, the final fight scene: what was up with that horrid horrid edit?! Did anyone else notice it--it's after the scene has changed to winter (snow) and in one shot it is very plainly daytime, the next shot is at what looks like late dusk. And I believe it was a match-on-action edit, so it's not like they were indicated that time had elapsed. Or maybe it was, but I just found it to be so abrupt; it didn't flow with the editing style of the rest of the film. It completely jarred me and I found the end of the movie a bit laughable (again, it could have been the audience). I recall hearing that the snowy fight scene was added after initial shooting had closed; when they went back to the location it was covered with snow so they reshot part of it and made it work. And I really liked the way they transitioned from autumn to winter, but after that I just got distracted by the obvious CGI snow and again, that strange edit.

"Did anyone else notice this, or am I going crazy? (I'm starting to believe the latter...)"

Bob responds: "I didn’t notice it… guess I’ll have to see it again. One thing I did notice in the big snowy fight scene was that, as Mei is getting up, there’s a bit of green mixed in with all the white on the screen. I thought that was a beautiful touch.

"And I’m sorry, but I liked the film a lot. I think it holds up just fine when compared to HERO, which is a very different film – Hero is much more somber and has none of FLYING DAGGERS’ humor or melodrama. Yeah, they’re both martial arts films by the same director, but they’re very different from each other.

"I do think Zhang Ziyi is a bit young, but she’s coming along just fine, and while no one will ever replace Gong Li (cathump cathump) I think she’s very good. By the way, she’s always been referred to as Zhang Ziyi, and that’s how she’s credited in the film itself, but I noticed that both the one-sheet and the trailer refer to her as 'Ziyi Zhang.' I’m betting she’s going to be making a film in Europe or America soon…."