REVIEW: DVD Release: House Of Flying Daggers

Film: House Of Flying Daggers
Release date: 2nd May 2005
Certificate: 15
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Dandan Song, Hongfei Zhao
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama/Fantasy/Martial Arts/Romance
Studio: Pathe
Format: DVD
Country: China/Hong Kong

A triumphant work of artistic and directional genius, House Of Flying Daggers is an action romance that follows the tale of Mei, a suspected vigilante, and Jin, a governmental official, as they fight hidden enemies in search of the rebel group House of Flying Daggers. Having received international rave reviews, and an alleged 20 minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, it is no wonder that House Of Flying Daggers remains at the top of many a film lover’s list.

Set during the decline of Tang Dynasty China, the government and its officials are riddled with corruption. Amongst civil unrest, an underground alliance named House of Flying Daggers emerges with the purpose of combating corruption, and fairly redistributing the country’s wealth among its people.

While respected and revered by the common mass, House of Flying Daggers is hated by the local deputies who have vowed to destroy the allegiance. Despite having recently murdered the old leader of the Flying Daggers, the rebel group only becomes stronger due to the presence of a mysterious new leader, whom Captain Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Captain Leo (Andy Lau) of the Chinese authority are given ten days to find and destroy.

Leo sends Jin, a flirtatious and unscrupulous playboy, to investigate claims that a Daggers affiliate is masquerading as a show girl at the Peony Pavilion. At the brothel, they find and arrest the beautiful blind artisan Xiao Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a dagger wielding martial arts master with a political agenda. Mei is incarcerated as rumours circulate that she is in fact the blind daughter of the late Daggers leader. In a cunning plot, Leo and Jin plan to trick Mei into leading them to the Daggers secret location.

Under the false pretence of being an admirer of the Daggers, Jin springs Mei from prison and leads her away from the governmental officials - or so she thinks. The two are followed closely by Leo and the local militia, who fake an ambush to convince Mei of Jin’s sincerity. Apparently blissfully unaware of the scheme, Mei begins to trust Jin, and an unlikely romance blossoms, as Jin’s game of trickery and deceit escalates into a real life and death drama, where the two find themselves battling unseen foes in their quest for safety and to find the concealed Daggers…

House Of Flying Daggers is an undisputable triumph of both acting and direction. Zhang Yimou’s signatory use of riotous colour makes the film an opulent reflection of the Tang dynasty, whose art work is typified by the type of grandeur that Zhang Yimou infuses this film with. The visuals themselves are so spectacular that they move as a piece of artwork, and continue to transcend the usual role of scenery in film. In this case, Zhang Yimou has achieved a remarkable harmony between scenery and plot, where the background becomes as important, if not more, than the story line itself.

Unlike previous martial arts films, House Of Flying Daggers provides the perfect melange of nail biting romance and heart stopping action. The kung fu throughout is gorgeously choreographed, and acts to enrich both the plot and setting. Moving effortlessly through the air, these blood-splattering, action packed encounters add to the sense of mystery and drama, as well as providing a visual thrill for the audience.

The use of sound throughout is extremely important, and masterfully heightens and intensifies the film experientially. Musical whiz kid Umebayashi is behind the score for House Of Flying Daggers. This sensitive soundtrack amalgamates eastern and western influences to provide a contemporary, yet in keeping take on traditional Chinese music.

The storyline is a little wanting, and the characters are superficial without much depth or development. The script is clichéd and a little predictable throughout the middle section, however, the final scenes make up for the lacklustre build up. Despite all this, the plot is not disappointing, as the main emphasis in the film is that of the visual and audio sensationalism, which more than compensates for any storyline flaws. The story, like that in an opera, is not crucial to the overall experience but merely provides a spider web framework in which Zhang Yimou weaves his phantasmagorical action-romance.

Interestingly, the foundation of a weak script does not equate to poor performances from any of the actors. Before taking on the role of Mei, Zhang Ziyi is rumoured to have spent two months preparation time with a young blind girl, in order to perfect and authenticate her performance. This would indeed be no surprise as her portrayal of the blind Mei is flawless. Zhang Ziyi brings an exciting dimension to the character of this gritty and determined young girl, by ensuring that Mei’s hard façade is penetrated by moments of endearing vulnerability and displays of passionate love, anger and hatred.

Zhang Ziyi’s ephemeral beauty juxtaposed with Xiao Mei’s serious martial arts skills makes this no-nonsense vigilante the deserved heroine of the film. Takeshi Kaneshiro’s performance of Jin brings this cheeky chappy to life. The womanizing Jin, however, is no match for Xiao Mei, and it must be said that despite his characteristically good acting, Takeshi Kaneshiro could not hold a torch next to Ziyi’s. Andy Lau proves himself to be a likely contender for the title of Daggers Heart throb, as he plays his role of the focused Captain Leo credibly, and adds a certain mysterious je ne sais quoi to the character.

This gripping love story, laced with espionage and betrayal, is a sure hit. Zhang Yimou’s glorious utilisation of colour, coupled with his ingenious take on audio sound effects, acts to showcase this directors true talent. The thoroughly convincing performances by the entire cast, especially Zhang Ziyi, will embroil you in this twisting tale, filled with double bluffs and surprising turns. House Of Flying Daggers is an absolute must see, that will act to either inspire or feed your kung fu film addiction, and is guaranteed to leave you gasping for more. HRP

1 comment:

  1. AWFUL FILM! Not a patch on Hero, it's without substance and TOTALLY boring!!!