House of Flying Daggers (China/Hong Kong, 2004)

Directed by: Zhang Yimou. This one came my way partly under the influence of The Story of Film, and partly from this little miniature kick of martial arts films and East Asian films I’ve been dipping my toe into this year. I’m sure people who actually know about East Asian cinema will be irritated that I’m comparing this movie to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon at all, but having only seen two examples of the wuxia subgenre, and both of them extremely popular and successful 21st century hit films with major crossover Hollywood appeal, and both of them with Zhang Ziyi in a major role, so there you go. So for me, weighing my incredible knowledge of the genre based on these two examples, if I had to pick, I have to say I liked this one a few notches better than Crouching Tiger (of course, there’s no need to pick, but since we’re talking about this movie, I might as well talk about how much I liked it). To me, within even the first 10 minutes, it’s clear that this is one of the most visually impressive movies I’ve ever seen. That opening scene with the tiny bean thing being flicked between different drums, the camera following the bean as it defies gravity, as Zhang Ziyi’s scarf defies gravity, as everything defies gravity—that scene alone is more visually dazzling that anything in Crouching Tiger (maybe a bold claim, but I’ll stick to it for now). And you add the other sequences, like the grass field with all the titular flying daggers, and it’s a really exciting and beautiful action film. I won’t go too far trumpeting the visual effects and fight sequences of this film over the other one, because I admit, they’re pretty neck and neck, and I just prefer this one better. Where I can’t back down is the story itself—I found the central drama between the characters in Crouching Tiger to be just a bit distant and rushed for me, with a lot of gaps not filled in, a lot of backstory that I didn’t get, and that I thought would have been essential to really getting what the whole doomed romance between Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat was really about. As far as doomed romances go, this convoluted double-crossing love triangle with Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro was a really riveting, absorbing, but still easy-to-follow central drama, a foundation that made the rest of the film really sit well. In short: what a great movie!

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One response to “House of Flying Daggers (China/Hong Kong, 2004)

  1. Pingback: Saving Mr. Wu (China, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

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